In times of crisis, Americans need to believe their president. In the face of adversity, the nation will pull itself together in unquestioning unity only if the president’s words are trusted.
But that trust must be built up beforehand, over time, through careful weighing of words, statesmanlike demeanor and honesty. President Donald’s Trump’s irresponsible willingness to base outrageously startling allegations on the flimsiest of evidence — or even in its complete absence — puts America in peril. Who will follow a man like that when a dire occasion calls for it?
In an early Saturday tweetstorm, Trump added to his long list of illusory innuendoes by claiming — while offering not a shred of evidence — that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower before the November election.
Right on cue, the White House called for an investigation. But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was correct when he said on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “the president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to.”
We need to hear that answer now.
Providing evidence for his smarmy smears is not exactly Trump’s strong suit. In the past he has claimed millions of people voted illegally in the November election; Obama was not born in the United States; thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks; Sweden was hit by a major terrorist attack on Feb. 17; the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was involved in some way with Lee Harvey Oswald; America’s murder rate is the highest in 47 years; the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been a victim of foul play; theories that the former deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster was murdered are “very serious”; and a long list of other egregious deceits.
But he never follows up with facts.
Trump’s diversion strategy, if that is what one is to call it, may help him with his base in the short term.Last week, his administration was embroiled in yet another sustained controversy as Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russia government because Sessions had twice met with the Russian ambassador to the United States in the past year even though he had testified before the U.S. Senate that he did not have communications with the Russians. Trump’s Saturday tweetstorm effectively diverted attention from that issue. It’s a practice he’s engaged in frequently when he wants to change the subject.
But Trump’s job is to be president, not the boy who cries wolf. And, let’s face it, even the boy who cried wolf would have been shocked at Trump’s excesses.
Perhaps Trump’s tweets alleging that Trump Tower was wiretapped originated with the alt-right website Breitbart.com, which on Friday said a theory was making the rounds in the right wing fringe that Obama had used surveillance against Trump. If that is Trump’s source, it is beyond reprehensible. A president should be the last — not the first — person in the public eye to give currency to allegations with no evidentiary foundation.
After Trump’s tweets, an Obama spokesman denied that the former president or any White House official ordered surveillance against Trump. On Sunday, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said Trump was not wiretapped last year. FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claims.
On Tuesday, a confirmation hearing is scheduled for Rod Rosenstein, the nominee for deputy attorney general, who is next in line after Sessions to investigate alleged connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The hearing, held as Trump’s statements reverberate through Washington, might be contentious,
But if past practice is a guide, Trump will not retract his statements.
Trump has yet to face a national crisis — a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a crashing economy, an escalating military action involving our allies. If such a crisis happens, he will need to draw on a reservoir of trust and goodwill to persuade Americans to cooperate in a response.
Instead, the president is busily creating a credibility gap of such mammoth proportions that even his much-touted border fence couldn’t seal the breach. That should set off alarms for the entire nation.