US President Donald Trump’s tweets have been described as grenades. Now, in terms of their potential to cause severe and lasting damage, they are more like nuclear warheads.
Just in the past week, Trump has made remarks that undermine, if they don’t actually sabotage, his own appeal to the US Supreme Court on his immigration laws, and he has hung out to dry the small Middle Eastern country of Qatar that is host to a US military base where 10,000 troops are stationed.
We know this, not because confidential internal White House conversations have been leaked to The Washington Post but because of the President’s tweets.
Not so long ago, most of us probably thought that his regular and undisciplined tweeting was quirky, or even funny, just another indicator of just how idiosyncratic the new US President was. They were a clue to the kind of reckless behaviour and use of language that enabled him to dispense with the large field of gormless Republican candidates and win the GOP nomination for president.
But what might have seemed fair during a campaign, even during the presidential campaign when he relentlessly denigrated “crooked Hillary”, is very different and far more frightening when the tweeter is the actual president, keeper of the nuclear codes, supposed leader of the free world.
It is abundantly clear now that no one on his staff is able to influence, let alone, control what Trump tweets. After the disastrous NATO meeting two weeks ago, Trump’s staff let it be known that in future lawyers would vet all tweets. That assurance evaporated in the face of a Trump twitterstorm the very next day.
In fact, in the past two weeks the US President has tweeted almost frenetically and many of his tweets are becoming more unhinged. It is as if he sees tweeting as his lifeline out of the political quagmire that is now the White House.
He said as much this week: “The FAKE MSM is working so hard trying to get me not to use social media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out”.
He is wrong to say the media wants him to stop. Au contraire: his tweets are a never-ending well for stories. And for him to think that the President of the United States does not have the resources to get an “honest and unfiltered message out” is, as he would say, Sad.
Trump’s tweeting is a cause for great concern because his Twitter feed is now the primary source of policy for the United States. The world now looks to the President’s tweets in order to know what he – and thus the US – thinks.
Almost every day now, the President’s tweets contradict, undermine or reverse policy statements by Cabinet members, government officials or even Trump’s own press spokesman. (Sean Spicer was forced to concede this week that, even though that is his job, he cannot actually speak for the President.)
In such circumstances, who are governments around the world, journalists and worried citizens to believe? The rational-sounding officials? Or the President?
And this is why it is all so worrying. And potentially very dangerous.
It’s not just that he tweets outside office hours, with no one else present, in the early hours, possibly from his bed. It’s not just that he won’t follow advice (in fact, as The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman herself tweeted on Tuesday, Trump has form for doing exactly the opposite to what he is advised – just to show who is in charge).
It’s that the President’s thoughts, however spiteful, damaging or just plain inaccurate, are sprayed straight from his brain to his 31.8 million followers and a receptive audience of millions more in mainstream and social media which disseminates them within seconds around the globe.
There are no filters and no democratic processes being observed.
So on Wednesday Trump was able to tweet, without first informing Congress or anyone else it seems, that he would nominate Christopher Wray, whom he described as “a man of impeccable credentials”, as the next director of the FBI.
If his nominee was checked out, the process would have revealed that Wray is currently a partner with King & Spalding, a global law firm that includes among its clients the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft.
In 2013, King & Spalding advised Rosneft on its takeover of TNK-BP, a $US55 billion-dollar deal that made Rosneft the largest listed oil producer in the world. The deal was finalised at Vladimir Putin’s mansion, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper that was accompanied by photos of the smiling Russian president shaking hands with the BP and Rosneft chiefs.
Now who is to say there is anything wrong with a partner from this firm heading the FBI while it investigates the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia? It’s just that we might all feel a bit more comfortable if someone other than the tweeting President had even known about this.