It seems Donald Trump has got so carried away with the risk from “fake news” that he has taken to making it up himself.
In his speech in an aircraft hanger in Florida on Saturday, in front of cheering supporters, Trump told supporters: “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”
There is the germ of a legitimate critique buried in there, about Europe’s leaky southern borders and the wave of attacks. But there was no such Swedish incident as referred to by the President of the United States. It did not happen. He seems to have confused it with a horrific incident that killed at least 75 people when a suicide bomber hit the main hall of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan in Pakistan
That’s what makes it – for all that his confusion has been turned into a Twitter meme – deeply unfunny. It is genuinely troubling that the President of the United States is so poorly briefed, or pays so little attention, that he confuses Pakistan and Sweden.
Expect to hear from sophisticated Trump supporters that this is completely beside the point. Relax. His voters won’t care that he got two places abroad mixed up. The remarks in Florida have the stamp of what used to be termed “truthiness”. It feels kinda true. There was no attack there this time, but there might be in future.
Stuff that. The basics and the facts matter. When Trump can’t handle simple concepts such as geography and distances of thousands of miles, how can he be expected to handle complexity, which is his job?
We are only four weeks in and already it should be apparent that the “he’ll be better than you think”, “it’ll be ok”, “he’s a CEO and he knows what he’s doing” school of thought is dangerously complacent. Yes, he may inject some welcome economic dynamism, but the man has the nuclear codes too and announces major changes in foreign policy off the top of his head, clearly based on little understanding, without consulting the Secretary of State. Witness what happened on Israel last week.
There is, over in the US, a patriotic case for engaging with Trump simply in order to militate against him doing anything even worse. That is the route chosen by Rex Tillerson at State and James Mattis at Defense. We should wish them – American patriots both – the best of luck, for all our sakes.