Even as British police were still sorting out exactly what had happened in the London Underground on Friday morning, President Donald Trump was using the incident to prove a point.
“Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.” he tweeted. “These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” Added Trump: “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”
The travel ban, of course, is Trump’s executive order aimed at blocking people from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, a necessary step in combating terrorism, according to the President. But, at least in the early stages of this London investigation, there is no evidence to suggest where the attackers hailed from or what their motives were. All we know, according to British police, is that it is being investigated as a terrorist incident.
Asked about Trump’s tweet that the London tube attack was perpetrated by people known to the security services, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it is “never helpful for anyone to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation.”
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster attempted to explain the President’s morning assertion that culprits behind the explosion were known to British law enforcement, but offered little clarity.
At a White House news briefing Friday afternoon, McMaster didn’t answer directly whether Trump was revealing an intelligence assessment or whether he was just speculating.
“What the President was communicating is that obviously all of our law enforcement efforts are focused on this terrorism threat for years,” McMaster said. “Scotland Yard has been a leader, and our FBI has been a leader. So I think if there was a terrorist attack here, God forbid, that we would say that they were in the sights of the FBI. So I think he didn’t mean anything beyond that.”
Trump’s willingness to jump to conclusions about the London incident stands in stark contrast to his defense of his unwillingness to fully condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis behind the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.
Trump, who initially (and repeatedly) said that there were violent people on both sides in Charlottesville, attributed that response to a desire to gather all the facts before offering an opinion. (Yes, I know this doesn’t make a ton of logical sense.)
“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” Trump explained to reporters. “The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts.”
It’s impossible to square “you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts” to what Trump did Friday morning in regard to the London attack.
What’s clear from a look at the way Trump has responded to a series of high-profile incidents – primarily terror attacks – since being elected President is that he is more than willing to leap on them well before all the facts are known if they reinforce something he already believes. If they go against his views, he is far less willing to do so.
The London attack Friday morning is, to Trump, yet more evidence of the existential threat posed by terrorism – and proof of how politicians obsessed with political correctness refuse to properly acknowledge that threat. (Remember that Trump blasted London Mayor Sadiq Khan back in June for allegedly underselling the threat of terrorism.)
History has shown that Trump is ready and willing to seize on any bit of evidence that proves his point on terrorism – whether or not that evidence actually proves his point on terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of an incident in the Philippines in June, Trump noted that “it is really pretty sad what is going on throughout the world with terror.” It turned out that the Philippines event was a robbery, not a terror incident.
By contrast, Charlottesville was not in Trump’s belief wheelhouse. Because of his suspicion of the mainstream media and what he believes to be the cult of political correctness, his instincts in the wake of the violence was to avoid jumping to the conclusion that the blame lay with the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had gathered to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. That, in Trump’s mind, was the story the media wanted you to believe; he was convinced there was more to it.
Of course, there really wasn’t – despite Trump’s ongoing attempts to prove that he was right all along and that “both sides” were violent.
In short: Trump is more than willing to jump to conclusions when he can comfortably fit an incident like what happened in London this morning into his existing world view.
It’s a selective outrage. And Trump deploys it very, very selectively.