The White House wanted today to be about infrastructure. On Sunday, White House officials told the media that Monday would kick off “Infrastructure Week,” an effort to privatize America’s air traffic control system, and many of its roads, bridges, and tunnels. That plan lasted until 6:45 on Monday morning, when Donald Trump, apparently watching Morning Joe, sent out a torrent of tweets about the travel ban.
In these four tweets, Trump rips apart his own Justice Department, the idea of an independent judiciary, and an executive order that he signed. Just as importantly, by calling it a “ban”—and by insisting that it is, in fact, a ban—he’s contradicting his own staff. He’s also playing into the exact case that Hawaii is making against the ban. Considering that Trump’s past comments and tweets have repeatedly been used in court to undermine his executive orders on the travel ban, these tweets have the feeling of the final nails in its coffin.
It’s possible, I suppose, that Trump knows that the Supreme Court is going to strike down the executive order and is trying to spin that inevitability as being part of what is increasingly becoming his primary political message: that he represents the radical change that America needs, but various institutions (the media, other branches of government, etc.) are undermining him in the service of elites.
But that is probably giving Trump too much credit. The more likely explanation is that Trump is, once again, retreating back into his comfort zone. Throughout the campaign—but particularly the Republican primary—he exploited and manipulated fear for his political benefit, using the attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino and Paris to try to score points with Republican voters. He’s been trying to do that ever since the horrific London Bridge attack on Saturday evening. By Sunday morning he was pushing the travel ban again and trying to start a feud with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
This barrage of tweets tells us two things. The first is that Trump believes that one of the issues with the first four months of his presidency was that he wasn’t allowed to speak unfiltered to the American people enough—which is exactly the wrong lesson. (So much for the White House vetting Trump’s tweets!) The second is that Trump will exploit (and lie about) a crisis for perceived political gain. We’ve been fortunate so far that Trump has created most of the crises that have defined the first four months of his presidency. But not every disaster that happens over the next four years will be of Trump’s own making and we should be terrified—and should start preparing—for what Trump will do when a terrorist attack occurs in America.