Hardly anyone has endured longer with Barack Obama than Ben Rhodes: The 41-year-old began working as a speechwriter for Obama in 2007, when he prepared for his candidacy for the post of US President. Rhodes then wrote, among other things, the Berlin speech, which Obama held a few months before his election in 2008 in front of the Victory Column, and later the famous Cairo speech, in which the President in 2009 formulated a rapprochement of the United States to the Muslim world. Rhodes later served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Advisor mainly on foreign affairs issues in the White House, until the last day of Obama's presidency in January 2017.
Over this time, Rhodes has written a book that has been published in German under the title "In the White House: The Years with Obama" (C.H. Beck, 576 p., 26 euros). The meeting with Rhodes took place in Berlin, just hours before Donald Trump announced that he would declare a national emergency because of the situation on the southern border of the United States to Mexico.
TIME ONLINE: Mr. Rhodes, you could do that Donald Trump in the past few days has organized to prevent a second shutdown, as a spectacle. Could it be that Trump is really just running the presidency like a TV show with cliffhangers at the end of each episode?
Ben Rhodes: Trump's approach is most likely to be understood in the forerunner of his notion of politics. And that is exhausted in keeping his electoral base. He does not seem to care at all when everyone else is against him. However, he has put himself in a hopeless situation: Because he has his supporters on the construction of a boundary wall between the United States and Mexico, he must not disappoint them – but this wall will never be built.
TIME ONLINE: Trump, the self-proclaimed negotiating genius, has simply gambled?
Rhodes: First of all, this process just reveals Trump's total emptiness. There is nothing beyond his slogans. And now he is afraid of negative reactions from representatives of the extreme right, who have made his rise substantially. His strategy has meanwhile become exhausted. This is even more true, since he has since the midterms In November, it has to do with a House of Representatives, in which its Republicans have lost the majority. But it seems as if he did not even understand the consequences of the electoral defeat.
TIME ONLINE: A few days ago, in a speech in the Texas border town of El Paso, he declared statistics false, showing that crime there remains low before and after the construction of a border fortification. How can anybody discuss politics in the face of the total denial of facts?
Rhodes: That's the biggest threat to American democracy – a fact-free discourse. This does not affect only Trump, but the republican party itself. Obama once said to me, and that was before Trump's election: the moment when the Republicans collectively decided to deny the existence of climate change was the beginning of the process that led to Donald Trump. If a whole party is alone, that the most significant fact for Earth is none, then anything is possible.
TIME ONLINE: How do you deal with it as a political opponent?
Rhodes: You can not even get into a back and forth with Trump on its terms. He wants to force one to talk about what he wants to talk about. The Democratic Party has handled this properly before the intermediate elections. Trump talked about this supposed "caravans"From refugees who approached the US from the south and were allegedly mixed with criminals and terrorists, the Democrats ignored him and instead talked about the health care system in the US, so they won the elections.