Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: 'Pay no attention to that strange man with the Twitter account'

On Monday, White House staffer Sebastian Gorka criticized the news media for paying attention to statements by the president of the United States on Twitter. "They are not policy," Gorka told Chris Cuomo of NBC. "It's not policy. It's social media, Chris. It's social media. You know the difference, right?"

Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway took a similar course, chastizing the media for "this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter." After it was pointed out to Conway that Twitter is the president's "preferred method of communication with the American people," Conway said "that's not true."

Yes. It is.

I have proof:

It's downright bizarre, as if the Trump administration and President Trump are two independent entities, each operating in its own parallel universe. They're describing a somewhat sane, somewhat rational chief executive, while the man himself insists on proving that he's not. The examples go on and on.

Trump's staff has spent months insisting that the Trump travel ban shouldn't be called a travel ban and attacking media outlets that dared to use the term. “It’s not a travel ban, remember,” as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Fox News last month. “It’s the travel pause."

Trump insists it is:

Trump dismisses claims that Russia intervened in the election on his behalf as a hoax, and he has never acknowledged that mankind is contributing to climate change. Yet according to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump acknowledges both as fact. Haley also insists that it is administration policy that Russian should be punished for its electoral meddling, while the president himself yucks it up in the Oval Office with those very same Russians.

Last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were all insisting that Trump would publicly recommit the United States to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Yet when the time came, Trump refused to do so, changing his speech without even bothering to notify his top three foreign policy experts.

This week, Trump attacked the U.S. Justice Department for withdrawing the initial travel ban and replacing it with a slightly more moderate version. He seemed unaware of the fact that the Justice Department works for him; that as president, he himself signed that second, revised travel ban; and that as president, he could withdraw that second version just by ordering that it be done.

The president attacked the mayor of London for his handling of a terror attack over the weekend. The acting U.S. ambassador to Great Britain lauded the mayor of London for his handling of the terror attack.

And while the president alienates allies with his "America First" message, his defense secretary was in Singapore telling Asian leaders something very different. “What a crummy world, if we all retreat inside our own borders," Mattis said. "Like it or not, we are part of the world.”

Visiting in Australia on Monday, Tillerson took a similar course.

“I hope the fact that we are here demonstrates that it is certainly not this administration’s view or intention to somehow put at arm’s length the other important allies and partners in the world,” he said.

Gee, where would people ever get a crazy idea like that?

The conflicting signals over NATO's mutual self-defense provision pose a particularly grave problem. McMaster, Tillerson and Mattis all say the United States is deeply committed to that obligation. Vice President Pence reiterated that in a speech Monday night, saying “Make no mistake, our commitment is unwavering,” the words that his boss refused to say.

But if and when the time comes when that "unwavering commitment" must be honored, if Russia sends troops into Estonia or Latvia or Poland, who makes the decision?

It is not McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis or Pence. It's not the fictional Trump that his staff members are trying so desperately to create. It's the crazy man with the Twitter feed. As he himself reminded us today, that Trump, the Twitter Trump, is the "honest and unfiltered" Trump. In the immortal words of Sean Spicer, "the tweets speak for themselves," and what they tell us is deeply alarming.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.