"3000 people did not die..."
President Donald Trump on Thursday delivered what must be his most morally bankrupt Twitter performance to date.
As Hurricane Florence neared the southeastern coast of the United States, Trump and his administration have been put on the defensive.
A bombshell report on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" Tuesday revealed that the Department of Homeland Security has reallocated almost $10 million from disaster relief programs to instead cover the costs of detaining immigrant families at the US-Mexico border.
Trump being Trump, he wasn't going to let that pass. During a briefing earlier that day about the approaching hurricane, he devoted a good deal of time to praising his administration and himself for their response to the catastrophic storms that struck Puerto Rico last year and, according to estimates, led
"Unsung success" he called the
But a federal report published last week described FEMA as overwhelmed and underfunded, and the agency's response as lacking.
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
In less than 500 characters, the president discounted the deaths of thousands of American citizens, flouted hard facts in favor of paranoid speculations, distracted from both a past national tragedy and an upcoming natural disaster to settle a personal score, and exhibited a truly remarkable drain of empathy.
The outbursts were the apotheosis of everything that makes an average Trump tweet provocative, often reprehensible, and occasionally repugnant -- but without the plausible-deniability that might allow an observer to dismiss it as a mere troll, a joke, or a foible.
They had all the hallmarks of Trump's penmanship: Gratuitous cruelty, conspiracy thinking, and breathtaking self-centeredness. And the whole is so much worse than the sum of its parts.
Consider old classics.
The paranoid: Last year, Trump instigated a months-long news cycle by claiming the former President Barack Obama had him bugged in 2016.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
When it finally came out that federal investigators have been in fact tracking former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump's allies saw vindication.
Never mind that the FBI's interest in Manafort dated back to 2014, a whole year before Trump announced his presidency bid, and that the only reason that Trump might have been overheard in tapped conversation would have been because he had entrusted his campaign to a notorious profiteer suspected of committing federal crimes.
The details are insignificant. Facts are in the eye of the beholder. What matters is that Trump told a bigger truth: "Spygate." Sure. OK.
The self-involved: The man who emblazons his name wherever possible, or profitable, has difficulty focusing on a plot that doesn't revolve around himself.
This narrative deficiency makes for trite Twitter prose (most often in the form of an inaccurate listicle of personal achievements), but on occasion morphs into something worse.
For example, the president's Memorial Day tweet honored "those who died for our country" by speculating how "very happy and proud" they would have been at seeing America's thriving economy (for which, of course, he routinely takes credit).
To be fair, say his defenders, what politician isn't narcissistic? Was Obama any less quick to arrogate credit? Sure. OK.
The cruel: When Trump opens his Twitter app for some matutinal playtime he follows the bully's code: Hit back, four times harder.
This renders a majority of his tweets -- by the measurements of the average human -- cruel.
Remember how he used the aftermath of a terror attack in London to impugn the city's mayor? What about when he called disgruntled former White House aide
Trump fails to show empathy at the best of times. But when he's on the defensive, his language can verge on the sociopathic.
He's just punching back, the apologists will insist. He's disrupting the complacency of politics-as-usual. He's shocking the conversation. Sure. OK.
These three traits are crystalized in his Thursday tweets about Puerto Rico.
But something is different: The conspiratorial, the selfish and the cruel meld so perfectly together in these two tweets that they form a single, disgusting verbal sludge that simply can't
The president, with whom the buck never stops, dismissed accusations of neglect and inept response. Everything was fine "when I left the Island," he wrote. It wasn't broken last time I saw it!
After months of barely bothering to pay lip service to the humanitarian crisis still plaguing the destitute American territory, the president motioned to brush off the death of thousands -- of thousands! -- from the history books.
And with the very same pitiless breath, the president
Trump's opponents have been trying to make Hurricane Maria into his Hurricane Katrina for the past year.— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) September 13, 2018
The only reason it is a "thing" now is that we have another hurricane news cycle and the midterm elections are eight weeks away.https://t.co/VrsPIXSwVY via @BreitbartNews
It's the perfect synergy of paranoid delusion, social apathy and maniacal egocentrism. It's everything that a Trump tweet has to offer -- and yet so draining to read.
Adaam James is a senior editor at Pluralist.
You can argue with him on Twitter.
Andrew Tobin & Juan Leon have contributed moral disgust for this article.