Squint and it almost seemed like a traditional president doing what’s typically done after disaster strikes. President Trump was meeting with those grappling with a storm’s impact, praising the efforts and coordination of local officials, and promising quick rebuilding for the people of the afflicted region.
But open your eyes wide and the Trump-style twists make themselves as known as the big white hat with the “USA” logo – versions of which were for sale, as always, on the Trump campaign website.
There were the superlatives, the grand pronouncements, the giant Texas flag, and the raving about the size of both the storm and the crowd that materialized to greet him. There was also the decision not to visit areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
On cue this morning, a presidential tweet followed: “After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”
After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey,my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2017
It’s hard to argue that Trump witnessed devastation “first hand.” And, as commentators quickly noted, he spent little time in Texas talking about the human toll of a deadly storm that’s sure to have claimed more lives by the time the water recedes.
None of that matters to Trump, and most likely to his supporters. The storm yet again revealed the multiple sides of a complicated president, one who’s willing to buck established norms for often mystifying reasons, while still displaying a mastery of the images that surround a presidency.
On one level, Trump appeared to internalize lessons learned the hard way by previous presidents. He was quicker than his predecessors to get to a storm-ravaged region. Regular briefings by federal officials have conveyed an image of a responsive government apparatus – haunted, no doubt, by potential Katrina comparisons.
Yet on another level, Trump fell into potential traps he created for himself. He promised that Texas will be in “fantastic shape” again and that it will happen “very, very quickly,” and struck an odd note when he raved about crowd size…