After a week spent alienating Germany, the United States’ most powerful ally on the European continent, Donald Trump trained his sights slightly westward over the weekend and into Monday morning, singling out Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, for particular abuse as his city coped with a terrorist attack that left seven dead and dozens injured.
That the president of the United States should do anything but offer condolences and support to the country’s most reliable friend and partner on the world stage at a time like that was remarkable enough. But it's clear that Trump’s reaction to the report that three men had run down pedestrians with a van on London Bridge before exiting the vehicles and stabbing more victims, was motivated by to trying to promote his domestic political agenda.
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” He tweeted on Saturday. Several minutes later, he got around to an offer of assistance and an all-caps “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”
(A quick aside to deal with White House resistance to coverage of Trump’s tweets. In an interview Monday morning, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway complained about, “This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president.”
This is absurd. Trump does not stop being president when he tweets. And he has personally said that he likes to be able to communicate with the public through Twitter. His tweets are objectively newsworthy and, by his own admission, representative of his thinking as the nation’s chief executive.)
On Sunday morning, Trump fired his first shot at Khan, writing, “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!’”
To people just waking up Sunday morning, the tweet suggested that Trump was responding to a ridiculous claim by Khan. Indeed, the words “no reason to be alarmed” did come out of Khan’s mouth. But in a very different context than Trump suggested.
As part of a statement to his constituents, Khan said, “My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today. You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.”
Khan’s remarks were plainly meant to indicate that the increased police presence, by itself, should not cause people to believe another attack had taken place or that danger was imminent. It would take a willful misreading of his words to conclude otherwise.
Trump was roundly criticized for his decision to go after Khan on Twitter, ripping his comments out of context at a time when the man was trying to coordinate a response to terrorist incidents in one of the world’s largest cities. But the president was unable to let it go, abusing Khan on Twitter again Monday morning.
“Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!” he wrote.
At some point, one has to ask: How dumb does the president think his Twitter followers are?
Pretty dumb, it seems. Trump’s egregiously unfair sustained attack on Khan was just one element in a burst of Twitter activity Monday morning that evidently assumed complete pig-ignorance of basic facts about the news and about how the United States government operates among many of his followers.
Separately from his tweets about London, Trump fired off at least one other howling falsehood Monday morning, as well as a raft of complaints about the Justice Department’s handling of his attempt to ban residents of many Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
Perhaps recognizing that he still has no ambassador to the UK, he attacked Congressional Democrats for the fact that the vast majority of executive branch positions in his government remain empty.
“Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors,” he tweeted. “They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.”
Democrats, of course, control neither the House nor the Senate, and since the elimination of the filibuster for nominations, have little power to block the confirmation of major or minor nominees if the Republican majority in the Senate is determined to confirm them.
The real problem for Trump is that he hasn’t nominated anyone to serve in hundreds of top-level executive branch jobs.
But his assumption -- sadly, one that is probably accurate -- seems to be that just as a large number of his supporters were probably unaware of Sadiq Khan’s actual statement, many will also be unaware that the Democrats actually can’t substantially interfere with the nomination and approval of people to serve in the executive branch.
He was evidently counting on that same level of ignorance when he began tweeting his complaints about court challenges to his executive order attempting to block refugees in general and travelers from certain Muslim countries from entering the US.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to [Supreme Court,]” Trump wrote.
But the Justice Department, from the Attorney General on down, works for Trump. Trump himself signed the order he is complaining about.
Again, this strategy only works if you assume that the target audience for these tweets is utterly ignorant of these basic facts -- something that Trump has time and again demonstrated that he does.