Opinion

Opinion | Michael A. Cohen

Sharpiegate isn’t just silly — it’s worrisome

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. President Donald Trump (R) references a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters following a briefing from officials about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. The map was a forecast from August 29 and appears to have been altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane's range to include Alabama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Trump referenced a map held by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan while talking to reporters following a briefing from officials about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office. The map was a forecast from August 29 and appears to have been altered by a black marker to extend the hurricane's range to include Alabama.

In the larger scheme of things, the president of the United States using a Sharpie pen to mark up a National Hurricane Center weather map in order to back up his false claim that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian might not seem like a big deal.

But Trump’s increasingly erratic and bizarre behavior is far from benign. “Sharpiegate” is emblematic of the president’s frightening inability to accept and acknowledge reality.

For those not following the ins and outs of Trump’s latest obsession, it began last Sunday morning when the president tweeted a warning about Dorian and included Alabama in a list of states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

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Throughout the day, and into Monday, Trump continued to say publicly that Alabama was at risk. This was false. As the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office quickly pointed out “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

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This should have been the end of the story. But Trump could not let it go. On Monday he fired off another angry tweet that said Alabama being at risk “WAS true.”

It still wasn’t.

Then came Sharpiegate. And as if that wasn’t enough, Trump quadrupled down again Thursday with repeated claims that Alabama was at risk.

Beyond the obvious problem with having a president acting like a recalcitrant toddler, it’s dangerous for him to be needlessly spreading panic about a killer hurricane. It’s also against the law to publicize a false weather forecast.

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America needs a president who can in a moment of crisis — like an impending hurricane — be relied upon to tell the truth and not brazenly spread misinformation simply because he doesn’t want to admit that he made a mistake.

Yet, this is where we are as a country — and where we have been for two and a half years. Lest we forget, one of Trump’s first acts as president was to send out his hapless press spokesman, Sean Spicer, to falsely claim before assembled members of the media that the attendance at his swearing in was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period.”

Since then we’ve seen much bigger lies, propagated in service of the president’s obstinacy. Trump continues to ignore or play down North Korea’s violations of international sanctions because he apparently doesn’t want to undermine his relationship with the nation’s leader, Kim Jung Un, and stop the flow of the beautiful letters between the two men.

He has consistently refused to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, for fear that doing so might diminish his own role in his presidential victory.

No matter how many times Congress makes clear that it won’t spend money on his border wall, the president refuses to take “no” for an answer. Now his administration is diverting money from military construction projects and disaster relief to pay for the wall — a troubling violation of Congress’s constitutionally defined power of the purse.

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Perhaps most disquieting is Trump’s increasingly disastrous trade war with China. Rather than acknowledge that his strategy has failed, Trump doubles down, causing more damage to the US economy — all because he can’t admit a mistake.

It’s bad enough that Trump refuses to discard his own delusions. He’s also roped in the federal bureaucracy. When Trump claimed last fall, without evidence, that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with migrant caravans in Mexico, administration officials scurried to push out false information backing up the president’s claims.

Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is offering no comment on Trump’s Dorian falsehoods — basically allowing the president’s lie to stand.

A president of the United States who makes up his own facts and refuses to entertain the idea that he is fallible, combined with yes-men and bootlickers who are willing to enable this madness, is a recipe for disaster. What if the United States found itself in an international crisis? It’s frighteningly easy to imagine Trump using military force or going to war simply to avoid admitting that he got something wrong.

Yes, Sharpiegate is a silly story and one more reason to laugh in astonishment at Trump’s behavior, but it also encapsulates everything that makes the president such an unstable and dangerous figure.

A president who is, in effect, creating his own reality is no laughing matter.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.