While the impacts from Hurricane Dorian thankfully passed far from Minnesota, even here in the North Country, we can’t escape the impacts that Hurricane Trump continues to inflict on our federal government. While the list of abominations from this administration grows longer almost daily, one of the most troubling recent episodes centers around President Trump’s erroneous Sept. 1 tweet regarding the expected impacts from the recent hurricane.
As many readers likely recall, the president claimed in his tweet that several states, including Alabama, would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Not surprisingly, folks in Alabama were unsettled by the president’s warning, particularly since their local forecasts had indicated little, if any, impact from the storm.
As calls from panicked residents poured into local offices of the National Weather Service, a meteorologist in the Birmingham office issued his own tweet, saying that Alabama was not going to see any impacts from the storm. The Birmingham tweeter was correct, of course. By the time the forecaster issued his tweet, the National Weather Service had already confirmed that the storm was going to stall over the Bahamas and then move mostly north, possibly grazing the Carolinas.
Trump’s tweet was simply in error, which any mature individual, and any previous president, would have been willing to acknowledge. But that’s always been a bridge too far for Mr. Trump who, instead, mobilized his political appointees to undertake damage control for him, inflicting far more damage in the process, most of all to the morale of the thousands of men and women we rely on to bring us our weather forecasts, including storm predictions.
Rather than admit error, Trump pointed to a days-old map of wind speed probability that suggested a small portion of southeastern Alabama had a 5-20 percent chance of wind speeds in excess of 39 miles per hour. By the time Trump issued his tweet, however, the map had changed significantly and Alabama was no longer forecast to receive either wind or rain from Hurricane Dorian.
Trump’s actions were simply unpresidential. A president is supposed to provide guidance to the people of the country, and that means accurate information, particularly in the face of a hurricane. Creating unwarranted panic across a state that, by that point, was completely in the clear, was just sloppy. The Birmingham forecaster did the responsible thing by correcting erroneous and potentially dangerous misinformation.
Sadly, while the rest of the world focused on the massive destruction inflicted on the Bahamas, Trump fixated on his wounded ego, and fought back, even bringing an outdated weather map to a press conference, which he had clearly altered with a sharpie to make it appear the forecasted storm track could nick the southeast corner of Alabama. Trump’s actions were so ham-handed it immediately and appropriately became the week’s sensation on the late-night comedy shows.
It could all have remained in the category of farce had the White House not taken the unprecedented step of strong-arming the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the National Weather Service, into issuing a statement chastising the unfortunate weatherman who took the brazen step of informing his local residents of the true facts of the forecast.
Predictably, the rebuke from NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs, created a furor among former and current National Weather Service employees, who justifiably viewed the administrator’s actions as unprofessional.
It was actually worse than that, because it highlights a pattern of behavior in this White House, remarkably similar to the “cult of personality” that is often created around dictatorial leaders.
Like the sycophants who gather around tyrants everywhere, Trump officials are daily forced to nod approvingly, no matter the nonsense that emanates from the mouth or twitter finger of the exalted leader from moment to moment. Rather than focusing on the work of governing, the White House is dominated by a single, insatiable ego that seems to feed on the ruined reputations of the minions who are daily forced to defend his lies, his callousness, and his sometimes shocking ignorance of the world and basic history.
We can’t afford to have the disease that infects the Trump White House spread through the federal bureaucracy that we rely on to accurately predict our weather, inspect our food, manage our lands, conduct our science, or protect our air and water. Unfortunately, this latest incident shows just how far Trump’s malignant cancer has already spread.