In the immediate aftermath of the suspected terrorist incident in New York yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump tweeted a series of clumsy but inoffensive messages. "My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack," the president said at one point. "God and your country are with you!"
Trump did not, however, wait long before following his worst instincts.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the Uzbek immigrant suspected of murdering eight people in New York City with a rental truck entered the U.S. through the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program" and the president charged Sen. Chuck Schumer and Democrats had loosened the nation's borders.Trump did not provide any supporting evidence for the claim about the visa program, which was being discussed on the morning TV program "Fox and Friends" that the president indicated in his tweets that he was watching.
"The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based," Trump tweeted.
Apparently relying on the Fox News program instead of his intelligence briefing, the president added he wants "no more Democrat Lottery Systems," before again blaming the Senate Minority Leader for the attack that happened in his own home state.
For the record, we don't actually know whether this suspect entered the U.S. through the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program." Visa records are confidential and the State Department doesn't comment on any specific application. It's possible Trump is correct about yesterday's suspect; it's also possible he made this up or relied on dubious information from conservative media.
Either way, the president waited less than a day after the attack to lash out, exploit the deadly violence, and falsely blame a political opponent -- who happens to represent the area where the attack happened -- for the incident.
Worse, the president did so in a way that didn't make any sense. The program in question was signed into law by the Bush/Quayle administration, following bipartisan talks. More recently, the bipartisan "Gang of Eight' immigration reform bill, which Schumer helped write, would've scrapped the Diversity Visa Program, had the far-right not killed the legislation.
I have a hunch Trump doesn't know that.
But the more disheartening takeaway is Trump's apparent inability to deal responsibly with terrorist violence. This morning's tantrum was ugly, but as regular readers know, it was not out of character for this president.
His response to last year’s attack in Orlando – the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – was pathetic. His reaction to the attack in Nice, France, was every bit as foolish. The Republican president’s response to recent terrorism in London quickly became an international embarrassment -- twice. Trump's reaction to Charlottesville has left a stain on his presidency that will not wash off with time.
The common denominator, of course, is that Donald J. Trump responds to crises by asking all the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on what matters, the president looks for ways to gain political advantage in the wake of bloodshed, hoping to exploit attacks in ways that help him and his agenda, rather than help bring people together.
Incidents like these offer leadership tests, which Trump continues to fail spectacularly.