Something menacing was happening this week and Donald Trump wanted America to know that he was right on top of it. Bombs intended for Trump’s political opponents were being discovered on a daily basis, but that wasn’t the real national emergency, according to Trump.
The “National Emergency” Trump was concocting was going to unfold at some point several weeks away on the nation’s southwest border when a group of several thousand desperate refugees attempts to turn themselves over to American authorities and claim asylum in the U.S. On Thursday night, the New York Times reported Trump was hatching plans to send as many as 1,000 active-duty U.S. troops to the border to prevent the asylum seekers from entering. It’s nothing but a political stunt—red meat for his rabidly anti-immigrant base. But his rush to action for an event that likely won’t even unfold before the Nov. 6 election stood in stark contrast to the waning sense of urgency Trump displayed for the real crisis at hand.
When the bomb-inspired domestic terrorist threat first started pulsing through the media on Wednesday morning, Trump went mum for more than six hours, except to retweet the sentiments of Vice President Mike Pence condemning the attacks targeting the Clintons, the Obamas, and other Democratic officials and boosters. “I agree wholeheartedly!” Trump exclaimed. Never mind that Trump practically tweets in real time while he’s watching conspiracy theories being spun on Fox News, such as the notion that there were “Middle Easterners” in the group of Central American migrants heading for the U.S.-Mexico border. (There aren’t, but Trump tweeted the lie out as fact anyway as Fox News hosts theorized there could be.)
After handcuffing his thumbs for the duration of Wednesday morning and early afternoon, Trump devoted all of a couple minutes to a call for civility at the beginning of a pre-planned White House event on opioid addiction. “Acts or threats of political violence have no place in the United States,” he said, with at least some amount of decorum. But by his Wednesday night rally in Wisconsin, Trump graduated to having a little fun with topic, as if people’s lives weren’t on the line. Though he toned down some of his most biting lines about his political opponents, he also congratulated himself for doing so.
“And by the way, do you see how nice I am behaving tonight?” he said to giggles from the crowd, like he was trying out a new schtick on a Comedy Zone tour. “Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well.”
But frankly, even joking about the death threats was a little too civilized for Trump. He had to point fingers at someone other than himself and his constant savaging of his political opponents as “evil” traitors to the nation.
“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative, and often times, false attacks and stories,” Trump told the Wisconsin crowd, returning to a favorite villain he has regularly cast as “the enemy of the people.” The media, and specifically CNN, happened to have been one of the recipients of the bombs, addressed to CNN contributor and former CIA Director John Brennan. But that wasn’t going to stop Trump, especially after CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker had criticized Trump and his White House earlier in the day for their “total and complete lack of understanding” about the animosity they have stoked toward the media.
“Words matter,” Zucker wrote. “Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”
Early Thursday morning, Trump took another whack at the media—again, an actual recipient of one bomb, and soon to be the recipient of another addressed to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper care of CNN.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump tweeted. “Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
By the time Trump sent that tweet, we had already learned that the terror threat was far from over, with new explosive devices found that morning addressed to Vice President Joe Biden and actor Robert De Niro. Trump hadn’t so much as bothered to pick up the phone and call the two former presidents who had been targeted the day before for assassination, and yet here he was putting the media on the hook for yet another round of attempted carnage.
On Friday morning, Trump’s cowardice got even worse. As the FBI and other law enforcement officials closed on a suspect, Trump called into question whether “this ‘Bomb’ stuff” was even real as he groused about the toll it was taking on Republicans at the polls.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows,” he tweeted. “Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”
It was Trump’s third victimhood tweet of the morning. He had already bemoaned how the “lowly rated CNN” could criticize him but if he criticized them, they would scream “it’s just not Presidential!” Also, twitter had apparently purged some of its malicious bots and, thus, Trump’s followers had decreased.
“A few weeks ago” he tweeted, Twitter “was a Rocket Ship, now it is a Blimp! Total Bias?”
People were receiving bombs in the mail and Trump was using his national platform to assail a tech company for what he deemed to be unfair treatment because he lost a few fake followers. Honest to god, does it get any pettier than that?
By Friday night, 14 packages and counting had been sent to Trump’s enemies and the FBI had apprehended Florida suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. at near lightning speed, hauling away a white van papered-over in pro-Trump paraphernalia and pictures of his political opponents in crosshairs.
While Trump was busily pointing fingers and pointedly avoiding responsibility, the agency Trump has repeatedly skewered as chaotic, unprofessional and biased kept its nose to the ground and quickly concluded an episode that could have resulted in multiple deaths and widespread terror. At a press conference Friday morning, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed his deep appreciation for all the agencies and individuals who had helped with the investigation.
“The partnerships that exist between the law enforcement profession in this country are extraordinary, are better than they’ve ever been,” he said, “and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for this country at this time.” Indeed.
Yet Trump still lacked the soul to show even a hint of leadership. As he departed for a rally in North Carolina Friday afternoon, he told reporters he would “probably pass” on contacting the Obamas to check on them. Asked if he would tone down his rhetoric, he said he had already done so but might move in the opposite direction because of how badly he had been treated.
“I could really tone it up because, as you know, the media’s been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party,” he explained.
And when the crowd in North Carolina began their inevitable “CNN sucks!” chants Friday night, Trump chimed in, “indeed they do, they have a major role to play in terms of tone, in terms of everything.”
The nation got a preview this week of how Trump responds to a crisis, not of his own making. It could have been calamitous except that the agency he has obsessively assailed rescued the nation from his still stunning lack of competence and concern for anyone but himself. Frankly, it’s both a miracle and a small bit of grace any piece of our government continues to be as functional as the FBI proved to be in this dark hour. And as the tragedy that unfolded at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday reminds us, there’s no shortage of dark hours to come.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.