Now that the good people of Alabama are safely out of harm’s way, Steve felt the need to conduct a forensic analysis of Sharpie-Gate.
Sure, there are some immediate reasons to object to a president who alters a weather map – like potentially triggering panic in areas nowhere near the hurricane path, or the mere fact that altering an official forecast is illegal – but I am going to leave those relatively mundane objections to sober journalists and righteously indignant opinion writers.
Today, I chose to reflect on what would seem, at face value, to be the stupidest episode thus far in a Presidency so committed to charting the dark depths of stupid that it evokes an image of a tiny submarine on a four year mission to map every inch of the Marianas Trench of Stupid.
There are still those who remain perpetually befuddled by the Trump Presidency, in turn shocked and surprised by each new mind-bending eruption of toddler-grade impulse control and relentless fact evasion emanating from this White House.
Sadly, however, such people are missing the point. It is as if they were applying adult standards of behavior, assuming a normative 50-watt intellect, and ascribing societally acceptable motivations in trying to understand the behavior of a white rat racing through a maze to find the pellet in a Psych 101 B.F. Skinner experiment.
Today, we devote our column to explaining why Sharpie-Gate should not be viewed as the latest example of unpredictable and inexplicable lunacy, but rather as an exemplar of a relentlessly intentional strategy from this White House that is based solely, wholly, and shamelessly on self-preservation and, indeed, survival. The rat needs to find the pellet in order to eat, which in turn enables it to survive. Donald Trump needs to alter a weather map to continue to baste his base, which in turn enables him to stay out of jail.
Indeed, I submit today that Donald Trump’s decision to take a Sharpie the official weather map tracking the path of Hurricane Dorian was the only possible outcome, the only plausible option remaining for a President who has taken refuge in a comforting and nurturing alternate reality. Altering the map was the only way the rat could make it through the maze to find the pellet.
Moreover, the story is a rich metaphor for the toxic alchemy of the Trump Presidency itself. Here is a man who believes he can -- with a clumsy stroke of his pen --- alter the very course of a hurricane, not in terms of its wind direction or velocity, but certainly in the minds of his supporters. We scoff at this super-human power at our peril.
Why was picking up that Sharpie the only real option for Donald Trump?
Turn #1: The rat never dreamed that he would become President.
Generally, rats don’t does not volunteer to be in the maze.
When Donald Trump won on November 8, 2016, no one was more shocked than he was, and the only person more upset by it was probably Melania. Michael Cohen testified that Trump viewed his campaign as a giant “informercial” for his properties, which was darkly echoed in Trump’s recent sleezy pitch for hosting the next G-7 at one of his hotels. Much has been written about the plan supposedly being concocted by Trump and Roger Ailes to use the campaign as the launching point for a new network that would challenge Fox News. Believe me, as Trump often exhorts (usually indicating that he is about to tell a particularly egregious lie), Donald Trump never wanted to be President and never dreamed he’d win.
Turn #2. When he won, he instantly realized that a lifetime of corruption, deceit, and sleezy behavior needed to be hidden in what he knew would be a ferociously adversarial environment.
Donald Trump thought that as of election day, 2016, he’d be a free man, hugely aggrandized from having been a major party candidate for President, now empowered to spend years in the public spotlight taking cheap shots at Hillary Clinton. Nope. He woke up President, and suddenly realized that angry Democrats, hugely adversarial news organizations, and even major governmental investigative agencies were going to begin sifting through decades of dubious business practices, shady financing from foreign entities, extramarital sleeze, and the first for-profit presidential campaign in American history. Donald Trump had the law of unintended consequences shoved so far up his nose that it apparently reshaped his pre-frontal cortex. Far from walking away from the campaign simply richer and aggrandized, he realized that the implication of winning the Presidency was the heightened likelihood of jail time… for himself, and his family members.
Turn #3: The rat learned that the very best way to stay out of jail is to stay President.
Once inaugurated Donald Trump immediately attempted to use the powers of the Presidency to put a muzzle on the mushrooming armies of investigators already circling his murky cesspool of greed, corruption, and dampened Moscow hotel rooms. He demanded loyalty from Comey, lambasted his Attorney General for failing to act like his personal lawyer, began an all-out war on the “lame-stream” media, and demonized Federal law enforcement agencies, all to blunt the impact of inevitable revelations about his scummy past. Trump grasped that as long as he was President, he could leverage the power of the Presidency to accomplish the single most important objective: staying out of jail.
Turn #4: He quickly realized that the most urgent threat to his tenure as President was impeachment, and he knew he had to avoid that at all costs.
As the Mueller report noted, Trump realized the moment that the Special Counsel was appointed that his Presidency was, um, what was the word? Oh, yes, he was “fucked.” Some might call that evidence of a guilty conscience, an indication that he knew that he routinely commits five impeachable offenses before breakfast. But his lackeys explained to him that as long as he had 34 Republican Senators in his grip, there was no way on earth that he could be impeached.
This is what led him to focus wholly, completely, and thoroughly on catering his Presidency to his most core, rock solid base. These voters may not be the majority of the country, but they are the majority in the deep red states that Trump needed to wield an iron grip on at least 34 Republican Senators. Maintaining the ferocious loyalty of his base had little to do with re-election strategy, and everything to do with staying out of jail.
Turn # 5: Once Trump made his blood oath of fealty to his base, he could never go back on it.
Trump discovered this bigly when he tried to make a compromise with the Democrats on his border wall, only to find Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter sautéing his nuts with jalapeño peppers in the national media. For a brief 48 hour period, Donald Trump began to understand what life would be like if he didn’t make every decision of his presidency based on the reaction of his base. Trump realized that the minute he lost the support of the conservative media, the impeachment vultures would smell fresh carcass. So he retreated, a lesson learned: never, ever, ever take a stand that will cause the base to lose faith.
Turn #6: SUTTB, DGTJ (Suck up to the base, don’t go to jail) thus became the organizing principle of Trump’s White House.
As day followed night, Trump allowed his each and every decision to be based on what would please the base, thrill the base, entertain the base, and keep the base in line. Trump figured that vilifying and dehumanize immigrants by ripping their children from their families would please his base. He thought that defending White Nationalists in Charlottesville would elate the base. He noticed at his rallies that racist tropes like “send them back” seemed to get the biggest applause. He doubled down.
Turn #7: Toadies only, please.
If your motto is SUTTB, DGTJ, you sure as hell can’t have anybody in your administration is isn’t on board. Independent thinkers? People voicing opinions contrary to Trump? Trump did not want independent thinkers who were not guided by SUTTB, DGTJ to have access to microphones where they could offer their own ideas about public policy. So Trump has methodically winnowed out the marginally competent and independent thinkers in his original cabinet and replaced them with a bunch of spineless, chicken-shit cowards who are driven around in nice government limos as compensation for selling their low-budget souls to Trump.
Turn #8: Trump learned that there was no outrage that could alienate the base, and yet that every outrage sent liberals and progressives into apoplectic surges in blood pressure… and that the base loved that even more.
Somewhere along the way, Trump realized that his base seemed to take delight in witnessing the spasms of liberal outrage that were triggered by Trump’s excesses. Such fun to watch Chris Cuomo’s veins bulge with anger! Let’s see if we can explode one of Rachel Maddow’s cerebral arteries! Boldface lies, inhumane treatment of the vulnerable, and kowtowing to dictators all send progressives into cardiac arrest. More! Faster! Better!
Turn #9: Trump realized is was goldmine to go after all those precious, sissy liberal causes… like those curly, fancy, elite, East Coast Ivy League lightbulbs.
Trump learned to actively seek out issues that would trigger liberal outrage and represent no downside to him. He delights in highlighting what he perceives to be the prissy, fussy, silly issues that fancy elite progressives get so worked up about, and how liberal politicians impose their precious, expensive preferences on the working people. Energy saving lightbulbs? That is soooooo Obama… let’s go back to the ones that hurt the environment! Endangered species? Who needs 'em?! Paper straws? Let's make that the big issue of the day. Why take on climate change when it is so much easier to frame the debate as just so much fussy liberal overthink?
Turn #10: Got a problem that may be threatening? Blow it out of the news cycle by doing something even more outrageous.
Whenever the Trump administration has a category five problem that is dominating the news cycle like a hurricane parked over New Orleans, it has a novel strategy for coping with the issue. Rather than tackling the problem head-on, or even appointing some blue-ribbon commission to do a deep six-month dive and deliver comprehensive recommendations, the Trump administration does something even more outrageous to blow the drama-du-jour off the A bloc of the cable news. Watch how fast people forget about AR-15s slaughtering children when we announce that we are buying Greenland!
Turn #11: It is working! The rat is avoiding impeachment!
So far, so good, the rat muses, echoing the prognosis of the Captain of the Titanic the third day after leaving Southampton. Nancy Pelosi is pouring maple syrup into the impeachment machinery, which Trump interprets as a great big “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The rat smells the pellet…
Turn #12: Uh oh! Mueller says that a President can be indicted for crimes after he leaves office!
Whoa! Mueller sits on that chair and bores the crap out of people for five hours and then heaves that turd into the President’s guacamole! A sitting President cannot be indicted, Mueller notes, but a former President can be indicted for crimes committed while in office! Yikes!! The rat suddenly becomes energized, racing through the maze. Holy crap, the rat realizes. He absolutely MUST get re-elected, or he goes straight to jail! The rat must not only get re-elected, but then must use his second term to eliminate the Constitutional Amendment that prohibits a third term! The rat recoils in shock… he is back at the start of the maze!
So it’s August, 2019, and Donald Trump has got a world of problems – indications of a weakening economy, his own humiliating buffoonery at the G-7, an ever more urgent and nearly universal cry for action on gun control, and his game of tariff chicken with China appears to risk destabilizing world markets. He even gets into a squabble with Fox News, and stews as several of their correspondents tell him that they are not there to do his bidding. Fox News is a critical conduit to his base, and he simply cannot countenance irreverence from the network that he believes is there to worship him.
A hurricane rages in the Caribbean, taking dead aim on the islands of the Bahamas. It is forecast to then churn westward, toward the U.S. mainland.
Damn, thinks Trump. Please don’t land on Puerto Rico again! Those people are such ungrateful pains in the ass when they lose their electricity for a year, and they are all Democrats. But he pauses as he is told the likely path of Dorian. His tiny brain whirs into action. Hey, This storm is heading toward Red States!!! I can pretend that I give a shit about this one! Thank heaven I finally get a hurricane is going to ravage my own supporters!
Trump is briefed by his weather experts and sees that the forecasting models indicate that the storm will impact Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. One version shows that it could even graze the extreme southeastern corner of Alabama. Good enough, Trump thinks. Let’s be sure to include Alabama… that will bring the total of this hurricane to 76 electoral votes. Sweet!
On Sunday, September 1, at 10:51 am, Trump begins to paint his flawed Portrait of Dorian’s Way, tweeting “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will be most likely be hit (much) harder than expected.” Unfortunately for Trump, this is already not true. Updated forecasts have already been issued that eliminate the possibility that Dorian will touch Alabama. He is wrong from his first tweet on the topic.
Later that very morning, at 11:11 a.m., the Birmingham, Alabama office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service freaks out, concerned that Trump’s erroneous tweet will cause a needless run on gas, water, and supplies. They send out an urgent correction. Their message? The President of the United States is wrong. “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."
Trump is pissed off. Who are a bunch of snotty little local weather expert dweebs to tell him that his hurricane forecast is wrong? But he is concerned: his grand plan to appear dedicated to Red State supporters could be upended by the revelation that he is, uh, wrong. He cannot be wrong! He is the great and powerful Donald!
Twice on Sunday, Trump repeats that the storm will likely hit Alabama.
Then, prior to a press conference on Wednesday, out comes the sharpie. He alters The Portrait of Dorian’s Way. The President of the United States draws a goofy appendage onto an official weather map on display in a press conference at the Oval Office so that he appears to be right about his claim that Alabama is in the storm’s path.
Reporters begin challenging him… about the accuracy of his facts, his sources, and about the crude sharpie marking on the map itself.
As the press closes in, Trump suddenly remembers turn #8 in the maze. Anything that outrages the liberal media is like throwing meat into a tank of his Red State piranhas. Trump knows that if he makes this into a fight between him and the media, his base will love it.
No one can fathom why Trump seems to be goading the media into keeping the issue alive. He knows.
The ignorant people in his base will believe him, and the smarter ones will be entertained by it. The latter know that he drew on the map with the Sharpie. They are laughing with him, not at him. They are laughing at the fact that he is making the lame stream media bonkers.
That independent weather office in Birmingham, Alabama… the one that immediately issued the correction in order to avoid a public panic in Alabama? They are officially overruled by the national office. The New York Times reports that heads of the NOAA were threatened that they would be fired unless they formally disowned the tweet from Birmingham.
It gets worse. We learn that it was Trump Cabinet member and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who made the threat.
It gets still worse. Ross was ordered to fix the mess by none other that Trump's Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.
Oh, yes… the rat has remembered turn #7 in the maze. He has now completely surrounded himself with toadies, who will lie and grossly abuse the power of their roles to please Trump and to keep their jobs.
The rat smiles.
Because that isn't even the best part. Check out turn # 10. For the better part of a week, the press is not talking about an incoherent economic policy toward China, another disgraceful genuflect to the NRA, more stories about government officials lining Trump’s pockets by spending bit on Trump properties, and an utterly bizarre announcement that Trump had planned on giving Taliban a big sloppy wet kiss during the week of the 9/11 anniversary. It's the oldest trick in Trump's book: blow bad news out of the cable A-bloc by coming up with even more egregiously stupid news. Hey, audience, keep your eyes on the Magic Sharpie!!!
No, people, there is no overarching political vision guiding the decisions of the Trump administration. There is no belief system about what must happen in order to “make America great again.” There is no plan, no vision, no philosophy... there is no nothing.
There is only a rat, trapped in a maze, repeating over and over the turns he has learned to make in order to get the pellet. The pellet is that Donald Trump stays out of jail.
Drawing the appendage on a weather map was Trump’s only choice. He has to keep the base in line. He has learned how to do that: by lying, triggering wars with the media, and hiring ethically barren henchmen to do his bidding.
Yes, folks, Donald Trump drew a phony appendage on a weather map as just one more perfectly logical step in the life of a man twisting our country like a wet rag all for one purpose.
So that he can stay out of prison.
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