“Where’s the president?” asks the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle, as California burns.
Well, it knows where President Trump literally is: the White House usually, if not one of his resorts.
The newspaper board means where is he on Twitter — or as the board says, “How many times has Trump tweeted about the fires since they were whipped by winds into life-threatening force early Monday: zero.”
Zero, true, as of early Sunday evening. As the Chronicle notes, Trump did speak once, offline, about the fires. A few days ago, he promised to “stand with” Californians and said he’s in touch with the governor — and then welcomed the Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House and turned to other matters.
But the death toll in California has doubled to 41 since then, thousands of homes and millions of acres have been burned — and “one voice has been conspicuously mute,” the Chronicle wrote.
“Americans expect their president to step forward with empathy and resolve in moments of national trauma,” the paper observed. And: “This is not a man who is reticent to let Americans know what is foremost on his mind.”
“So how can it be that the loss of 40 human beings on American soil did not merit a single tweet?”
And then much of the editorial is spent listing all the things Trump is tweeting about instead of the fires: the NFL, and TV news, and a book about himself, and “what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation.”
Odd to mention that last one. The last time Trump was being castigated for Twitter negligence, it was Puerto Rico’s hurricane damage that he was accused of ignoring.
This was all of three weeks ago, when CNN kept a running tally of Trump’s tweets: Sports 16, Puerto Rico 0 — nearly a week after Hurricane Maria wiped out the U.S. territory’s infrastructure wholesale.
As with the wildfires, Trump had spoken in public about the destruction. He’d even tweeted. But his critics found his comments incommensurate to the attention he paid other topics, not to mention previous storms that hit the U.S. mainland.
Hillary Clinton’s former campaign spokesman straight up called him a racist for it.
And then Trump did start tweeting about Puerto Rico and his administration’s help for the island — over and over and over. Consequently, he was accused by some of bragging, including the San Francisco Chronicle in Saturday’s editorial.
It has been like this, more or less, since Trump took his Twitter addiction into the White House.
A few days after his inauguration, several people were killed in an attack on a mosque in Canada. Trump called the country’s prime minister the next morning, but he was nevertheless called out for failing to tweet about the attack.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., for example, compared Trump’s Internet silence on the mosque with his loud protests of other attacks — and criticism of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In some way, Trump faces the same optical quandary as his predecessors have in times of crisis.
President Barack Obama was criticized for golfing while Louisiana flooded last year. At the dawn of the Internet age, footage of President George W. Bush reading a children’s book while the World Trade Center burned went proto-viral.
But we now live in the thick of the Internet, in an age that expects instantaneous reactions, with a president who often is happy to give them.
And the San Francisco Chronicle wants to know what’s different about lethal fires in California.
“The most cynical speculation would be that he could not care less about a state that despises him like no other,” the editorial board wrote.
Trump has not responded. At least not yet on Twitter.