“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
— The White Queen, talking to Alice in ‘Through the Looking Glass’
Well, apparently, so does the President.
His most recent early tirade: four tweets about President Obama supposedly wiretapping his phone at 6:35 a.m., 6:49 a.m., 6:52 a.m., finishing up at 7:02 a.m., with this flourish: “This is Nixon/Watergate,” calling Barack Obama “a bad (or sick) guy.”
And then comes the lunchtime cleanup, Trump-style. Which is to say, the President digs in. And those around him desperately search for ways to defy gravity and logic to please the boss.
And what’s the best way they often come up with to explain what the president meant? Um, don’t take him literally.
We heard a lot of that during the election, of course. But now that he’s President, his words actually do matter. He’s not just trying to win an election; he’s leading the free world. We’re supposed to believe what he says, and trust him. And if there’s a crisis, we want to believe that he is considered, calm and deliberative. As in, not prone to tantrums.
Oh well. Trump’s early morning frenzy about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower has now occupied the past two weeks. And why wouldn’t it: he has charged a former President with breaking the law.
Initially, the White House staff scrambled to find a way to handle it and came up with a plan to get it off the front burner: let Congress investigate! But when the leaders of the intelligence committees came back and said they haven’t found any evidence that Obama ordered a wiretap — and demanded that the FBI director appear to explain what the agency is investigating — the administration had to shift gears.
And so, here we go again: Press Secretary Sean Spicer says don’t take Trump literally.
The president was really referring to overall “surveillance” when he said “wiretap,” not an actual wiretap. How do we know that? Because of his quotation marks, apparently — he put “wiretap” in quotes. Aha, that must be it. “I think the President has been very clear,” Spicer says, adding that when he “talked about wiretapping he meant surveillance.”
So we’ve gone from the Clinton era of parsing words to the Trump era of parsing punctuation.
And while Spicer was explaining how the literal interpretation of Trump is the wrong one, two federal courts had another idea: his travel ban was unconstitutional, even after it was rewritten, because of Trump’s actual words during the campaign.
A district court judge in Hawaii quoted Trump’s interview in March 2016 with Anderson Cooper in which he said “Islam hates us… and we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.” His words, the court said, provide “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the order.
Seems that the court took Trump literally. How inconvenient.
The White House will decry Obama judicial appointments, which is to be expected. But they can’t deny Trump’s language.
So when will the President exhibit some self-restraint? When does he stop theorizing on Twitter about matters of national security?
When asked by Tucker Carlson where he got his explosive information about the Trump Tower wiretapping, the President said, “Well, I’ve been reading things…[and] I watched your friend Brett Baier.”
So let’s get this straight: the President has, at his disposal, the entire national intelligence apparatus, and instead he gets his information from Fox News? Seriously. Or is it literally?
Maybe that’s what prompted another recent tweet — this time from Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: “We must accept possibility that @POTUS does not know fact from fiction, right from wrong. That wild claims are not strategic, but worse.”
Alice in Wonderland might see them as “curiouser and curiouser.” The rest of us might see something much more alarming.