As Hurricane Dorian strengthened over the Atlantic and spun toward the Carolinas on Thursday, the President of the United States took to Twitter with a message for Americans.
“In the early days of the hurricane, when it was predicted that Dorian would go through Miami or West Palm Beach, even before it reached the Bahamas, certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf,” tweeted Donald Trump. “Instead it 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. In the path it took, no. Read my FULL FEMA statement. What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!”
Then, 90 minutes later, he added this:
“Alabama was going to be hit or grazed, and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path (up along the East Coast). The Fake News knows this very well. That’s why they’re the Fake News!”
Those tweets come less than 24 hours after Trump showed reporters gathered in the Oval Office an apparently altered NOAA map with a black half-circle added around Alabama that, he suggested, proved he was right all along that the state was under threat from Dorian. (Trump also shared an outdated hurricane projection map late Wednesday on Twitter to make this same point.)
“That was the original chart, and you see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia,” Trump told reporters. “It took a right turn. And, ultimately, hopefully we’re going to be lucky. It depends on what happens with South Carolina and North Carolina.”
That claim is – and always has been – demonstrably false.
Trump’s original tweet on Sunday said that, “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!”
Following that tweet, the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service tweeted out a clarification; “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” the organization tweeted. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
The closest you can come to Trump telling the truth is this: CNN Weather meteorologists noted that one forecast last Friday afternoon showed one-tenth of one county in extreme southeast Alabama included in one hurricane model. (“I know that Alabama was in the original forecast,” Trump said later Wednesday.)
What’s remarkable – and telling – about the now days-long saga over Alabama and Hurricane Dorian isn’t that Trump didn’t tell the truth initially. Or even that he continued to double and triple down on the falsehood. Or that none of his senior aides, who presumably know the truth and how far Trump is from it here, are willing or able to do anything to modulate his behavior. (To be clear: All of these things are important and troubling. They’re just not new.)
It’s this: Trump is so obsessed with being right (or at least being perceived as being right by his supporters) that he blocks out any and all other responsibilities or duties as President to pursue that goal.
On Thursday afternoon, he tweeted four maps from the previous Thursday, August 29 (three days before his original Alabama tweet) suggesting that the southeast corner of Alabama could be subject to tropical storm-force winds reaching 30 miles per hour.
“Just as I said, Alabama was originally projected to be hit. The Fake News denies it!” he tweeted.
Even if Trump was totally accurate in describing the path of Dorian (and he wasn’t), it still is absolutely irresponsible for the President of the United States to be litigating the question – especially while other states are in direct danger.
No one – not even Trump – can argue that Alabama is a relevant part of the conversation about Dorian right now. No projection, no radar, no nothing now puts Alabama in a danger zone. (Narrator: It never was.)
The right/presidential thing to do here is let the whole Alabama thing lie. It’s over. There are Americans in real and immediate danger in the Carolinas from tornadoes and flooding, as Trump tweeted this morning. And the people in North Carolina and South Carolina could care less about whether or not Alabama was in the target zone. (Reminder: It wasn’t.)
But remember that Trump’s Twitter feed is the best window into what he really thinks and feels. And he is choosing to focus on Alabama – three times on Thursday morning! – because he is absolutely fixated on being right. Being right takes precedence over literally everything else, including keeping the focus (his, the media’s and the country’s) on the Americans currently being threatened by a natural disaster.
This is all in keeping with the broader reality of how Trump views the presidency: Devoid of its longtime role as a leader (moral and otherwise) in the country and to the world. The ramifications of that absence are only being felt now. But they will linger well beyond Trump’s presidency.