When Trump tweets about ter­ror, it’s not for vic­tims or the coun­try – it’s for him

The Independent - - Voices - DAVID US­BORNE IN NEW YORK

Don­ald Trump’s se­cond in­stinct was the right one, while – sur­prise, sur­prise – his first was not. And, as ever, it is those ini­tial blun­der­ings, grotesque and self-serv­ing, that we’ll re­mem­ber. And they tell us a lot about the man and how his em­pa­thy­de­pleted, self-serv­ing mind works.

So we can dis­pense with Step Two quickly. He phones Theresa May and ex­tends con­do­lences and a hand of co­op­er­a­tion in the wake of the Par­sons Green train at­tack. Well done Don­ald – that wasn’t so hard. Civil ex­changes of mu­tual sup­port be­tween lead­ers can mat­ter in times of na­tional shock, and both Bri­tain and the US are do­ing plenty be­hind the scenes on ter­ror.

Step One, cock-eyed and de­plorable, came via Twit­ter. The panic on the tracks is barely over and Trump trots out four tweets, all un­help­ful. To what end did he im­ply, for in­stance, that the Lon­don po­lice had screwed up be­cause the per­pe­tra­tors were al­ready known to them? These, he said, were “sick and de­mented peo­ple who were in the sights of Scot­land Yard”. Is that so? Was he guess­ing or did he have clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, and if so why was he blab­bing about it?

The Prime Min­is­ter, of course, has been crit­i­cised for be­ing mealy-mouthed in the past each time Trump has over­stepped the bound­aries of de­cency, most re­cently with his at­tempts to say that the coun­ter­protestors and the white su­prem­a­cists equally shared the blame for the may­hem – and mur­der – in Char­lottesville last month.

This time, she re­buked the pres­i­dent rather swiftly. If she hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have both­ered plac­ing that call to her sub­se­quently. “I never think it’s help­ful for any­body to spec­u­late on what is an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” she said af­ter a meet­ing with her top do­mes­tic se­cu­rity ex­perts. The Metropoli­tan Po­lice weren’t amused ei­ther. The com­ments were coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and “pure spec­u­la­tion”, it said in a state­ment.

That Trump is madly in­con­sis­tent barely needs point­ing out. It’s about what suits him at the time. When he was as­sailed for his ini­tial com­ments on Char­lottesville, he said he hadn’t wanted to say any­thing more – blame the haters – be­fore hav­ing all the facts. “When I make a state­ment, I like to be cor­rect,” he said. “I want the facts ... I don’t want to rush into a state­ment.” Does he not see how ridicu­lous that sounds? Com­ing from him. Jux­ta­pose that with his Fri­day tweets and you might laugh. Or cry.

On the first day of June, many in Manila were star­tled when Trump lamented they too had be­comes vic­tims of ter­ror. “Pretty sad what is go­ing on through­out the world with ter­ror,” he said. “Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those af­fected.” Ex­cept that what he as­sumed was a ter­ror at­tack was one man try­ing to rob gam­blers in a casino. He’d jumped the gun.

Two days af­ter Manila, the sav­agery at Lon­don Bridge un­folded. There was no mis­tak­ing what that was about. Yet Trump man­aged to anger ev­ery­one in the cap­i­tal by will­fully twist­ing a state­ment from Mayor Sadiq Khan urg­ing Lon­don­ers not to be alarmed by all the armed of­fi­cers on the streets. Trump in­ferred he had said they shouldn’t be alarmed by the at­tack it­self.

That was not help­ful, and plainly dis­hon­est. Ex­cept each time this hap­pens, Trump thinks he is be­ing help­ful – to him­self. He uses each tragedy to in­flate him­self or prove a point. He tried to ma­nip­u­late the 2015 Paris mas­sacres to bol­ster his cam­paign trail ar­gu­ment that gun con­trol was mak­ing Amer­ica less safe. He used Paris, in fact, as a told-you-so mo­ment – never mind the ob­scenely mis­guided logic. “This mes­sage is re­pug­nant in its lack of any hu­man de­cency. Vul­ture,” French am­bas­sador to the US Gerard Araud replied.

Told you so was also the mes­sage from Trump on Fri­day. This is why we need the travel ban I have talked about so of­ten and the courts keep thwart­ing me on. He was ba­si­cally say­ing, I am right, you see. No one else un­der­stands what we must do to pro­tect our cit­i­zens. And it’s why po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is such a mis­take.

Ac­tu­ally, it was more com­pli­cated. Re­cently, Trump has alien­ated much of his base by seem­ing ready to re­nege on a prom­ise to de­port 700,000 Dream­ers, young peo­ple brought il­le­gally into the coun­try when they were kids, and by cosy­ing up with Democrats in Congress. This was a wink to say he hasn’t for­got­ten about them – he is still their tough guy on ter­ror and im­mi­gra­tion.

“Must be proac­tive & nasty,” he wrote. “Loser ter­ror­ists must be dealt with in a much tougher man­ner. The in­ter­net is their main re­cruit­ment tool which we must cut off & use bet­ter!” The no­tion of shut­ting down the in­ter­net to frus­trate Isis and other ter­ror net­works was first raised by Trump in late 2015, at the same cam­paign event that saw him call­ing for a “to­tal and com­plete shut­down of Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States”.

Trump was us­ing the pain of those flee­ing the flash of fire on the District Line to re­bal­ance his po­lit­i­cal for­tunes at home. Cyn­i­cal pol­i­tics, in­deed. And his con­ser­va­tive fans should know by now not to put any store in his im­mi­gra­tion prom­ises. The Supreme Court is due to rule on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of his 90-day travel ban on visi­tors from Iran, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men on 10 Oc­to­ber. And the ban will ex­pire on the last day of Septem­ber any­way. Trump is smoke and mir­rors. And if he of­fends peo­ple along the way, he re­ally doesn’t care.

Theresa May and the Metropoli­tan Po­lice were less than pleased at Trump’s re­sponse to the Par­sons Green at­tack (Reuters)

Foren­sics of­fi­cers in­ves­ti­gate the scene of Lon­don’s lat­est ter­ror at­tack (AFP/Getty)

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