“Thanks!” he exclaimed at the end of a tweet that was mostly about the “historic rainfall in Houston” and the “unprecedented” flooding. True, he was referring to the “spirit of the people” that he also squeezed into that 140-character nook, but his chirpy gratitude had a kooky ring. It framed him not as a leader sweating the fate of his people but as a spectator watching nature’s angriest reality show.
“Wow” was how he began another tweet. Call me cranky, but I don’t think most Americans are looking for “wow” amid woe of this order.
It will be days or even weeks before we can definitively appraise how well the Trump administration addressed this crisis, along with precisely what mistakes state and local officials made.
But what we know already is that Harvey didn’t blow away the opportunism and narcissism at Trump’s core. In comments at the White House on Monday, he actually suggested that he’d timed the announcement of his pardon of Joe Arpaio to coincide with the storm’s arrival, because more people were monitoring the news.
“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” he said. Thousands of Texans were losing their homes. Some had died. And Trump, per usual, was measuring his audience.
And complimenting himself. Across the past four days, he has repeatedly stressed how well his team is doing. Under normal circumstances and normal presidents, that could be interpreted as an attempt to reassure Texans. Under these circumstances and Trump, we know better.
When he and Melania in their his-and-hers, salt-and-pepper baseball caps faced the television cameras in Corpus Christi, Tex., early Tuesday afternoon, he was already itching to take a victory lap.
“We won’t say ‘congratulations,’ ” he told the state and federal officials arrayed around him in a firehouse, referring to their rescue and relief efforts. “We don’t want to do that. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Do wait a bit, Mr. President, if you can summon the restraint. And maybe temper any gloating, lest someone — oh, heck, I’ll do it — point out that your stance and inaction on climate change contradict any meaningful concern for the devastation in Texas.
Having chosen in the past to ignore all the experts who chart changing climate patterns, Trump on Sunday tweeted: “Experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!” They have no authority when they tell him inconvenient truths, but they’re entirely credible when they describe circumstances that pump up his already-bloated ego.
“Historic.” “Biggest ever.” “Epic.” That was Trump on Harvey.
“Historic.” “Massive.” “The likes of which the world has never seen.” That was Trump on his election victory.
The weather around him changes. The weather inside him doesn’t. It’s a warm bath of self-regard — the biggest ever, I’d wager — and it overrides everything else.
During those Monday remarks at the White House, President Sauli Niinisto of Finland was with him, and that prompted Trump to recall that he had visited Finland in the 1990s.
“I was famous in the ’90s, too,” he added, apropos of … what? Perhaps he felt the need to make clear that he was a force of nature decades before Harvey came along.
When he left the Corpus Christi firehouse on Tuesday, he noticed that about 1,000 people had gathered outside and he heard some cheering.
“What a crowd!” he boomed and beamed. “What a turnout!” All the water in the world couldn’t drown his satisfaction.