To the President Trump’s credit, his most recent assessment of the Hurricane Irma threat uncharacteristically contained no lies. “It looks like it will be something not good,” the leader of the free world said. “Believe me, not good.”
Last night, he tweeted another lie-free but fully unhelpful statement. “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!”—as though reality were reality television. Trump often speaks of natural disasters in the same way the roommate who is always on the couch and can’t help but blurt out the most obvious things occurring on their favorite Bravo program. “That’s Lisa Vanderpump,” says the roommate as Lisa Vanderpump enters a scene on Vanderpump Rules. “That hurricane is big,” the president offers uselessly as wind-measuring instruments break across the Caribbean.
“No rest for the weary!” he tweeted today, about himself.
I’m sure those words offer little comfort to the 23 million Americans currently in the path of the storm. Put that on the foot of a monument to unhelpful leadership. Believe me, not good.
Trump has never seemed like he’s wired to give comfort or guidance; he oscillates between shouting at reality like it’s a television and shouting at the public as though he is inside a television. This would work if the President was the executive producer of a program called “America!” and we were coming up on sweeps month. But it’s not so effective in the face of disaster.
As Texans girded for Hurricane Harvey, the President chirped. “Good luck!”, as though he was sending the state of Texas into a Legends of the Hidden Temple obstacle course. “Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen,” he tweeted as the disaster unfolded. Other circa-Harvey tweets read like acceptance speeches. “HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!”
“What a crowd! What a turnout!” he said to a small gathering of Houstonians as 50 inches of rainfall submerged their city.
The President seems to relish the opportunity to tease citizens as though they’re viewers and not just trying to get through the goddamn day without worrying that everything is imminently going to hell. Big week coming up! Set your DVR’s for six months from now, see if Congress does its job on DACA! Keep watching to see what happens with an H-bomb-armed North Korea! His Supreme Court announcement unfolded like a rose ceremony on The Bachelor, complete with double-sided tape.
Trump’s failure to do his job as a soother or inspirer has created more work for others in his party. There’s Mike Pence, scurrying with downed tree branches like a concerned midwestern neighbor, cleaning up after both the Hurricane and the President. Here’s Paul Ryan trying to read a deep understanding of the constitutionality of Executive Orders into Trump’s actions like a desperate fan of Lost trying to explain the show’s later seasons as anything but a plot that got away from its writers.
Trump’s carnival-barker or TV-shouter instincts were never perfectly suited for the presidency. But they feel perverse when it seems like the President is hyping events that could lead to the end of people’s lives.
If Donald Trump were a funeral director, the bulk of his services would consist of him walking into a funeral, pointed at the casket, and saying, “Grandma not so alive! Everybody very sad!” A doctor with Trumpian bedside manner would point to a stab wound and say, “Lots of blood. Not great!” A hostage negotiator with Trump’s skill set would thank the crowd of horrified onlookers and remind them that he won Pennsylvania by, he thinks, more votes than anybody ever imagined, quite frankly.
A recent Fox News poll found that there’s one quality most agree that President Trump has: he speaks his mind. But “speaking one’s mind” isn’t an inherently good thing. Especially if the underlying mind beneath the speech is little more than a voiceover designed to tempt you, the audience, into staying tuned.