Hurricane Dorian has been wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and along the East Coast since Sunday. Millions of people have evacuated their homes, thousands will return to find their home gone, and the death toll remains to be seen.
But the biggest casualty, judging from Donald Trump’s tweets, is his precious reputation.
Just as we are on Day 5 of hurricane watch, we are also on Day 5 of the president hunkering down in defense of a simple misspoken statement. While Dorian is weakening as it hits the United States, Hurricane Donald is only spinning quicker and harder.
Back on Sunday, Trump tweeted a warning about Dorian:
In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
It could have been one of his more useful tweets. Except that no forecasts actually predicted that Alabama was in danger, and the National Weather Service quickly corrected him. A normal president might have tweeted a quick apology and returned to his meetings with FEMA and whatever other agencies might be involved in the response and recovery. But—sing it together, everyone—Donald Trump is not a normal president.
Not content to merely double or quadruple down on his error, Trump went so far Wednesday as to haul out a map of the hurricane’s projected path that DID include Alabama, but it appeared to have been drawn on with a Sharpie.
Imagine, just for a second, that President Obama were still in office and he did the following. (Yes, we’re playing that game but you’ll see why.)
- Spreading total misinformation on Twitter.
- Showing a days-old, no longer relevant map to update the public.
- Doctoring that map with a Sharpie to prove he wasn’t wrong.
On Earth 2, Fox News would be in full engagement mode, replete with meteorologists, legal experts on why doctoring weather maps could be a criminal offense that could land Obama in jail, and God only knows what Hannity and O’Reilly would be saying.
Instead, with Trump doing these things, we get this from Geraldo Rivera: “You know, it is very frustrating to see how other news networks obsess about any misstep or misstatement the president makes—even to the exclusion of doing important reporting on this big natural disaster. So I think that the president really gets unfortunately and unfairly mugged by the media in a way that is beyond—beyond parallel, beyond compare.”
Let’s not even get into the lie Trump said when he hadn’t even heard about Category 5 hurricanes (which he had), but this? This is the spin? Even Special Report, perhaps Fox’s most honest panel show, tap danced around it.
Trump, when accused of doing the doctoring, denied it. Is it possible that an aide did it? Sure. But Donald Trump in the Oval with a Sharpie is like a toddler in a room with cake. When the frosting is all over the kid’s face, it’s hard to believe. Seriously, the man loves Sharpies.
In a week, you’ll probably commit yesterday’s controversy of Donald and the Black Sharpie—likely a forthcoming children’s book or Saturday Night Live skit—to the back of your mind. Nobody will blame you for that, because there will be another thing that’s outrageous, stupid, disappointing, or some combination of all three to focus on. Hopefully, Hurricane Dorian’s impact on the United States won’t be one of them. I’m mustering all of my Marriane Williamson “power of mind” to move the hurricane away from our shores.
What we shouldn’t forget is the Republican response, or how it differs from how Republicans responded to Obama-era controversies and conspiracies.
Let’s go back to Obama’s candidacy and citizen Trump’s embrace of birtherism and other conspiracies.
Having watched birtherism rise in the ranks of the GOP, many office holders chose to confront and denounce the conspiracy, accepting the ugly truth that their party’s base, commentators, and politicians were stoking the dangerous flames of a dubious conspiracy. For those that did it, it was easy to do at the time, although somewhat awkward because so many people believed in the conspiracy.
While birtherism is easily remembered today because Donald Trump was such a prominent pusher of the conspiracy, less so is the Bureau of Labor Statistics conspiracy a few years later. It goes a little something like this: Barack Obama was elected and birtherism didn’t stick, though it stuck around and does still to this day. Up for re-election in a slowly recovering economy following the great recession, Republicans began to sow doubts about the unemployment numbers provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even the great Jack Welch got behind it! Lots of others joined in. Especially Fox.
That conspiracy didn’t take root, probably because it was bonkers, and Barack Obama was re-elected.
Deterred by, well, nothing, that didn’t stop Trump a few years later while running for President to make a similar gambit about jobs numbers. Maybe you forgot about that too, after all that was 3 calendar years and 4,712* news cycles ago. (*=This is an approximation.)
What we see now from Republicans, in response to every-greater Trumpian recklessness, is strategic silence. It’s not total silence, mind you. There are so many things to point out among the many outrages of the day (on the left) that need tending to.
The new playbook is this: When Trump does something indefensibly stupid, maintain strategic silence, because Orange Man Good. Or, if not “good” (to the rare few who dare repeatedly admit it) the other guys are definitely worse.
Not surprisingly, strategic silence is the name of the game for most of the president’s supporters, or his anti-anti-defenders. And that’s cowardly. Not just because we probably know how they would have reacted if the other guy did it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.