One way to pass an afternoon

In last Saturday’s FT, Christopher Caldwell, a Senior editor at the Weekly Standard, asks what cultural impact will Donald Trump have on America? The Trump Aesthetic is a good article (paywalled), even if somewhat depressing. But why should we be surprised?

I was struck by one sentence,

New presidencies have a ferocious cultural knock-on effect. They change how Washington talks, how provincial America sees itself, and what image the word “America” conjures up abroad.

It’s that last bit I have been thinking about. What image will we see?

Trump may hope it will be the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which Caldwell describes in the opening paragraph of his article.

I have a rather more dystopian image in mind – the Bates Motel.

And one correction.

In the article, Caldwell refers to Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes, in which, he says, she “deplored Trump’s alleged mockery of a New York Times reported with a withered hand, an accusation Trump denies.” And he points out that the problem with Streep’s comment, “Disrespect invites disrespect’, is that “this is precisely the criticism Trump’s supporters have always levelled at the elites for whom Streep speaks.”

I think Caldwell misses the point. The reporter, Serge Kovaleski, has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement. Streep talked about Trump (not named in the speech) imitating the reporter (others used the word ‘mocked’) and what Streep was getting at was that by doing what he did, Trump legitimised bullying.

Watch ABC News’ report and draw your own conclusions.

Trumped

Am I enjoying the furore over the Trump dossier? Yes and no. It is extremely depressing seeing Trump live up (or is it down?) to his reputation, and yet at the same time such schadenfreude rarely happens.

But what I am impressed by is the skill of the Russians.

My take – and it is simply that – is that at very little cost they have managed to drive a considerable wedge between a US President and his intelligence agencies, even before he has been inaugurated.

Knowing Trump’s character and how he would react, all that was needed was to provide information through sources trusted by those intelligence agencies, and allow us to do the rest. In time we will learn that most of the dossier is false, but in among its lurid (and as yet unspecified) details there is likely to be sufficient truth to make everyone wonder what is and what isn’t true (and there is also a delicious irony in Trump being skewered by facts that aren’t but which might be). And those truths will have been enough to ensure that Western intelligence agencies couldn’t ignore the dossier.

The UK’s former Moscow ambassador, Sir Andrew Wood,  told the Guardian today that “the report’s key allegation – that Trump and Russia’s leadership were communicating via secret back channels during the presidential campaign – was eminently plausible.” But does that really matter?

For what the dossier has done is to destabilise the relationship between a US administration and its spooks. That is what should worry us.