It is well-established by now that President Trump gets almost all of his information from television or from the last person he spoke to. Sometimes, that’s essentially the same thing. When he’s in the office or on the road he keeps up, it seems, a semi-permanent dialogue with the TV set. Sometimes the dialogue is internalised, in his head, but more often than not it spills out and he talks back to the screen, before picking up his phone and giving vent on Twitter to whatever has annoyed him or tickled his fancy. Only on the world tour recently was there much less of it, and fewer outrages, presumably because he was busy and on a different timezone from US TV.
Television news is terrific when done well. But the rolling network news variety of it is not always the best way to get entirely accurate information or to get a clear line of sight on a complex subject. After all, complete information may not be available. Or statements are flashed up on screen for a second, or a partial quote is read out and a discussion ensues based on a skewed interpretation. Good rolling news presenters factor all this in and try to keep it crystal clear for the viewer, correcting as they go and reiterating what is known at regular intervals. Even so, an impatient person jumping around the channels during a big breaking story can miss the clarification or amplification of a key point. The situation is complicated further because the viewer at home may think they are concentrating, when they are not. The mind wanders – to the weather in Florida and to golf, to choose a location and leisure activity at random.
For the most powerful man in the world – the President of the United States – television news is, then, a less than ideal way to gather information. In terms of formulating credible communications with billions of people, and forming policy, it is a potentially extremely dangerous way of working.
On that slipshod basis, in the wake of London’s terror attacks, Donald Trump decided to criticise the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
With seven dead, and almost 50 injured, the Mayor was a model of calm reassurance in the hours after the attacks. He issued a robust statement and gave an interview in which he said the following:
“There can be no justification for the acts of these terrorists and I am quite clear that we will never let them win. 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.”
Somehow, most of one phrase in there – “There is no reason to be alarmed” – caught Trump’s attention. Was it half overhead on TV? Probably. Or glimpsed in an out of context tweet from a supporter? Maybe. Either way, on Twitter Trump had a go at Khan only hours after the attack on Borough Market. Trump wrote:
At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”
The problem is obvious, beyond the stupidity and insensitivity of Trump thinking that this is a sensible or appropriate way to talk to the Mayor of a city in the middle of a terrorist emergency. Khan – representing his city and doing it proud – was referring to the increased police presence and to providing sensible reassurance. He wasn’t saying that the attacks are unalarming.
Once again, Trump had got hold of the wrong end of the stick and proceeded to beat about the bush with it.
Khan’s team responded to the criticism in a dignified fashion, stressing that they are too busy right now to respond to Trump’s tweets, what with the terror attack and everything. In such circumstances, having blundered, wouldn’t the response of any sensible adult – never mind holder of the highest office in his land – be to apologise quickly or even if he can’t do that to clarify and correct?
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Of course not. This is Trump, who today went back on the offensive against Khan. Rather than just saying nothing, he felt compelled to blunder back in, seeking to score a point – an inaccurate point! – against the Mayor of the capital city of a leading ally.
Trump today fabricated an allegation – a silly lie essentially – that Khan had been forced to backtrack or cover up. No. Read the original quote. It’s quite clear what Khan meant. Trump had inaccurate or partial information, most likely from TV, and blundered in. Unpresidential doesn’t even begin to cover it. Here’s the latest tweet from Trump:
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!
I stress again, that interpretation is simply wrong and easily proved as wrong. So why say it? Who worth impressing is impressed by a leader using an untruth to get one over on the Mayor of a city under attack? It had been thought that Trump is an actor by temperament, therefore he would move to acting presidential. That has not happened. Why not?
It is baffling. Can a psychologist help us out here with some pointers even without an in-person examination of the President? What is the diagnosis? Trump is clearly obsessed to a chilling degree with impressing other people – so smart, so big, so beautiful – but then he engages in deeply stupid activity that can only lead to him being diminished according to any basic standards of humanity, manners, civility and intelligence. Is it just like wrestling? It’s fake, a show, and he knows it and the audience in the US knows it but it’s about creating a theatrical performance that emphasises supposed strength? Is that it? If so, what’s the point?