As Hurricane Harvey battered the Gulf Coast, and floodwaters inundated Houston, pushing emergency responders to the brink, the nation’s president was clearly, as the New York Times reported, “riveted by the drama unfolding in Texas,” sending out two dozen Twitter updates on the storm over the weekend.
An earlier version of that Times report, which was revised after a spate of criticism, seemed to channel the White House talking point that Donald Trump’s frenetic activity on the social network during the storm was evidence of a man who was deeply “engaged” in the crisis threatening the fourth largest city in the country.
Others, who have sadly devoted more time to studying the president’s Twitter feed, were less impressed, noting that the television addict watching the drama unfold from Camp David is often moved to tweet excitedly by whatever happens to be on cable news at the time, and seemed less like a leader than a spectator.
That Trump’s attention was more on advancing his political agenda than working to mitigate the crisis became obvious as the weekend wore on, and the president somehow found time in the middle of a national emergency to: pardon one abusive sheriff, give a rave review to a book by another, promote an upcoming rally for tax cuts for the rich, boast about his 2016 electoral victory in Missouri, once again slur Mexican immigrants as criminals, and threaten to terminate a free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in '16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada.Both being very difficult,may have to terminate?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
As several critics pointed out, Trump’s newfound enthusiasm for the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency also seemed at odds with his earlier plans to slash its funding to help pay for his border wall.
By devoting so much time to cheering online for the first responders, Trump was clearly trying to avoid the fate of George W. Bush, who seemed detached from the tragic destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Major rescue operations underway!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
But as Monday morning dawned, it was impossible not to notice that the president’s focus seemed to be mainly on responding to the slights of critics distressed by his pardon of the racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his kind words for white supremacists.
Even as the disaster worsened, Trump involved himself in a pair of Twitter spats, retweeting comments from two Fox News pundits, Dinesh D’Souza and Katie Pavlich, who made false claims in his defense.
In the first tweet shared by Trump, D’Souza tried to argue that a report on violence by left-wing activists in Berkeley this weekend somehow proved that the outburst of deadly violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month was the fault of counterprotesters. (It does not.)
Trump then moved on to promoting a Pavlich tweet in which she defended his pardon of Arpaio by incorrectly claiming that former President Barack Obama had pardoned Chelsea Manning and Oscar López Rivera, a former Puerto Rican nationalist militant. Obama, in fact, commuted the sentences of both Manning and López Rivera, but did not pardon them.