Trump’s Twitter obsession could spell his self-destruction
- Credit: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images
How POTUS might be plunging America into disaster via social media
You can live by Twitter. You can die by Twitter. You can define yourself via Twitter and destroy yourself via Twitter. And Donald Trump may well be in the process of impeaching himself and plunging America into constitutional crisis via Twitter.
It would be the supreme example of situational irony if the president's grotesque social media addiction proved the passport to his departure from the White House; the digital demise of the most divisive POTUS of modern times.
But that is precisely what the president has conceivably managed with his tweeted reactions to the 'sweetheart deal' Special Counsel Robert Mueller struck with Trump's former national security adviser and key campaign ally, General Mike Flynn; a deal that has implicated the president's son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in illicit secret contacts with Russia and could ultimately lead directly to the president himself.
By tweeting that he fired Flynn 'because he lied to the vice-president and the FBI', Trump has opened the door to a charge of 'obstruction of charges' – the very offence that led to the downfall of his political hero Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal.
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For it effectively acknowledged for the first time that the president knew about Flynn's lies about his illegal contact with Russia, but – more crucial still – knew about them when he tried to pressure former FBI director James Comey into dropping his investigation into Flynn, before then firing the non-compliant FBI boss.
We also learned, this week, that, in the build-up to Flynn's guilty plea and plea bargain deal, the president again sounded out senior Capitol Hill Republicans about whether they would back him in sacking Mueller and disbanding the whole Russian Connection investigation. He was rightly rebuffed.
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And in another dangerous tweet, Trump suddenly denied that he'd ever asked Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn – claims which flew in the face of his own previous tweeted boasts that Comey's handling of the Russian Connection issue was one of the reasons he wanted the FBI chief sacked.
Other tweets rang alarm bells about POTUS's state of mind. There were those accusing investigators of 'ruining the life' of Flynn, something he repeated in front of the White House press corps. To some, it smacked of a desperate, last-ditch coded message to the general to halt his collaboration with Mueller and his men. According to sources close to the investigation that was a case of presidential wishful thinking. In another bizarre tweet, Trump even appeared to be reviving the long discredited 'Birther' calumny that Barack Obama wasn't an American and was thus never a legal American president. While in others he attacked the integrity of the FBI itself, railing: 'After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more) running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History!'
The president then retweeted an ultra right-wing commentator calling on the current FBI chief Chris Wray to 'clean house' and Trump himself hinted he's planning some sort of reform of the agency, declaring via Twitter (where else?): 'But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness'.
This week also saw the latest move by black Texan Democrat Congressman Al Green to seek to impeach the president, citing his 'racist' conduct. Although he has the backing of several party colleagues, Green's effort is more symbolic than realistic at this stage.
Neither Democrat leaders nor anti-Trump Republican leaders support impeachment yet, preferring to wait for the outcome of the Mueller investigation and the various Congressional inquiries into the Russian Connection. But, on an emotional level, there is considerable sympathy across Capitol Hill with Green's efforts.
And behind the scenes, there is also a significant and growing measure of cross-party support for the view that even if Mueller fails to prove the 'Big One' – direct collusion with Russian involving Trump himself – there is a powerful argument that he has already established sufficient evidence of 'obstruction of justice' to justify the eventual case for impeachment. Others are poised to contend that POTUS's Twitter rants raise legitimate questions over his mental fitness for office.
That said, the prevailing opinion is that, unlike Nixon, Trump would not simply bow to the pressure and resign rather than face impeachment. Instead, predicts one senior anti-Trump Republican senator privately: 'He'd have to be dragged out of the White House, screaming and shouting to his far right supporters that 'The Swamp' establishment was rigged against him and portraying himself as the victim of the century. It would be a resistance fight he'd launch on Twitter first. Unless, of course, men in white coats have to come and take him away first, and there's always a chance of that happening.'
That is another possible eventuality being taken increasingly seriously in the US. The New York Daily News (ironically Trump's favoured home city 'news fix' when I knew him in the 1980s) has just run an editorial leader declaring: 'Donald Trump is a madman'.
It began: 'After his latest spasm of deranged tweets, only those completely under his spell can deny what growing numbers of Americans have long suspected. The President of the United States is profoundly unstable, He is mad. He is, by any honest layman's definition, mentally unwell and viciously lashing out.
'Some might say we are just suffering through the umpteenth canny, calculated presidential eruption designed to distract the nation from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, or perhaps from unpopular legislation working its way through Congress. Quite possible. But Occam's razor, and the sheer strangeness of Trump's behaviour, leads us to conclude we are witnessing signs of mania.'
Elsewhere the editorial echoed the view of all but the most far right Republicans on Capitol Hill that Trump's retweeting, to his 43.6 million followers, of the discredited Britain First Muslim hate videos, was a further sign of the president's dangerous mindset.
'Trump is broadcasting discredited hate videos even as he now tells multiple people in his inner circle that the real, verified 'Access Hollywood' video in which he boasted of grabbing women 'by the pussy' – words for which he has already publicly apologised – was falsified,' lambasted the NY Daily News leader.
On both sides of the Atlantic there were mounting calls for POTUS to both apologise for those Britain First retweets and to take them down from his Twitter feed. Neither happened. It came as no surprise to those of us who have met and interviewed Trump long before he secured the biggest starring role on the planet. Narcissist, egomaniac bigots, pathological liars and vainglorious fantasists don't do sorry.
Neither was there any remote prospect, as too many who should have known better tried to argue after his election victory, that the responsibility of entering the White House would prove the Taming of the Trump; that he would mellow into a rational, traditional POTUS.
Fat chance becoming the most powerful figure on earth would ever diminish his overriding need to believe in his own omnipotence.
That's why being branded a recruiting sergeant for Britain First didn't bother Trump. Instead, when Theresa May finally plucked up the courage to deliver a mild rebuke, her reward was a rude, patronising Twitter slapdown. In short, Trump told the prime minister to mind her own business and busy herself with catching Muslim terrorists in the UK.
Some way, you might think, to contemptuously treat a woman who only in January was being feted by him at the White House, having her hand clasped by him embarrassingly and even inviting him with unprecedented and indecent haste on a State Visit to these shores.
Readers of this column might remember I warned the prime minister then that it was a high-risk strategy, born out of her Brexit-fuelled desperation for a 'Special Relationship' trade deal with the US, that she would live to regret.
Indeed, US politicians generally have long since abandoned using the term 'Special Relationship', except when they think it's something we're desperate to hear, or when they need our support in a UN sanctions vote or for our military to join theirs in some hugely-controversial, highly-sensitive international intervention.
But Trump is, above all, a politician whose distinct definition of any 'Special Relationship' is that it requires total, blind loyalty to him personally and to hell with all such considerations as principled criticism or moral objection.
In the case of Trump's worthless words back then about special trade favours, they were always going to be subject to his 'America First' populist mantra, and ignored the fact that trade deals are not directly in the gift of a wannabe autocrat POTUS anyway, but the preserve of Congress who tend to take their time on such issues and don't feel obliged to bow to any White House diktat.
Lest we forget, however, Trump is also the president who has suggested the American Constitution is 'archaic' and who everyday does his damnedest on Twitter and beyond to undermine the First Amendment on press freedom.
And the way things are shaping, it's a fair bet that he might well have tweeted his way out of the White House by the time Brexit happens (if it happens) and a weakened, isolated UK sits down to negotiate a tricky post-Brexit trade arrangement with a post-Trump, pro-EU America.
By the same token, the smart money on both sides of the Atlantic says it won't be Theresa May's problem by then, either.
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