For some people, it took a hurricane map to do what Robert S. Mueller III’s 448-page report could not: Bring home how seriously unfit and perhaps unwell is the president.
The Mueller report was long, dense and complicated for those who had not followed the twists and turns in the saga of President Trump’s willing receipt of Russian help in the 2016 election and his furious efforts to impede the investigation into his conduct. By contrast, the hurricane map with the lame Sharpie addition is visual, simple and utterly mockable.
The Mueller report has been spun, distorted and misrepresented by the White House, attorney general, Republican members of Congress and the right-wing echo chamber; the map is unspinnable, despite the cringe-inducing statement from a Coast Guard rear admiral pressed into offering vague cover for an obsessive president.
And so it is that a map, covered widely by news media and used for comedic fodder by late-night comedians, has entrapped Trump in a web of his own lies, obsessions and insecurities.
The Associated Press put it this way:
His fervent, dayslong pushback has displayed not only his prolonged focus on a personal spat but his willingness, notably again late on Thursday, to deploy government staff and resources to justify an inaccurate claim. Presidential proclamations can move markets, rattle world capitals and, in this case, unnecessarily alarm the residents of a state. Trump’s relationship with the truth and accountability threatened to, yet again, diminish the weight of any president’s words.
While it is true that, compared with Trump’s other lies, Sharpie-gate is less catastrophic than, say, baseless allegations that there was massive voter fraud in 2016 or an “invasion” of Central American immigrants just before the midterm elections, the simplicity is what makes it so deadly for a man whose mind works in catchphrases (MAGA) and symbols (the wall = protecting America from black and brown people).
The president understands one thing: branding. And the hurricane map is an exemplar of the new Trump brand: crazy. As more and more people fully comprehend the depths of his neediness, his departure from reality, his narcissism and his downright childishness, the old Trump brand that he carefully constructed and that his enablers propagated — Real estate mogul! Tough negotiator! — becomes tarnished and even ridiculous.
Those outside his cult know that Trump was never the real estate genius he claimed to be. (Bankrupt casinos, failures in multiple businesses and a hefty inheritance from his father tell the true story.) And they know that, contrary to his claims, he knows less about the world and public policy than any president in memory. Nevertheless, he was at least able to give his supporters plausible excuses for following the blundering, blubbering cult leader. He must know — he’s a businessman! We just don’t understand everything he knows! The media are just making it up!
Now Trump is the source of ridicule, the kryptonite of all narcissists. It’s not simply that he is wrong, but pathetically laughable. He can see the reaction; and his followers can see that the little man behind the curtain no longer can dazzle us with illusions. So Trump struggles, entwining himself further in the web of ridiculous lies and needy tweets. He cannot let go, and he thereby feeds the media, which in turn infuriate him.
In a week with hurricanes, a disappointing jobs number (which Trump tried to spin in advance), an intractable trade war, heightening tensions in the Middle East, a Brexit meltdown and a serious rupture in relations between two critical Asian allies, Trump has been in a days-long temper tantrum about a map. The 25th Amendment might not be designed for this situation, but elections certainly are. The president is, in colloquial parlance, crazy and, therefore, unfit and dangerous.