Nobody likes to be called â€śdumb,â€ť especially if they are from the South. If youâ€™re not from there, you may not understand this sensitivity, but it has existed for generations.
One part of being a Southerner has been the perception, sometimes justified, that the rest of the country looks down on the region. As Gainesville, Florida, native Tom Petty sang, â€śThereâ€™s a Southern accent where I come from / The youngâ€™uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb.â€ť You better believe Southerners donâ€™t like that superior attitude, not one little bit.
Thatâ€™s why, of all the quotes and anecdotes in Bob Woodwardâ€™s new book, the one that may hurt the president most is his calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions a â€śdumb Southerner.â€ť
Much of the rest of what Woodward uncovers Trump doing and saying, while great, original reporting and apparently mostly recorded, has already been, as they say, â€śpriced intoâ€ť the political markets.
We already knew from many other sources that Trumpâ€™s White House staffers think their boss lacks the knowledge or curiosity to understand domestic or foreign policy; that much of his staff disrespects him; and that the president is given to tantrums within an already dysfunctional working environment. This is not to say that Woodward doesnâ€™t introduce some great new examples of happenings in Trumpâ€™s White House, such as an aide stealing papers off his desk to prevent a decision or the secretary of defense agreeing to execute a presidential order then immediately telling a subordinate he has no intention of doing so.
But little of it will alter preexisting and hardened views of the president.
The â€śdumb Southernerâ€ť quote may be an exception, however. One early indicator of its impact is that a group of Southern Republican senators has already pushed back on Trump, not for the â€śretardedâ€ť or â€śtraitorâ€ť parts of Trumpâ€™s attack on Sessions, only the â€śdumb Southernerâ€ť phrase. (Trump, of course, denied saying what Woodward reports him saying about Sessions.) Nor did their rebuttal defend Sessionsâ€™ intellect per se, so much as umbrage at the implied general indictment of the entire regionâ€™s intellect.
These senators rightly sense something dangerous about Trumpâ€™s comment and one that they needed to disavow immediately.
Trump, despite his gilded lifestyle, has been able to connect with Southernersâ€™ feeling that they, like him, are shunned by elites, and that he is â€śone of us.â€ť Trumpâ€™s quote calls that all into question and may make many Southerners feel as if they have been had. And Southerners donâ€™t like that feeling, either, not one little bit.
Carter Eskew is a founder of the Glover Park Group who formulates media strategy and advertising for a range of corporate and nonprofit clients.