Two years ago, relying on a Fox News report, Donald Trump’s White House falsely accused the Obama administration and GCHQ, the British surveillance agency, of spying on the Republican’s 2016 campaign. British officials were understandably unhappy: the Fox News report was based on absurdities peddled by a fringe conspiracy theorist.
Nevertheless, the American president peddled the exact same conspiracy theory yesterday, based on another report in the conservative media from the exact same conspiracy theorist. As Reuters reported, our friends across the pond were once again displeased.
Britain’s main eavesdropping agency on Wednesday said allegations that it had been asked by the Obama administration to spy on Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election were utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.
Trump on Wednesday tweeted that a former CIA analyst, Larry Johnson, had accused Britain of spying on the Trump campaign. Trump said: “It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!”
When asked about the tweet, a GCHQ spokesman said: “The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
The American president expressed his gratitude by falsely accusing our allies of participating in a spying scheme against him, based on absurd claims he saw some random conspiracy theorist make on an obscure far-right outlet.
But I mention all of this anew because of one phrase in the British statement: “should be ignored.”
In other words, officials in the British surveillance agency saw what Trump wrote, realized the Republican’s claim is absurd, and asked that sensible people pay it no mind. To a very real degree, that’s a generous reaction: it’s easy to imagine the authorities in the UK responding in a furious manner, summoning the American ambassador, and demanding a public apology.
The reason this didn’t happen, in all likelihood, is that British officials have come to the realization that Donald Trump simply isn’t a serious person, so random nonsense he peddles via Twitter is, to borrow a phrase, “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
Stepping back, it’s important to appreciate the discouraging fact that this keeps happening. Indeed, it’s become a staple of Trump’s presidency: the Republican says something absurd, there are international implications, and Americans are left to hope that the world simply shrugs its shoulders.
As New York’s Jon Chait put it a while back, “It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence.”
Chait said that nearly two years ago. The humiliation has only intensified.