In retrospect, perhaps the nation should have seen President Donald Trump’s spat with the weather report coming. He began his presidency not only by lying about the crowd size at his inauguration but also about the rain: Speaking before the CIA, he announced that the sky had immediately cleared of rain when he began his inaugural address, when in fact it had sprinkled steadily throughout the speech. So his refusal to let go of a misleading tweet stating that Hurricane Dorian would affect Alabama—a saga that has expanded to include numerous tweets, a defaced map, and reportedly, threats by a Cabinet official to fire staffers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—is less than surprising.
It’s difficult to say anything profound about these events, precisely because the incident itself is so absurd. To take it seriously is to prolong it, and the president’s raging is so bizarre that giving the matter new life feels almost impolite, like refusing to let a family member live down an awkward outburst at the dinner table.
But now The New York Times has reported that pressure from acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pushed NOAA employees to issue a statement disavowing a Birmingham weather forecast that contradicted Trump’s inaccurate tweet. And this moves the president’s Hurricane Dorian temper tantrum from the realm of the embarrassing into the authoritarian. The saga of Dorian is a snapshot of Trump’s refusal to accept the reality of a world that looks any different from what he wants to be true, and a demonstration of how such an instinct in a leader is incompatible with the requirements of democracy.