When Trump tweets about terror it isn’t for the victims – it’s for him

Donald Trump’s second instinct was the right one, while – surprise, surprise – his first was not. And, as ever, it is those initial blunderings, grotesque and self-serving, that we’ll remember. And they tell us a lot about the man and how his empathy-depleted, self-serving mind works.

So we can dispense with Step Two quickly. He phones Theresa May and extends condolences and a hand of cooperation in the wake of the Parsons Green train attack. Well done Donald – that wasn’t so hard. Civil exchanges of mutual support between leaders can matter in times of national shock, and both Britain and the US are doing plenty behind the scenes on terror.

Step One, cock-eyed and deplorable, came via Twitter. The panic on the tracks is barely over and Trump trots out four tweets, all unhelpful. To what end did he imply, for instance, that the London police had screwed up because the perpetrators were already known to them? These, he said, were “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard”. Is that so? Was he guessing or did he have classified information, and if so why was he blabbing about it?

Forensics officers investigate the scene (AFP/Getty)

The Prime Minister, of course, has been criticised for being mealy-mouthed in the past each time Trump has overstepped the boundaries of decency, most recently with his attempts to say that the counter-protestors and the white supremacists equally shared the blame for the mayhem – and murder – in Charlottesville last month.

This time, she rebuked the president rather swiftly. If she hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have bothered placing that call to her subsequently.

“I never think it’s helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation,” she said after a meeting with her top domestic security experts. The Metropolitan Police weren’t amused either. The comments were counterproductive and “pure speculation”, it said in a statement.

That Trump is madly inconsistent barely needs pointing out. It’s about what suits him at the time. When he was assailed for his initial comments on Charlottesville, he said he hadn’t wanted to say anything more – blame the haters – before having all the facts.

“When I make a statement, I like to be correct,” he said. “I want the facts … I don’t want to rush into a statement.” Does he not see how ridiculous that sounds? Coming from him. Juxtapose that with his Friday tweets and you might laugh. Or cry.

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