President Donald Trump’s credibility quotient has been hanging by a thread since he took office but never more so than now. The Twitter sphere’s reigning monarch has cried wolf so many times that if and when he speaks to truth in an emergency, he won’t be taken seriously by people who matter.
His latest accusation that Barack Obama connived to “wiretap” Trump Tower in the run-up to the election has been debunked by the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and just about every other US intelligence agency and vehemently denied by Obama’s spokesperson.
For a while he uncharacteristically refused to answer reporters’ questions on the topic until Sean Spicer, his oft-ridiculed loyal spokesman, tried his best to persuade the White House press corps that his reference to wiretapping (listening-in on phone calls) should not be taken literally but rather understood as some type of “surveillance”.
Spicer’s alternative fact was followed up with a statement from Trump to the effect the coming few weeks would throw up something more persuasive. We didn’t have to wait that long. Acknowledging that US intelligence agencies were not the culprits after all, the president’s finger pointed at the British Government’s Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) of spying on him at Obama’s behest. That spurious allegation against one of America’s closest allies has created a tense diplomatic incident.
Forced to break with protocol
The normally secretive GCHQ broke with protocol releasing a statement refuting Trump’s claim which it characterised as “utterly ridiculous”. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May who is desperate to cement a US-UK trade deal went literally hand-to-hand with the US president, but such a serious charge could not go unanswered.
“We’ve made clear to the US administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We’ve received assurances that these allegations won’t be repeated,” she said. Just hours later, they were.
While sharing a White House podium with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, he was cornered by a blunt-talking German reporter on wiretapping.
Hard pressed to hide his annoyance, Trump pointed his inquisitor towards Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who initiated the claim based on unnamed informants revealing that GCHQ had colluded with his nemesis. Fox News anchor Shepherd Smith promptly responded saying his network had no evidence of any kind that any such surveillance took place.
“All we did was quote a very talented legal mind,” said Trump before embarrassing his astonished German guest by quipping that they had something in common — a dig at the Obama administration’s bugging of Merkel’s mobile phone during 2010.
It’s unheard of for any leader to get his intelligence from an individual opining on a TV network, especially one that’s more entertaining than newsworthy. Trump is a one-off who trusts conspiracy theorists over his own intelligence community in the belief the so-called Deep State is working to bring him down — and he’s come up with more than a few conspiracies of his own.
Trump has never apologised for his wild claim that Barack Obama wasn’t eligible to be president because he wasn’t born in the US, despite the publication of his Hawaiian birth certificate.
He insisted over and over again that the crowds that turned out on the day of his inauguration were bigger than his predecessor’s, wilfully ignoring official photographic proof to the contrary.
He was so put out that Hillary Clinton garnered the popular vote that he pushed the nonsense that millions of people voted illegally, risking undermining his own victory.
He still believes “thousands and thousands” of Muslims were out cheering the September 11 attacks in New York, an assertion that has been discredited by numerous fact-checkers. Completely off the wall were suggestions that Republican Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep aged 79, was assassinated and the father of Senator Ted Cruz might have been connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Worse, the maestro of some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories in the history of mankind, Alex Jones of Infowars, has his ear. Jones has accused the government of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks and asserts the children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors.
And whereas the US president considers a substantial swathe of the mainstream media purveyors of fake news, he appointed the former executive of the alt-right website Breitbart, a platform for white supremacists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites, as his chief strategist.
Nevertheless, an overwhelming number of Americans still believe in their commander-in-chief. Last week, his approval rating was the highest since his inauguration, at 52 per cent according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll. Well I never! Whatever he’s doing, it’s working in our topsy-turvy world where truth, exaggerations and downright falsehoods are the stuff of guessing games.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.