Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about what he'd seen on his visit to distinctly un-ravaged parts of Texas.

In a tweet this morning, sandwiched in between saber-rattling at North Korea and complaints about unfavorable coverage from the media, Trump said that his heart went out to Texans whose "horror and devastation" he had "witness[ed] first-hand." 

There is plenty of devastation in coastal Texas, but Trump witnessed none of it first-hand. He split his several hours in Texas between photo-ops in Austin (about a hundred miles from the affected areas) and a two-minute speech in front of emergency vehicles in an undamaged area of Corpus Christi. Trump, for whom even the appearance of empathy does not come easily, is making an effort to give the appearance of engagement: his schedule calls for him to return for a second visit to a sufficiently dry and undamaged part of Texas on Saturday. UPDATE, 8/31: The White House is walking back Trump's "first hand" claims.

It would not have been possible for Trump to see damaged areas first-hand, as he chose to visit while floodwaters were still rising. It would have been possible for him to get second-hand accounts of the damage from Americans directly affected, a more traditional sort of "witnessing" for presidents, but Trump didn't do that either.

So what?

  • Presidents shouldn't say things that are obviously untrue.
  • If a president can learn nothing and offer no comfort by visiting a disaster area, he shouldn't go.
  • Political damage control and boosting hat sales are not good enough reasons for a president to insert himself into the spotlight during a national tragedy.