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Last night in London I took part in a debate staged by the How To Academy on Trump’s 100 Days.
I was on the pro side with journalist Melanie Phillips.
On the anti side of the debate were the Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland and a flakcatcher from the Clinton era called James Rubin.
Let me tell you the bad news first: Trump derangement syndrome is everywhere, at least as bad in London as it is in the US.
To listen to my debate opponents you would have imagined that the US had recently elected to the presidency a cross between It the Clown, the Boston Strangler, Dr Strangelove and Alger Hiss. I’m fine with a bit of extravagant rhetoric but there were several moments where both Melanie’s and my jaw dropped at the outrageousness of the charges levelled by Freedland and Rubin at the Trump administration.
By what stretch of the imagination, for example, could former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn be described as a “foreign agent”? This was the phrase used by Guardian man Freedland in his speech and it got many laughs from the audience – Trump: the guy so bad he actually has Russky spies in his administration. But if the case against Trump is really such a slam-dunk as his critics seem to imagine, then surely there’d be no need so grotesquely to exaggerate his flaws?
With Freedland and Rubin acting up like snarky kids – and don’t get me wrong, they were good at it: sharp, quick, punchy, witty and relentlessly below the belt – I found myself forced into the unwonted position of having to play the grown-up.
This threw me slightly. I’d brought along my MAGA baseball cap and my Trump camouflage t-shirt – in order to tease the mainly liberal-leaning audience. But you can’t simultaneously play the clown and chastise your opponents for their puerility.
So I tried to keep my line on Trump as straightforward and honest as possible: I don’t expect you to come away from this evening loving him; I’m just asking you to admit that he speaks for a constituency in the U.S. which for too long has been ignored, that the hysteria surrounding him is overdone, that he has many good points to counter his bad points, that he may yet prove great and, though it’s too early to judge how great, he’ll definitely win a second term.
Now here’s the interesting and curious thing: Melanie and I “won” the debate. (The audience remained overwhelmingly anti-Trump – as they would, being metropolitan liberal pinko types – but we had swung it so that whereas only 14 were in the pro-Trump camp at the beginning we had swelled that number to a magnificent 33 by the end)
I was surprised by this because the Freedland/Rubin duo were the better debaters and raised many more laughs. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Perhaps what I was witnessing was a glimmer of hope that we are approaching peak Trump derangement syndrome.
The more variations on the “Trump is a Russian agent and oh, by the way, did we mention the Russians?” theme that the liberal media attempts to play, the more it looks like a case of the boy who cried wolf.
Sure the regressive point-and-shriek mob will go on pointing and shrieking till hell freezes over. But the more open-minded people in the middle – like the ones who shifted their position last night – are going to be less and less convinced by the doomsday rhetoric. It certainly worked out that way with Ronald Reagan. I suspect the same may be true with the Donald.
One more thing: though I have experienced some pretty emetic moments in my life – the incredibly stomach-churning passage of water you have to cross to get to the barrier reef, coping with the aftermath of a college drinking society where you had to drink five pints of beer followed by five tequila slammers, watching Tony Blair’s “she was Queen of all our Hearts” speech on Princess Diana – I don’t think I have ever had quite such an urge to projectile vomit as I did during James Rubin’s trite little homily where he declared that Trump was so corrupt and abusive of power that he could no longer look his own son in the eye and tell him to have faith in government.
This from a guy who worked for the Clinton administration?
This from a guy who – I presume – would have been more than happy if Hillary Clinton were now U.S. president?
On the train home from the debate, I re-read Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash – the rather brilliant and very entertaining graphic novel version – which sets out in incontrovertible detail the positively Augean levels of stinking corruption in which Bill and Hillary are mired via their impossibly greedy and disgusting Clinton Foundation.
Donald Trump has a very, very, VERY long way to go before he comes even close to matching the depths plumbed by some of his presidential predecessors and many of his political rivals.
Sensible people will increasingly understand this point. The loons can babble in their echo-chamber.