Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 14, 2018
President Trump had barely finished speaking his tweet mind yesterday morning before people lined up to say that his utterances were, well, not only wrong but close to deranged.
Even as Hurricane Florence was starting to lap at the Southeastern coastline, the president was tweeting out a narcissistic, defensive denial that last year’s hurricanes had resulted in 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico — and it was drawing responses that unveiled a renewed sense that he does not belong in the White House.
Further, he said, saying so was a Democratic plot to make him look bad.
The tweet: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Columnist Jack Holmes said in Esquire Magazine“Imagine you lost a family member in a natural disaster and the President of the United States not only displayed his typically blunt indifference, but also suggested their death was faked as part of a hoax by his political opponents. Imagine he lied while doing it, making up conspiracies about how the deaths were counted. (The figures have been certified by both the Puerto Rican government and independent researchers.) Imagine he tried to erase you and your family for his own political gain.” Holmes said directly, “The President of the United States is not fit to hold the office.”
Here’s Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: “On Thursday morning, President Trump showed once again that he lacks even a tangential relationship with reality. . . To put it mildly, this is bonkers. There is no plot. Democrats didn’t rig the studies. There is no basis for saying that they did.”
That theme was quickly circulating among all the television cable shows, including those on Fox News. Even House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis) said gently when questioned that he had no reason to question the number of deaths. A number of reactions from both sides of the congressional aisle followed: “You are not entitled to your own facts,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), “You cannot to erase the 3,000 Americans who died in Puerto Rico after last year’s hurricanes.” “A truly disgusting comment,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) of the President’s tweet. “These are our fellow Americans and fellow human beings. They and their families deserve better from their President. “This is what deadly incompetence and failure look like,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).
Remarks from a lot of different points on the political spectrum noted that the president makes a lot of false or misleading statements, that there actually were a small number of direct, immediate deaths even if lack of water and power built up that number quickly and certainly over time, that continuing episodes like this were taking attention away from the immediacy of the current hurricane and its seemingly devastating effects, and that the tweet reinforces the widespread belief that Trump lacks an ability to show empathy.
There was nothing here about regret about the number of people whose lives had been lost. Trump only pushed back on any stain on his political image.
Television commentators immediate jumped on the political effect that such continuing statements may have on the November elections.
But I think Rubin was more properly reflecting the unheard gasps from anyone who heard the tweet read aloud — often twice just to make sure they had not misheard it.
While Trump’s falsehoods are represented by the growing number of insider accounts as petty, impetuous and ineffective, she said, “they fail to convey the depth of Trump’s capacity for self-delusion and his inability to recognize how crazy he sounds to others. (A paranoid but reality-based individual might think the death toll numbers were cooked, but he would recognize that he’d sound like a lunatic if he said so.)
“Trump’s outburst should remind us of several troubling facts. First, whether he is lying (or is simply a victim of his own self-delusion that he is incapable of error) is beside the point. He’s not functioning as a president or any other officeholder should. He cannot comprehend facts, process them and take appropriate action. He is, in a word, non-functional.”
She added, the “senior officials in his own administration … working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” (as recounted in the recent anonymous Times op-ed) are kidding themselves. They are enabling someone with a weak grasp on reality to maintain the pretense of normalcy. Our allies see through the act; our foes do, too. . . . (and) the problem is getting worse and more cringe-worthy.”
“When the president falsifies the crowd size at his inauguration, no one gets physically or economically harmed. When he denies that his inattentiveness and sloth have contributed to thousands of deaths, problems don’t get fixed, more Americans are put at risk and the danger of future error increases dramatically.”
Rubin concluded: “Impeachment is politically untenable without cooperation of both parties. One does wonder, however, whether Republicans, after a severe thrashing in November, might come around to the view that they and the country are better off without Trump.”
For me, this self-referential, delusional and offensive tweet was over the line, Mr. Trump. I can only hope that you are not setting 3,000 American deaths as the new standard for federal help in the current hurricane.