The only problem here is that this was patently untrue—so untrue, in fact, that the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham hastened to correct it: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.” News reports also pointed out that the president said something false, though that hardly qualifies as news anymore.
Yet Trump has raged about it in tweets over four days, most recently Thursday morning. In the most bizarre moment, Trump displayed a chart at the White House on Wednesday in which someone—it is not clear who—appears to have graffitied a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chart with a Sharpie, in order to suggest that the storm might have been headed toward Alabama. Asked about the alteration, Trump said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” using much the same tone that a toddler uses when asked who broke the lamp.
How was this futile? Let us count the ways. First, the scribble on the map fooled absolutely no one, bearing no resemblance to the high-detail rendering around it. Second, the predictions about Dorian’s path have changed dramatically since Trump’s initial statement about Alabama, rendering the entire controversy moot. Third, the chart he displayed was from last Thursday, three days before he offered a warning based on information that “just came up”; by the time Trump spoke on Sunday, the five-day forecast showed the storm curving out into the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina. Fourth, there’s no reason to believe that Trump’s comments on Sunday were anything more than his typical bullshitting: He knew the storm was going to hit the South, he knows Alabama is a southern state, and it’s important to him electorally, so he rambled on. While there’s no reason to believe the initial statement was anything other than an unintentional error, it’s unclear at this point whether Trump now believes his own lie or recognizes it and just won’t let go. It’s also unclear which would be worse.
Trump has no reputation for probity to maintain, and he could easily drop the matter. But he won’t, pursuing ever more absurd protestations and excuses. He has tweeted out an old spaghetti plot that purports to show the path of the hurricane going over Alabama, even though (1) none of the government’s models actually predicted it would, (2) the chart was out of date by Trump’s Sunday briefing, and (3) once again, the NWS said it was untrue. If reality doesn’t conform to the president’s words, reality must be adjusted with a Sharpie.
One fears belaboring the point. Trump’s lies about Alabama here are so silly as to forfeit close consideration, yet so bizarre as to invite puzzled scrutiny. (It is refreshing to know that he can still say something so outrageously, blatantly untrue that it shocks.)