Some leaders rise to the occasion of a crisis. Others sink. And then others add a whole new category of chaos.
For the last two weeks, much of the nation — make that much of the media — has been gripped by a Category 5 hurricane that leveled parts of the Bahamas before churning toward the East Coast of the United States. Hurricane season has not been President Donald J. Trump’s forte, as the Hurricane Maria-Puerto Rico debacle two years ago can attest. That salient point has been underscored in recent days by Dorian, the latest in a series of Cat. 5 storms that are becoming a yearly event.
First, when he thought Dorian — a man’s name by the way, people, as we alternate girl-boy names this year and have already used up Andrea, Barry and Chantal — was going to be a replay of Maria for Puerto Rico, he seemed more peeved than concerned, tweeting “Will it ever end?” (Some have posed the same question about his presidency.) Then when it appeared Dorian might hit the area of Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach club and home, Trump cancelled his trip to Poland to monitor the situation.
But then he was seen golfing, which drew the ire of many of his critics. Others, however, noted that this is better than the alternative of him actually presidenting, because when he wasn’t golfing, he was creating a twit-storm that threatened to take out everything and everyone in its path, from actress Debra Messing, who found herself in El Presidente’s eye wall when she called for the names of his campaign donors, to ABC News, which called him out for tweeting that Alabama — nowhere near the hurricane — would have to be evacuated. (You’re up next, Oklahoma.)
If geography is not the president’s strong suit, neither apparently is history. He found the idea of a Cat. 5 hurricane to be a novel one — something he has said repeatedly despite the fact that there have been four Cat. 5 storms since he ran for office in 2016 — Matthew (2016), Irma and Maria (2017) and Michael (2018). Before that there was a lull going back to Dean and Felix in 2007 and before that the banner year of 2005 with Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Look, there have always been powerful hurricanes, but that doesn’t mean climate change isn’t warming the oceans, creating even more potent events.
But Trump, ever intellectually incurious, can’t be bothered considering this — or anything else. Instead, he sent Vice President Mike Pence to Poland and then “suggested” he stay at his Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland — 181 miles away from his meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin. I’m sure the irony of the “pray away the gay” veep and the gay PM shaking hands as their spouses looked on was lost on no one. How ever did Mother cope? She looked like the odd woman out indeed.)
Ever the salesman, Trump thinks he can bluff his way through ignorance, like the kid who hasn’t read the book but still turns in a report that says essentially nothing. Asked about Poland, Trump sent his congrats, even though the country was commemorating the 80th anniversary of its invasion by the Nazis. (Ah, good times. Cake all around.)
The good news is that the U.S. Coast Guard is helping out in the Bahamas, as is Spanish-American chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen. American individuals and institutions continue to act responsibly, even if the president doesn’t.
The bad news is that Dorian’s diminishing winds are broadening. The hurricane is cutting a wide swath of disturbance, much like the president.