Donald Trump’s brain short circuited last night and what came out of his mouth might be the most bizarre public utterance he’s made as president.
Trump was talking about the “open border” policies of many European countries and how terror attacks had resulted from lax vetting when, inexplicably, he mentioned Sweden as the target of a recent terrorist attack.
“Here’s the bottom line we have to keep our country safe,” Trump started, before pivoting to the subject of Europe
“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible,” he said.
Trump then listed several European cities that have suffered high profile terror attacks, including Paris and Brussels.
The context of his remarks led many social media users, including Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, to assume that Trump meant there had been a terror attack in Sweden the night before.
Is that what Trump was intimating — a terrorist attack in Sweden? Or did Trump mention Germany because of the large number of migrants they have allowed to cross their borders and then mention Sweden for the same reason?
Sweden, which has a long reputation for welcoming refugees and migrants, had a record 163,000 asylum applications in 2015. The country has since cut back on the number it annually accepts. (emphasis mine)
Its most recent attack linked to extremism happened in the capital, Stockholm, in December 2010. An Iraqi-born Swede detonated two explosive devices, including one that killed him but no one else.
Could that be the origin of the phrase “they’re having problems like they never thought possible”? Or was he referring to terrorist attacks?
Whatever it was, Trump’s remarks elicited much hilarity and mocking on social media:
What happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 19, 2017
Sweden stood with us after Bowling Green. Today we stand with Sweden.
— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) February 19, 2017
President Trump referenced the horrible incident in Sweden last night. Here's a photo of the chaos: pic.twitter.com/cuGP5qOz50
— Dan Wilbur (@DanWilbur) February 19, 2017
Needless to say, the government of Sweden was not pleased:
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said that the government wasn’t aware of any “terror-linked major incidents.” Sweden’s Security Police said it had no reason to change the terror threat level.
“Nothing has occurred which would cause us to raise that level,” agency spokesman Karl Melin said.
Axelsson told The Associated Press that the Swedish Embassy in Washington contacted the State Department on Sunday to request clarification of Trump’s remarks and was waiting for an answer.
Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted , “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”
Addressing Trump in an article on Sunday, the Aftonbladet tabloid wrote, “This happened in Sweden Friday night, Mr President,” and then listed in English some events that included a man being treated for severe burns, an avalanche warning and police chasing a drunken driver.
One Twitter user said, “After the terrible events #lastnightinSweden, IKEA have sold out of this” and posted a mock Ikea instruction manual on how to build a “Border Wall.”
Trump was probably referring to the large number of migrants Sweden had admitted before changing its policy to stem the flow, but how can you tell? And this is the fundamental problem of the nascent Trump administration — he doesn’t know how to be president.
If Trump knew what it took to be president he would have realized long ago that every single word he utters is scrutinized with a microscope. There is no room for error or misunderstanding, which is why all presidents eventually speak almost exclusively from a prepared text. It’s not that they’re necessarily stupid. It’s the inherent danger of being misunderstood, as President Trump discovered last night.
Trump may push his own set of alternative facts. But he can’t create an alternate reality.