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How not to insult Trump
MAYBE we should stop talking about US President Donald Trump being a racist. He seems to love the idea too much.
"I think I'm winning," he told reporters as he left for a rally on Wednesday.
As the whole world now knows, the president was widely denounced for saying that a quartet of young minority congresswomen, known as the squad, should go back to "the crime infested places from which they came". That would, in one case, have been Cincinnati.
But the message was that if you were non-white, you must be some kind of foreigner. It was pretty clear to a lot of Americans that telling people to go back where they came from was a racist trope. Mr Trump said that he didn't care. And, of course, he didn't.
In fact, he now seems to be running for re-election against the squad. "These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil," he told the cheering crowd in North Carolina on Wednesday night, launching into a hot assault on Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota while the crowd yelled "Send her back!"
It was an echo of the "Lock her up!" chants that Mr Trump elicited when he was ranting about Hillary Clinton. Who was a presidential nominee. Ms Omar is a lawmaker who has been in office about six months.
The whole White House team has been talking about the squad. Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday claimed that they represented "a dark underbelly in this country."
People, if you were genuinely trying to tamp down a crisis over a president's racist remarks about minority members of Congress, would you use the term "dark underbelly"? And are you surprised Kellyanne Conway is still around? Mr Trump cannot hang onto a Cabinet member for more than five minutes, but she's apparently got lifetime tenure.
POP QUIZ: What did Ms Conway do in her official capacity as presidential spokeswoman?
A) Complained to CNN's Chris Cuomo: "You always want to go by what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."
B) Claimed that some of the congressmen who had criticised Mr Trump's sexist remarks were known for "sticking their tongues down women's throats uninvited".
C) Celebrated her post-election elevation into a top White House job by urging Americans to buy Ivanka Trump's fashion line. ("You can find it online.")
D) All of the above.
OK, I know you all got that one right. It was just a diversion.
The squad is not actually a group, but they share a generally left worldview. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York talks a lot about socialism. Ms Omar and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have both been very critical of Israel. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts wants to defund ICE. Now, Mr Trump is eager to run against them instead of the actual Democratic Party.
And, of course, throwing in a lot of immigrant-bashing is just fine. You may conceivably remember that he got elected on a send-them-back-where-they-came-from campaign.
Mr Trump made it clear this week that he is utterly indifferent to all the charges of immigrant- bashing and racism. And Republican politicians, desperate not to put any daylight between themselves and the president's base, instantly began portraying the squad - four relatively powerless junior members of the House - as terrible threats to national security. Lindsey Graham called them "a bunch of communists".
Let's stop for just a second and think about Mr Graham. He was once known as John McCain's loyal senatorial spaniel, and if that wasn't a great image, at least he was picking a pretty good idol to follow panting behind.
Now that Mr McCain is gone, Mr Graham seems to have latched on to Mr Trump, which is sort of like a lonely teenager who used to pal around with the class rebel switching allegiance to the guy who steals tyres off cars in the handicapped parking lot.
Other minions were less hysterical in their defensiveness, although no more charming.
"I think we're going way beyond the pale right now. They talk about people of colour. I'm a person of colour. I'm white. I'm an Anglo- Saxon," said Representative. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.
Vice-President Mike Pence's chief of staff argued that Mr Trump could not possibly be racist since he had a Cabinet member "who came to the United States as a child, unable to speak English, learned English, and eventually became a naturalised citizen".
That would be Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose family has a huge shipping business and is now the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Otherwise, the Trump cabinet is virtually minority-free except for, my God, Ben Carson. Alex Acosta, the labour secretary, had to ditch his job after the world learnt of his unhelpful prosecutorial role in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
"He's a Hispanic man," said Mr Trump, rather unnecessarily, as Mr Acosta stood next to him for the departure announcement. The president also revealed that Mr Acosta was "Hispanic, which I so admire because maybe it was a little tougher for him and maybe not."
Is that all completely clear? Mr Acosta was, by virtually anybody's standard, a terrible labour secretary. But he's welcome to move right over to a cushy job in the private sector. Certainly nobody wants him to go back to wherever he came from. NYTIMES