Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The histories written about Donald Trump’s presidency will no doubt offer conflicting analyses of his reign of confusion and error, but on one point they should all agree: He is the Sharpie King.
Trump loves Sharpies and his aides and allies surely know it. This fact makes it obvious that either the President or someone close to him is responsible for the extra, arcing black line that was added to a hurricane forecast map which Trump held-up to show that federal weather experts had warned that Alabama was in the path of the lethal Atlantic storm named Dorian.
The alteration came after the National Weather Service publicly corrected a presidential tweet that warned Alabamians that Dorian was a threat to them. As Trump was playing media meteorologist, the official predications showed the storm traveling far to the East and so the weather service tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian…”
Although it would have been a simple thing for the President to acknowledge the mistake, he has long been committed to the never-back-down axiom preached by his political mentors Roy Cohn and Roger Stone. The fact that Cohn died in disgrace and Stone faces a federal trial on felony charges doesn’t seem to matter to the President. He still follows the rule even when it leads him in absurd directions.
The variation in this particular display of Trump’s silly stubbornness – now known as #Sharpiegate – involves the telltale evidence created by his favorite pen.
First made in 1964, when Trump was a senior at New York Military Academy, the Sharpie quickly became a favorite of celebrities and athletes who were asked to scrawl autographs on everything from baseballs to movie posters. Nothing communicated fame so immediately as a signature inked in a distinctive Sharpie scrawl. Johnny Carson, whom Trump idolized as a college student, was an early endorser.
I first noted the President’s penchant for the bold strokes made easy by this kind of magical marker when I examined documents that informed the Trump biography I published in 2015. Whether he was signing an ordinary letter or scrawling a snarky remark to send to a journalist, Trump invariably favored the impression made by this pen. When he wanted to add a special flourish he used one that came with gold ink. Nothing says Trump more than a message written in big golden letters.
Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, those who served businessman Trump picked up the Sharpie habit. To do otherwise would mark (forgive the pun) an executive as a shrinking violet. At Trump Tower most of the signatures on interoffice envelopes were made with Sharpies. I noticed that his daughter Ivanka Trump wrote attaboy notes about her father’s press clippings in black Sharpie.
The blunt quality of a Sharpie fits Trump’s personality. Its thick barrel and wide tip make it impossible to write with any delicacy. If you want to make your message clear, you are forced to write in big strokes. Similarly, the thick lines produced by a Sharpie provide a cover for the writer who wants to tease with an impossible-to-read signature like Trump’s saw-tooth autograph. A Sharpie-writer forces others to pay closer attention.
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Trump’s choice of pen is about his desire to make a permanent mark. But here the tool that the White House selected – it is unclear whether or not Trump himself made the alteration – to make an impression seems to reveal more than Trump might have wanted. Like a grade-schooler’s attempt to turn a report card D into a B the line added to the weather map only drew more attention to the reality the scrawl was intended to cover-up.
Ill-informed about the hurricane he was supposedly monitoring, our President offered not the truth but a forgery. He thinks we’re too stupid to recognize a Sharpie line added to a weather map, but we see it as clearly as we discern his juvenile character.