Wed, Dec 06, 2017 - Page 9 News List

How Trump uses Twitter storms to make the political weather

Causing a rupture with a close ally, endorsing a hate group, undermining a Cabinet member — it is all in a morning’s work for the US president’s restless thumbs

By David Smith  /  The Guardian, WASHINGTON

Trump fired back: “Theresa @theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”

In fact @theresamay belonged to a different woman; Trump quickly realized his mistake and corrected it to @Theresa_May.

The prime minister stuck to her guns and reiterated that Trump had been “wrong” to retweet the incendiary and unverified videos. She was joined by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the (Muslim) mayor of London and even longtime Trump cheerleaders Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage.

Yet the White House defended Trump, and press secretary Sarah Sanders, saying she had come down with strep throat, ignored shouted questions from British reporters as she wound up a briefing.

Just as Prince Harry and actor Meghan Markle were planning an Anglo-American union, it seemed the special relationship was heading for the divorce court. There were demands for May to withdraw the offer of a state visit she had rashly made to Trump when, hastening to Washington in January, she became the first foreign leader to meet the new president.

A source close to the president said he still intended to visit, but his next overseas trip would be to Latin America in April, and it would certainly not be before then. The source said Trump has spoken with May after recent terrorist attacks and described their relationship as positive.

The extraordinary spat refocused attention on Trump’s Twitter habit and its potential to wreak diplomatic havoc. It is true that, long after the fact, letters and telegrams revealed tensions in the relationship between wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Roosevelt, and recordings demonstrated how former US president Ronald Reagan apologized to then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher for invading the former British colony of Grenada without her approval.

However, Trump’s Twitter barbs take place in real time and on full public display. It forced May to respond with sharp words and, some fear, could one day goad North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to respond with a nuclear missile.

“In all the time I’ve dealt with the United States, I’ve never heard a British prime minister have to publicly rebuke an American president,” former British ambassador to the US Christopher Meyer said. “John Major was furious when Bill Clinton granted [Sinn Fein leader] Gerry Adams a visa, but he did not go public with it. I find that striking.”

There have been disagreements between the US and the UK before, including over the Suez Crisis and former UK prime minister Harold Wilson’s refusal to send troops to Vietnam, Meyer said.

“We’ve had passages of disagreement, but most of it has been beneath the surface and private. This is all in public and that’s unprecedented,” he said.

“The UK and the US have had sharp disputes in the past, but I am not sure I have ever seen such a sharp dispute over such a non-substantive issue and it cannot possibly help the special relationship,” said Thomas Countryman, a US foreign service officer for 35 years.

“This president has made a speciality of putting both American and allies’ diplomats in a difficult situation,” he added.

Trump joined Twitter in March 2009, when the social media site was three years old. He has since posted 36,500 tweets (not all written by him personally) and has 43.8 million followers (Katy Perry has 107 million; former US president Barack Obama has 97.4 million). He is following 45 accounts comprising mainly his family, White House staff, his golf clubs, Fox News journalists — and Morgan. He weaponized tweeting during the bitter election campaign and has carried on using it divisively as president.

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