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The telling non-lie

September 9, 2019

Here’s the thing: No one cares about Trump’s original misstatement that Alabama likely would be hit by Dorian. Everyone gets things wrong sometimes. That doesn’t make someone a liar or a conman or a would-be strongman. When called on it by the press, what most any other politician or businessman or senior military officer would have done is the mature and right thing. “Oh? Maybe I have that wrong. I’ll take a second look. Meanwhile, listen to NOAA. They know what they are doing and those in southeastern states should be heeding their forecasts and warnings.” Leaders know to rely on their experts for domain knowledge. They also know when speaking publicly that they will misstep from time to time, due to normal human lapse. And they know not to turn an ordinary misstep into a shitstorm. Self-correction is second-hand to most anyone who has had to lead a team.

It’s what Trump did next that shows him a liar and a conman and a would-be strongman. He doubled down. Even though the original misstep didn’t matter at all, he doubled and re-doubled. He tweeted that almost all of the old model paths, shown right, go through Alabama. Which might lead one to wonder if he knows where Alabama is. That justly earned him a pants-on-fire fact check. He created a tweet-storm of other defenses. He led NOAA, a science agency, into internal squabbling between the political appointees trying to defend him, and the professionals wanting to retain their reputation for honest work. Which rift culminated in the former ordering the latter to go along with the party line. Those lies and strongman tactics were not the result of one misstatement. They happened over days, given his consideration and attention. This shitstorm came from the top.

He took something perhaps innocent and certainly non-consequential, and instinctively wrapped it in bullshit and corruption. His hirelings, selected for their loyalty to him, all stood by his side. Making this one more of the many scandals revealing the nature of this administration.

Update #1: Jonathan Chait paints the pattern.

Update #2: As expected, there is evidence that the political pressure on NOAA came from the White House.

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