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My Turn: Trump, Dorian and Sharpiegate

For the Monitor
Published: 9/19/2019 8:00:20 AM
Modified: 9/19/2019 8:00:09 AM

Bad hurricanes can test the character of a president. But changing a map with a Sharpie is a presidential first. A timeline will help:

Sunday, Sept. 1, at 10:51 a.m.: President Trump tweets that Alabama will be hit by Hurricane Dorian. In fact, on that date, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration already said it would not hit as far west as Alabama.

Sept. 1, 11:11 a.m.: NOAA tweets, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian.” Imagine the reaction of Ronald Reagan or George Bush: “I am glad earlier reports that Alabama will be hit have changed for the better.” End of story. No news there. Game over. But he-who-is-never-wrong now doubles down.

Sept. 1, 12:31 p.m.: Trump speaks at FEMA and says new information “just came up, unfortunately” about Dorian hitting Alabama. “So, for Alabama, just be careful.”

Sept. 2, 7:16 p.m.: Trump claims he was correct because “certain original scenarios” had said Alabama might be impacted. He was correct on history, but denied he had said just the day before that it was new information and a present danger now.

Sept. 4: Appearing in the Oval Office, Trump displays an NOAA forecast from the morning of Aug. 29, which had been altered with a black Sharpie line that takes the hurricane forecast into Alabama. The unaltered version of the map did not have the black line and did not suggest any storm impact on Alabama. For days thereafter, Trump kept attacking “fake news” and the back and forth persisted. A week of presidential time was wasted that would never have occurred with a normal president.

Sharpiegate gives us three lessons learned:

1) When you are perfect, you never admit you made a mistake. But no president in the history of our country was perfect. The Alabama hurricane warning should have been quickly corrected rather than taking a Sharpie to crudely alter a map that never covered Alabama in Dorian’s scope in the first place. Childish, embarrassing and not presidential.

2) Beware of a president who never laughs, let alone at themselves. I have been around since Eisenhower and this is the first of 11 presidents who never smiles or laughs. A narcissistic personality is someone who takes himself much too seriously to move on with a good Reagan or Clinton smile and a laugh. People want a president they can like, not someone so brittle that even laughing is considered weakness.

3) Being surrounded by second-rung “yes” men and women is not a way to get honest advice to correct a statement, laugh at it and move on. Instead, some staffer gets him a map blown up and fetches a Sharpie saying, “Oh, sir, no one will ever think you played with the map to fool the public.” The mistake is thinking the press and the public are hopelessly stupid. Dumb move, Don. The public laughs at Sharpiegate because it’s so ridiculous and comedic – not presidential. I’m sorry you can’t, too.

(Chuck Douglas is a former Republican congressman from New Hampshire.)

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