Flat learning curve. That’s really the most alarming thing about President Trump’s tweet barrage over the weekend, as he responded stupidly, irresponsibly and offensively to the terror attack in London. It proved that he hasn’t learned a thing, despite repeated Twitter-assisted catastrophes that in the past have turned potential victories into embarrassments, mere mistakes into disasters, and whimsy into large clubs for his enemies to beat him bloody with. How could he not be wary when he considers a tweet? What happened to “Once burned, twice shy?” How about 6,348 times burned? How analytical do you have to be to think, after hitting yourself in the head squarely with a 2 X 4 and realizing that it is permanently dented (the head, not the board), “Wow! That hurt! I sure don’t want to do that again!”?
And yet here we are.
I can’t say I’m surprised, and that itself is depressing. But I’ve dealt with enough alcoholics in my life who I have asked, following particularly devastating relapses that placed everything they cared about (or should have cared about) in jeopardy, “Why would you do that, after all you have been through?”…and watched them shrug, shake their heads, and say, in various words, “I can’t explain it, and you’ll never understand.”
After the two attacks on Saturday, the President’s tweets weren’t all terrible. The second one read, “Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!” Then, like a binge drinker out of rehab who takes a small sip of chablis at a reception, POTUS was on a Twitter bender—a Twender. He began exploiting the tragedy to lobby for his stalled travel ban. He blamed the attacks on political correctness. He mocked the Mayor of London. He somehow saw the episode as revealing the hypocrisy of gun control advocates. Metaphorically, the President of the United States was reeling and staggering all over the street, singing “Barnacle Bill,” stopping traffic and vomiting on pedestrians.
This, many have written, is unpresidential. Ya think? However, each President defines what “presidential” is, and if it works, it will be presidential from then on. The last President did many things that had not been presidential before—none this ugly and stupid, but still conduct that past White House dwellers would have regarded as irresponsible or beneath the office (and they would have been right.) Trump’s tweeting, however, is in a whole different category. It isn’t just unpresidential, it would be unethical conduct for a high school student. If my son tweeted messages this stupid when he was a teenager, I would have taken his computer and phone away. I would consider taking his fingers away.
The fact that this problem persists so long after it first became obvious raises other troubling questions besides the fact that the President of the United States can’t stop himself from hurting himself politically and personally. It also indicates that, far from having appointed the “best people,” he is surrounded by weaklings, fools, yes-men, sycophants, amateurs and morons. There isn’t one person who should be able to stop this nonsense, there are 50, and every one of them is ethically obligated as an American to try to do so until the problem is fixed.
Rex Tillerson should warn the President, in writing, that the next time he undermines the nation’s interests abroad with an impulsive tweet, he’s quitting, and telling CNN why he’s quitting. I don’t care how horrible Steve Bannon is, he has to recognize that Trump’s tweeting jeopardizes his goals, whatever they are. I know Reince Priebus is a standard-issue spineless hack, but if a top aide can’t protect a President from himself, what good is he? Ivanka should tell her father that the next time he does this, she is legally changing her last name to Streep. Republican leaders, meanwhile, should go to the White House as a group and deliver an ultimatum. In fact, they are ethically obligated to do this, and Mike Pence is obligate to look the President in the eye and say, “I’m with them.”
The news media, Democrats and “the resistance” are useless for this purpose, as they have made it clear than anything this President does will be condemned and ridiculed. The New York Times, after all, felt that a Twitter typo was worthy of front page coverage. They have all become the equivalent of a ridiculous hybrid of Chicken Little and the Boy that Cried Wolf—The Chicken Boy Who Cried That The Sky Was Raining Wolves.
Maybe the public can accomplish what the “best people” can’t. Flood the White House with letters that say, simply, “Stop tweeting.” Flood the mailboxes and e-mail accounts of every Republican and White House staffer with the same message. Millions and millions of appeals to sanity. It’s worth a try.
For this habit, mania, addiction, blind spot, whatever you call it, undermines the Presidency, Trump’s credibility, the world’s respect, the U.S., and the policies Trump was elected to advance. This is obvious now, or should be, to everyone except, incredibly, him. One way or the other, this is one flat learning curve that must not stay flat.