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Trump didn’t ask my advice on the power of a president’s words, but here it is anyway

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump speaks at the Saint Andelm College New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump speaks at the Saint Andelm College New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday. AFP/Getty Images

Hey Donald,

For someone who’s got “all the best words” on your tongue, you sure don’t seem to understand their power.

Especially not now, when you’re just one summer GOP convention and one November election away from the Oval Office.

You know what I’m talking about. Those post-Orlando comments of yours in which you very clearly implied that Barack Obama, the president of these United States, has some shady, sinister ulterior motives governing his approach to the fight against terrorism.

You said this on Fox News Monday:

“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can't believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”

When asked to explain why you wanted Obama to resign following the shooting, you said this:

“He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands – it’s one or the other, and either one is unacceptable.”

The Washington Post turned those words and others into this headline:

Donald Trump suggests President Obama was involved with Orlando shooting

Which folks at the Post apparently decided was connecting your deliberately placed dots perhaps a smidge too boldly. The Post later changed it to:

Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting

Did that fudge it sufficiently? Maybe, maybe not. Didn’t matter to you. “Dishonest” coverage, you yelped, and revoked the Post’s credentials to cover your campaign.

Now, what’s dishonest about journalists following the clear line of your innuendo to its logical end point? I see only a shade of difference between the first and second Post headlines. Both seem to go directly where you were deliberately trying to lead listeners.

So what’s the problem?

Maybe it’s just that, when you saw it in print, you realized just how crazy that headline looked. Maybe, as you are wont to do, you spoke too rashly. So, like politicians always do when the say something they shouldn’t have, you yelled that you’d been misquoted by dishonest journalists.

Whatever the case, here’s the lesson you need to draw from this. It’s one you should have already known. Every American should know it. It’s that a president – or a potential president – can’t ultimately say any old thing they feel like saying.

When you are the leader of the world’s most powerful country, you don’t need “all the best words.” Any words you use suddenly get infused with power, with import, even at times with menace. Why wouldn’t they be when they’re backed by the strength of the world’s most powerful military?

Even a president’s vaguest suggestions carry power. The things a president doesn’t say? That can have power, too, as every president who has had to tiptoe through the linguistic minefields of Arab-Israeli diplomacy understands. A foolish or ill-timed suggestion from an American president can set troops in motion, send rockets flying, ignite global crises.

That’s why the Washington Post did the right thing, even if it felt its first headline landed a shade short of the mark. When you’re this close to the Oval Office, you don’t get to just toss cryptic speculation or conspiracy theories out and expect the press to report your words verbatim, without framing what they mean or what their import might be.

That’s certainly not the way it will work in the White House. You apparently don’t understand that, but you need to learn.

Instead of launching a misguided vendetta against journalists at the Washington Post (who will still report about you anyway), you ought to chalk this one up as a lesson learned and move on.

If, God forbid, you wind up in the White House with our soldiers’ lives literally depending on the words that fall from your lips, that’s a lesson we’ll all be praying you’ve learned, and learned well. --Eric Frazier

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