President Trump gave his first television interview to David Muir of ABC News yesterday. Muir should win an Emmy for his poker face during this interview, and he asked the president a very important question:
DAVID MUIR: Let me just ask you, you did win. You’re the president. You’re sitting …
PPRESIDENT TRUMP: That’s true.
DAVID MUIR: Do you think that your words matter more now?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, very much.
DAVID MUIR: Do you think that that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, not at all.
This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the Trump presidency. Despite saying that he thinks his words matter more now that he is president his actions show that he has no ability to control his words and to modulate an appropriate response to anything.
I learned the importance of this skill in a very startling way when I was working as an advisor to the Vice President of Colombia in 2005. A well-known human rights group had just released a report that willfully misstated and distorted certain facts about the Colombian government’s responsibility for the abuses committed by the FARC, the rebel organization that had been at war with the Colombian government for approximately 40 years at that point.
I wanted the Vice President to come out strong and call out the fact that this activist group was deliberately lying about what was going on in Colombia. That they knew what they’d published was untrue but were doing it for their own financial gain and political leverage. The Vice President very patiently heard me out and then said something like this, “Andrew, I understand your point exactly. And you are correct that is what they are doing. If I come out and condemned them for lying for their own political gain we would be factually correct. BUT as a national leader I can’t just think about what I MEAN when I say something. There are certain people in this country who would HEAR that statement as me saying these human rights activists are in bed with the FARC. And those same people would take that as a declaration that these human rights workers deserve to be killed. Which ISN’T what I mean or want. Even though I don’t like their report or their erroneous conclusions, I don’t want those people murdered by paramilitaries because I was careless with what I said. So we need to come up with an answer that is much more measured.”
I will never forget those words: It’s not enough to think about what YOU mean. You must also think about how your words are going to be received. Or people can DIE.
Trump needs to learn that his words incredibly powerful. It’s not just a question of the stock price of Boeing taking a temporary haircut because of a careless tweet. Trump is the Commander in Chief of a nuclear power. He’s the leader of the free world. And he needs begin acting like it or something bad will happen.