Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Sharpie-gate, Part 2. Why it matters so much.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains how Trump’s weather campaign takes a potentially dangerous turn. I’me going to spare you the history that was splashed all over the front pages last week and jump into the middle where Benen explores the implications of Trump corrupting government agencies to satisfy his narcissistic need not to be wrong about anything.

I can appreciate why some news consumers grew weary of “Sharpie-gate” last week, but the NOAA’s statement on Friday afternoon put the story on a very different level. What was a farce about a president who couldn’t tolerate having been proven wrong became a drama about a president corrupting government agencies that rely on credibility to be effective.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a good piece last week, taking stock of the instances in which “government officials have wheeled into action in an effort to make Trump’s lies, errors and obsessions into truths,” and on Friday afternoon, the president added an unusually brazen example of the phenomenon.

[Scriber: I’ll review Sargent’s list below.]

I care when Trump lies about issues such as hurricanes and public safety; I care more about Trump roping in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to participate in his fraud.

Much of the country now realizes that the president has a strained relationship with reality and an intolerance for truth, but not to put too fine a point on this, we still need the NOAA to tell us the truth.

Not politically convenient truths, not truths intended to satisfy certain constituencies, not truths that incorporate the weather into some kind of misguided food fight, but the actual truth.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that former top officials from the NOAA – veterans of Republican and Democratic administrations – were “dismayed” by what had transpired, with the agency obviously having succumbed to White House political pressure. The article added, “They say NOAA’s action risks the credibility of the nation’s weather and science agency and may even risk lives.”

The Washington Post added some additional details, including the fact that the National Weather Service in Birmingham felt compelled to issue its tweet “after receiving a flurry of phone calls from concerned residents following Trump’s message.”

In other words, the president delivered a false warning to the public, people who assumed the president was right grew concerned, so the National Weather Service told people the truth. For its trouble, the NWS’s commitment to accuracy was denounced on Friday afternoon by the federal agency that oversees it.

The same article added that the NOAA privately warned its own staff not to contradict Trump – despite the fact that Trump was wrong.

The Post quoted one NOAA meteorologist who said, “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring.”

Trump has publicly diminished a heretofore credible agency to satisfy his delicate sensibilities. To think this embarrassment is limited to a crude drawing on a map is to overlook just how far the president and his team took this potentially dangerous charade, and what this tells others throughout the U.S. government – scientists, intelligence officials, diplomats, et al. – about what happens to those who provide facts at odds with the leader’s preferred script.

It’s Not just Sharpie-gate: 7 other times officials tried to fabricate Trump’s ‘truth’, notes Greg Sargent of the Washington Post (noted by Benen above).

As you’ve heard, President Trump displayed a chart that appeared to be doctored with a Sharpie to retroactively demonstrate that he had been right when he falsely warned that Alabama was threatened by Hurricane Dorian.

This has set in motion a very D.C.-style mystery, though with a Trumpian twist: Who, multiple news organizations have asked, doctored the chart? It’s a good question.

But it’s also illuminating to look at this as part of a much larger pattern: Again and again, government officials have wheeled into action in an effort to make Trump’s lies, errors and obsessions into truths, in some cases issuing “official” information explicitly shaped or doctored to do so.

By my count, this has happened at least seven times:

  • In January 2017, after the media reported on Trump’s paltry inaugural crowd size, resulting in enraged but preposterous pushback from Trump, he dispatched then-press secretary Sean Spicer to tell multiple lies buttressing his stance. As Glenn Kessler crucially noted, some of these were part of a prepared White House statement. Trump also ordered his then-acting National Park Service chief to hunt for helpful photographic evidence. The NPS does not estimate crowd sizes, and the official was shocked, but he carried out Trump’s request, finding nothing.
  • After Trump repeatedly alleged widespread fictitious voter fraud in 2016, the White House set up an official commission to “study” the issue. When it flopped, a dissenting member explicitly declared the motive was to make Trump’s lies true. Remember that this was rooted in rage at losing the popular vote.
  • When Trump declared before the midterm elections that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with migrant caravans, multiple officials tried to bolster this claim by offering an official-seeming statistic about terrorism arrests that was entirely spurious and proved nothing of the kind.
  • When Trump vowed a surprise 10 percent middle class tax cut before the midterms, officials were caught off guard, but nonetheless sprang into action to try to create the impression this was a real promise by, for instance, discussing a nonbinding pledge. The tax cut never happened.
  • To justify suspending the credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta after he annoyed Trump, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders shared a video that experts determined had been deceptively edited to make Acosta look physically abusive toward a press aide.
  • To fear-monger for his wall, Trump repeatedly told stories about traffickers tying up migrant women and silencing them with tape. After The Post flatly debunked Trump’s assertion, a top border official circulated an internal request for “any information” that would support the claim.
  • To buttress Trump’s distortions of the migrant threat, the Department of Homeland Security produced a slick official presentation about the border that claimed nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists had been blocked from entering the United States. But this number had nothing whatsoever to do with efforts to cross the border, a distinction multiple officials also dishonestly fudged.

It’s not like this is one of the big, foundational lies Trump regularly tells to support the entire narrative of his presidency, such as the claims that he was totally exonerated by the special counsel probe, or that China is paying his tariffs, or that he inherited a horrible economy and converted it into the greatest economy in the history of this country.

By contrast, this was in all probability a mistake. Yet Trump has now kept this story going again, raging on Twitter that “certain models” did say Alabama might be hit. For what it’s worth, that’s a downgrade from another Trump rage-tweet claiming that “almost all models” said this.

Why bother? One likely explanation is that Trump sees admitting error as a form of fatal weakness. As I detailed in my book, Trump has a long history of crafting illusions about himself, going back to his reality TV days and his spinning to New York tabloids, and it was a natural transition for him to segue into wielding rank disinformation as a political weapon, as a species of power.

In this telling, admitting to having gotten something wrong on the facts is akin to allowing for the existence of such things as controlling factual reality and sincere, fact-based argumentation in search of genuinely agreed-upon truths.

What’s so galling about all this is that presidents have a formidable range of sources of good-faith information-gathering and empirical inquiry at their disposal. Yet Trump sees no discernible value whatsoever in all of that — if anything, he sees that apparatus as an instrumental weapon to undermine the very possibility of those things.

So, you see, Sharpie-gate presents a very revealing look into the mind and methods of Trump. He just cannot be wrong.

Want more?

NOAA was shoved into Commerce instead of Interior by then President Nixon. He had some beef with Wally Hickel according to reporting by Rachel Maddow last night. Now, Commerce Chief Threatened Firings at NOAA After Trump’s Dorian Tweets, Sources Say. That would be Wilbur Ross.

You see, I cannot just let this go. You have the Pettident (sick) twisting the government to buttress his own butt-Fing version of reality. Remember, Rick Wilson’s “Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.” That is what is happening to our government.

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