There’s an old saying in politics, “Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.” Alas, our commander-in-tweet doesn’t know when to shut up.
A normal president, someone of good character and credible qualifications, would’ve responded to this weekend’s London terrorist attacks with a reticent call for calm. But not Trump. His flying fingers betrayed him yet again as the worst crisis manager in the western world, a tin-eared insensitive opportunist whose first impulse is to politicize tragedy, insult an ally, and stoke public panic.
Most noteworthy was this preposterous Sunday tweet: “Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”
I think he was trying to say that if we ban all guns, people will simply find other ways to kill; my best guess is that he was semi-coherently reciting the NRA catechism. But that argument predictably falls apart when exposed to what Trump lacks most: rational thought.
The London attackers, wielding knives, killed seven people. If they’d had easy access to semiautomatic weaponry — the American norm — they would’ve likely killed many dozens more. But they were denied the opportunity to foment that kind of slaughter, and they were quickly put down by armed police, precisely because the United Kingdom has very restrictive gun control laws. On Saturday night, those laws saved many lives.
Former Bush senior aide David Frum points out, “In only one of all the completed and attempted Islamic terrorist atrocities in the U.K. since 9/11 did the killers even carry a single gun: a 90-year-old Dutch revolver so battered that they never tried to use it.” In the U.K., he explains, “would-be gun owners must apply for permission, explaining their reasons for wanting a firearm and producing references to their mental stability and good character.” (Imagine that!) And the British black market has proven to be too expensive for the self-radicalized amateurs.
But perhaps this is the best point of comparison:
The average number of gun killings per year, in the entirety of England and Wales, is roughly 60.
In America, the combined death toll at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech — those two slaughters alone — was 60.
Trump — our cross to bear, our international embarrassment — was too busy carrying the NRA’s water to fathom the fatuousness of his own tweet. And he was due on the golf course, so there’s that. He also had to make time to hurl an insult at the mayor of London, who was dealing with something a lot weightier than the decision whether to swing a seven-iron.
Trump tweeted: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'”
He got it wrong, natch. He falsely implied that the mayor was blithe about what happened.
Here’s what the mayor had said, in full context: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. No reason to be alarmed. One of things, the police, all of us need to do, is make sure we’re as safe as we possibly can be. I’m reassured that we are one of the safest global cities in the world, if not the safest global city in the world, but we always evolve and review ways to make sure that we remain as safe as we possibly can.”
It’s almost comical the way Trump misjudges the Brits. I bet he has no inkling of what they’ve stoically endured. They don’t wet their pants the way he does.
Resisting alarmism is baked in their national character. When I lived in London in the early ’90s, during a peak period of IRA attacks, it was common to get body-frisked on the way into a movie, or to get your face photographed at a checkpoint while driving into the financial district. On two occasions, bomb-laden trucks literally laid waste to whole blocks in the financial district (I walked the wreckage for a story). On any given week, there were trash-bin explosions, firebombs in doorways, Underground shutdowns known as “security alerts,” shopping street evacuations, threats of mortars at the airport, it was all routine.
Nobody got panicky. Nobody even complained. In their words, they just “got on with it.” A lawyer named John Hine, who worked in the financial district, memorably told me, “Most people think, ‘If this bothers me, then maybe I’ll do something about it tomorrow.’ But tomorrow never comes. We’re this way as a nation.”
And I haven’t even mentioned the Nazi blitz, which killed more than 20,000 Londoners. A working-class lady named Ivy Woods, reminiscing with me about her childhood, shrugged it off: “Can I be cheeky? We had a war on our doorstep all the time. But we survived, and that’s what matters. We pulled together. In the blackout you didn’t have to worry about your children being molested — not like today. In some ways, things were a darn sight better, weren’t they?”
One wartime tragedy says it all: During an air raid, 173 Londoners died of suffocation within 15 seconds when a stairwell to an Underground station collapsed. The subsequent government inquiry put the blame not on the stairwell (it was arguably faulty construction), but on the citizens. The stiff-upper-lip authorities said: “The disaster was caused by a number of people losing their self-control.”
A lesson for Trump, perhaps. He could use some of that.