Press: Hurricane Donald wipes out Alabama

It sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Sitting with top aides in the Oval Office, the president of the United States examines a Weather Bureau map showing the path of a hurricane heading for the Florida coast, picks up a black Sharpie, marks up the official map in order to show the hurricane heading across Florida, then picks up his iPhone, opens his Twitter account, and falsely warns the people of Alabama to get ready for a direct hit.

It sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit, except it’s not. As we all know now, it actually happened. On Sunday, Sept. 1, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE issued a presidential false alarm that so stunned scientists in the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service (NWS) that they felt compelled to send out their own tweet, correcting Trump: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

“Balderdash,” said Donald Trump. For the next six days — six days! — he stubbornly refused to apologize for his mistake. Instead, he insisted that he was right and scientists were wrong, until he actually browbeat the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), without any evidence, to officially side with him (for telling a lie) and chastise NWS (for telling the truth). As first reported by The Washington Post, NOAA also sent out a directive to all of its employees nationwide never to disagree with the White House again, no matter the scientific evidence to the contrary.

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Of all the outrages of the Trump administration, “Sharpie-gate” is one of the most troubling, on several levels. First and foremost, when dealing with a severe, life-threatening weather system, state and local relief agencies, plus the impacted population, must be able to rely on the expertise of trained meteorologists, and not the fantasy of any half-brained politician. Trump may play loose with the facts when it comes to the border, tariffs or the economy, but he should stay away from hurricanes. This is not fun and games. There are real lives of real people at stake.

Second, no matter who’s in the White House, our great federal agencies exist to serve the American people, and not to satisfy the whims of any president. This is something Trump clearly doesn’t understand. Like any tin-pot dictator, he considers federal employees as trained seals who only perform when and how he orders.

As shameful as the most recent reversal of NOAA is, this is hardly the first time Trump has pressured supposedly independent federal agencies to ignore the facts in order support his big lies. Remember? It started on Inauguration Day, when he forced the National Park Service to confirm his boast of the largest inaugural crowd in history.

Since then, as documented by the Post’s Greg Sargent, among other abuses of presidential power, Trump has pressured the Department of Homeland Security to confirm a preponderance of “terrorists” among refugees from Central America headed for the border; created a voter fraud commission to endorse his claim that 5 million people voted illegally for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani MORE; forced the Treasury Department to declare that tariffs only hurt China; and, most recently, ordered the Justice Department to sue auto manufacturers for producing clean, energy-efficient new cars. 

For veteran White House watchers, this is nothing new. It reminds them of Richard Nixon, another tin-pot dictator type, who famously sicced the FBI and the IRS on his political enemies. Except Trump’s even worse. At least, Nixon never corrupted the National Weather Service. 

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”