Thursday, June 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to defend a truly absurd lie.

Today, White House spokesperson Helen Ferre was sent before reporters to issue a seemingly innocent statement:
The 16,000 people the President was referring to were those saved thanks to the heroic efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard. In last year’s hurricane season, the U.S. Coast Guard saved almost 12,000 lives and in addition to that, nearly 9,000 were saved by FEMA search and rescue teams. The President is aware that the great people of Houston worked together to help each other. Some went out in their boats to save others who were trapped in their homes and ultimately needed assistance by authorities. The great community spirit demonstrated by the good people of Houston is heralded by this administration.
Ferre had been sent out to calm Texans outraged by a sneering comment Trump made yesterday, in an attempt to praise the Coast Guard at a FEMA briefing on the 2018 hurricane season. Referring to last year's Hurricane Harvey, Trump said this:
I said, I think this year the Coast Guard, maybe in terms of increased branding — the brand of the Coast Guard has been something incredible what’s happened. Saved 16,000 people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well. That didn’t work out too well. 
Setting aside the question of how much the Coast Guard cares about their "brand," this is an astonishing lie, even by Trump's standards. It's true that the Coast Guard rescued a great many people stranded by Harvey's floodwaters (11,022 to be exact) but exactly zero of them were people who had gone out in boats to sightsee.

The Houston Chronicle summarized the responses of the Coast Guard, Texas state officials, and first responders this way: "Nobody could explain the president's statement."

Blaming the victims of tragedies is pretty typical for Trump. He complained bitterly about Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, saying that the U.S. citizens there "want everything to be done for them" and attacked local leaders for demanding more assistance than Trump was willing to give. After the February mass school shooting at Parkland, Florida, he implied that the victims were responsible for the mental health of the shooter because "neighbors and classmates" had known he was "a big problem." (In fact, the shooter had been reported to law enforcement by both neighbors and classmates, which is why he had been expelled from the school to which he returned to commit mass murder.)

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if the president just makes things up on the spot.
  • Literally nobody in the entire 6.3-million person Houston metropolitan population was as stupid as Trump seems to think they were.
  • Presidents caught in a lie shouldn't send staffers out to claim they said something else entirely.