Weaponizing a Sharpie to wage war on reality

During hurricanes, the President needs to calm public fears, pledge federal aid where it's needed, and let meteorological experts do their jobs. Seriously, how hard is that?

President Donald Trump holds a chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump holds a chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Whenever a hurricane threatens our shores, a president has three simple tasks: calm public fears, pledge federal aid where it’s needed, and let the meteorological experts do their jobs. Seriously, how hard is that?

Way too hard for a guy whose tether to reality is thinner than dental floss.

Granted, there are more worrisome examples of Donald Trump’s reckless instability than his lies about Hurricane Dorian — he recently tweeted a classified photo of an Iranian missile site – but, as conservative attorney George Conway pointed out yesterday, his “absurd” behavior during this hurricane saga “is precisely what makes it such a striking illustration of the depths of the disorders that afflict his warped mind.”

If you haven’t tracked this satire-ready story, here’s a recap: Last Sunday morning, as Dorian crept toward the coast of Florida, Trump announced in a tweet that the people of 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!”

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But 20 minutes later, the National Weather Service felt compelled to post a rebuttal tweet. It told the people of Alabama that there was no need to panic, because basically the president of the United States had no idea what he was talking about: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.” James Spann, a  broadcast meteorologist based in Alabama, seconded the National Weather Service: “I have zero interest in politics. Dorian will not affect Alabama in any way.” And Jonathan Karl of ABC News fact-checked Trump’s false information.

That should’ve been the end of the needless episode, but Trump is cognitively incapable of admitting error. Better to double down and panic the Alabamans who take his word as gospel. And so, on Monday, he attacked Jonathan Karl in a new tweet: “Such a phony hurricane report by lightweight reporter … even Alabama could possibly come into play.”

Fast forward to yesterday, in the Oval Office, where Trump displayed a government map that showed Dorian’s projected path along the East Coast — with part of Alabama mysteriously looped into the danger zone. Did the National Weather Service draw that loop? Nope. It was done with a black Sharpie, which happens to be Trump’s favorite writing implement. We know this because he uses Sharpies to sign notes and documents; as he told some interviewers last year, “I called up the folks at Sharpie and I said, ‘Do me a favor, can you make the pen in black? Can you make it look rich?'”

He then tripled down on his fakery, telling reporters: “I know that Alabama was in the original forecast. We have a better map.” A White House reporter asked how Alabama came to be etched by a Sharpie on his “better map.” He replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Hang on … he really doesn’t know who doctored the government map? According to a new CNN report, “A source familiar with the briefing would not deny that Trump had drawn the black line on the map. ‘I’m not going to get into that,’ the source said, but confirmed the line had been added during the storm briefing Wednesday, before the press entered the Oval Office.” At this point, Sharpiegate sounds like a joke hatched by Stephen Colbert’s writers, but doctoring is actually a serious matter, a potential crime. Check out this provision in Title 18 of the U.S. Code:

“Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.”

Assuming that the House Judiciary Committee already has enough on its plate with respect to potentially impeachable offenses, yesterday’s farce should’ve been the end of this episode. But no, Trump still won’t let it go. This morning, back on Twitter, he quadrupled down: “(Dorian) turned North and went up the coast, where it continues now. In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed … What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!”

What a waste of valuable time and energy, at a time when Dorian is threatening to wreak real havoc on the Carolina coast. And naturally, we’ve heard nary a peep from the neutered Capitol Hill Republicans, who would’ve gone ballistic if Barack Obama had ever displayed a doctored government map to buttress a repeatedly false assertion.

We can perhaps laugh off this relatively petty episode — What’s next? Will Trump redraw the United States by looping in Greenland? — and give thanks that his instability has not been truly tested by a life-or-death international crisis. May we continue to be so lucky.

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