And certainly not to Alabama. The most that Alabama was included in the NOAA’s projections was late Friday, when the cone of possible directions briefly brushed against the most extreme southeastern part of the state. That cone, of course, doesn’t indicate that the hurricane would swell to a size greater than the state of Georgia; instead, it shows a range of possible places where Dorian might end up. Maybe — maybe! — it would be brushing against Alabama by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
That’s not what was happening at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Instead, social media at that time was roiling over an apparent alteration to a NOAA hurricane map shared by Trump during a briefing in the Oval Office. That map was a version of the first map shown in this article but with an addition: a weird little drawn-in spur covering parts of Alabama.
Why? The answer is probably a simple one: Someone was trying to preserve Trump’s pride.
You see, on Sunday morning Trump had tweeted a warning to Alabamians that the hurricane was threatening their state.
In short order, a National Weather Service office in that state rejected the idea.
After all, the most recent public NOAA projection when Trump tweeted was this one, showing very clearly that Alabama was at that point facing no risk — and that, in fact, the likelihood it might was decreasing as the storm shifted away.
When ABC News’s Jonathan Karl noted that Trump had been wrong in saying the storm threatened Alabama, Trump raged about it on Twitter.
This was Monday evening. By midday Wednesday, when Trump was briefing reporters in the Oval Office, the little spur over Alabama had appeared.
It’s not clear that Trump is the one who drew that little loop, though it wouldn’t be terribly surprising. His affinity for marking up documents with black marker is well-known. Asked about this particular example by reporters, he didn’t say that he wasn’t the one who had altered it.
It’s important to note that Trump appeared to refer to that little spur when displaying the map Wednesday, saying that it showed Dorian “going toward the Gulf.”
“Our original chart showed that it was going to be hitting Florida directly,” Trump said when displaying the altered map. “It was going to be hitting directly, and that would have affected a lot of other states. But that was the original chart. And you see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia. It could have — it was going toward the Gulf; that was what was originally projected.”
All of this backstory is important because it reveals just how obviously ridiculous Trump’s charade actually was. It’s trivial to check historic hurricane maps against what Trump was showing. It’s obvious that the original image didn’t include the marker-sketched loop, and Trump made no comment suggesting that the addition was erroneous or a mistake. It’s hard to argue, then, that the loop was made for any other reason than allowing Trump to talk about where the storm was headed — toward the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama.
It has been well documented by now that Trump hyperactively tries to create his own reality. The Washington Post’s exhaustive database of Trump’s falsehoods, misrepresentations and lies are largely a compendium of times Trump has tried to make himself seem more important, his work more exceptional and his enemies more toxic than they actually are. Maintaining that house of cards means constantly working to bolster its foundation: the idea, constantly fostered by Trump, that his assertions are unassailable.
Any other president — or, really, nearly any other person — might have simply admitted a mistake in the original tweet and deleted it. Trump can’t do that: Admitting one error means admitting that more might exist out there. Trump’s strategy, mirrored by his allies, is generally to insist that he’s never wrong and has never done the negative things of which he stands accused, whipping up a fog of doubt around everything he does, however minor.
In late 2017, Trump gave Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama a pass on allegations that Moore had groped a child in the 1970s while excoriating then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) for less serious charges … because Franken admitted to having acted inappropriately. The admission itself allowed Trump to cast Franken as hopelessly guilty, while Moore’s denial gave him cover to shrug at the allegations. Franken had cracked open a door. Trump, facing far more questions, is fervent about keeping his own door nailed shut.
Someday, perhaps in one of the voluminous history books detailing the internal machinations of the Trump presidency, we will learn how the marker addition to the hurricane map came to be. We will learn who suggested it be there and why. We will learn what Trump said as it was being added, and we will learn how the White House decided on its reaction after the fact.
For now, though, this seems like a fairly uncomplicated situation. Trump said something untrue. A map showed the truth. Suddenly, once in Trump’s hands, the map showed something somewhere in between.