If Watergate weighs heavily on Trump’s mind, it’s not hard to guess why – and it’s got nothing to do with Obama

Matthew Norman
US President Donald Trump: Getty

The curious case Dr Watson might have called “A Study In Orange”, had Sherlock Holmes been hired to unravel Donald Trump’s mind (“Less a three pipe problem, Watson, more a crack pipe problem”), became a bit curiouser over the weekend.

By that I mean a really tiny bit because the plain facts of Trump’s election and his first weeks in office leave room for only the most incremental growth.

Like the Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, who kept beating his own world record by the weeniest margin to secure regular bonus payments, each fresh outburst barely raises the lunacy bar. But Trump’s accusation that Barack Obama personally had his phone tapped before the election ratchets up the crazy by a perceptible fraction.

With this tweetstorm, unlike earlier ones, the least peculiar aspect was its timing. It might even be taken for a sign of improving mental health.

Traditionally, Trump has gone doolallly on Twitter soon after 3am, which hints at him being driven by all four horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: Insomnia, Ignorance, Confusion and Paranoia.

Yesterday he didn’t get going until 5.35am (Mar-a-Lago time). That makes it plausible that he woke early, rather than spent the night working himself into a frenzy. If so, the removal of Insomnia might unbalance the chariot of doom enough to make Trumpageddon a touch less likely.

Unfortunately, all three other horsemen were on parade. So far as Paranoia (about being wiretapped), that doesn’t mean the FBI wasn’t out to get him over his alleged links to Russia. If the feds suspected him of collusion with a hostile foreign power, they were obviously duty-bound to investigate.

The first show of Confusion came in Trump’s claim that Obama ordered the surveillance. As was swiftly explained, a President cannot order a wiretap on a US citizen. You might imagine Trump committing such a blatant abuse of power. But only an addict of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon’s paradise for conspiracy loons, would think Obama capable of the same.

Trump is such an addict. Breitbart, apparently his primary news source, has been propagating some cobblers about Obama effecting “a silent coup”, and linking it to an old tale about a Fisa (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) court refusing an FBI request to tap the Trump Tower hotline.

It remains unknown whether a Fisa court approved a later request. But Trump is confused again if he thinks the answer would help him either way. If there was no tap, his reputation as the dupe of a site catering to people whose credulity is matched only by their malevolence is cemented. If the court did give permission, it must have had prima-facie evidence of him colluding with the Russians. Neither is good for Donald Trump.

Those who like to see method in his madness may see the attack on Obama as a ploy to distract focus from a crisis exacerbated last week by Jeff Sessions’ false denial of meeting the Russian ambassador. Bless them for that, though how ramping up interest in a Russia story would operate as a smokescreen to obscure the original Russia story is hard to say.

As for accusing the least scandal-ridden president in decades of being another Nixon, you need not be Sigmund Freud to interpret that as projection. If Watergate weighs on Trump’s mind, no cigar for guessing the real reason why.

Although his people were quick to crush Trump’s claim, Obama is staying shtum. Too smart and too dignified to be suckered into a street brawl with a distempered bare-knuckle fighter, he knows that when you’re President, and in a hole, going berserk at the controls of a giant JCB is a misjudgment.

In Trump’s failure to comprehend this we find Ignorance chirruping the subtler of its two contributions to the dawn chorus.

The cruder one came in familiar form. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” tweeted Trump. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” This is not Trump’s first pee-pee controversy in a Russian context, though a spelling mistake on such a scale – “tap” is never going to be the tie-breaker in a national spelling bee, now is it? – seems far more unsettling than any voyeuristic taste for golden showers.

Yet that was a trivial show of Ignorance, where the other one is anything but. It may even spell his demise.

Despite a recently stated interest in resolving the present conflict in Crimea, Trump evidently knows nothing about a previous one. Unless he saw something on Breitbart about the Light Brigade having a splendid win, with all 600 returning to camp for tea and crumpets with barely a scratch between them.

His method of dealing with his travails on the Russian front isn’t a strategy because that implies forethought. It isn’t even a tactic, because that also hints at mental preparation. It is the instinctive reaction he makes whenever he’s threatened because he knows no other way. Half a league onward, half a league on, all the Lord Cardigan of Pennsylvania Avenue can do is charge towards the gunfire.

Until now Trump’s bespoke take on attack being the best form of defence has worked for him (just about). But until now, he hasn’t been President of the United States. In that office, charging towards gunfire looks like either suicidal bravado or suicidal stupidity. Whichever he chooses, if he sticks to this path and if the Russian rifles are firing live bullets, the outcome will be the same.

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