“I have a natural instinct for science...” -President Donald Trump, Oct. 17, 2018
Natural disasters are big moments for presidents. Hopefully, they’ll rise to the occasion and take care of the recovery and they won’t become infamous because it all went fine. Or they might be like President George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina and be remembered for looking down on the devastation from the comfort of Air Force One, as his administration dithered and people died.
And then there’s Donald Trump.
No president seems to have less of a grasp on what a hurricane is than the current occupant of the White House.
Don’t trust this man to give solid advice about hurricane evacuation, preparation or general weather patterns. On Sunday, Trump tweeted that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.
That’s not true. Alabama was never at risk. But rather than admit the president was wrong, someone in administration appeared to have retroactively doctored a photo (below) of an Aug. 29 map of Dorian’s path by drawing in a circle that encompasses Alabama. Trump used that inaccurate image when talking about the storm on Wednesday.
Trump refused to say whether that map was altered with a sharpie, telling a reporter afterward, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Trump’s reactions to hurricanes have always basically been like this ― at times weird, head-scratching and even heartless. Some highlights:
Trump points out that hurricanes are ‘wet.’
Hurricanes form over the water. Therefore, it’s not surprising that they are wet. Anyone in the path of a hurricane ― or anyone at all, really ― knows that hurricanes involve water and wind. But it’s something that Trump thinks is important to point out to the public. Last year, he called Hurricane Florence “tremendously big and tremendously wet,” and also said it was “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen, from the standpoint of water.”
Trump told storm victims to ‘have a good time.’
In October 2017, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Trump visited the island and met with storm victims, telling a couple, “We’re going to help you out. Have a good time.”
Trump said he’s never heard of a Category 5 hurricane.
On Sunday, Trump said, “I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a Category 5,” although he added that he “knew it existed.” Four Category 5 storms have threatened the United States during his presidency. He has also repeatedly claimed that he had never heard of a storm of that magnitude.
Trump lobbed paper towels at storm victims.
In what the pool reporter described as the president doing his “best Steph Curry impersonation,” Trump threw paper towels to a crowd of Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico in October 2017. The moment was widely viewed as emblematic of Trump’s struggle to show empathy.
Trump told a hurricane victim he should be happy he got a boat.
Last year, when touring North Carolina to inspect the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence, Trump met a man whose house had been badly damaged. When Trump went to inspect the property, he saw a large yacht that had washed ashore and was now shipwrecked there. He asked the man if it was his boat. The man said no. Trump then smiled and joked, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.”
Trump claimed that people sat in their boats and watched Hurricane Harvey.
Last year, Trump held a call with officials at the federal level and in Texas to prepare for hurricane season, thanking the Coast Guard for the work they did in the previous year with Hurricane Harvey.
“They saved 16,000 people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is,” Trump said. “People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well.”
No one knew what he was talking about.
Trump has made the disasters all about himself.
At every chance he gets, Trump likes to praise himself for the job he’s done ― rather than focus on the victims who have lost their homes, other property or loved ones in the storms.
In October 2017, when Puerto Rico’s governor said the death toll from Hurricne Maria was 16, Trump said they should be “proud” of that number and suggested it wasn’t “a real catastrophe like Katrina.” That was about two weeks after the storm hit.
A study put out later by George Washington University researchers estimated that about 3,000 people died from the hurricane. Trump’s response to that number has been to say “NO WAY!” and insist that Democrats were behind the higher number in an attempt to make him look bad.