Donald Trump made a brief visit to Texas on Tuesday, ostensibly to check in on the governmental response to Hurricane Harvey, though the president steered clear of devastated areas and the storm’s many victims. It was therefore a bit jarring to see use Twitter yesterday morning to make a dubious assertion:
The point of the message was obvious: one of the most important mistakes Trump made on Tuesday was his failure to recognize those who matter most. A Dallas Morning News reporter, on hand for Trump’s brief visit, noted that the president made no mention of those killed, injured, or displaced by the storm. Yesterday’s tweet was likely the president’s way of showing compassion – literally a day too late.
“After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”
But that wasn’t the only problem. If Trump was nowhere near the flooding, and didn’t spend any time with the hurricane’s victims, how exactly did he witness the horror and devastation “first hand”?
Last night, the White House tried to clear this up. It didn’t go well.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president “met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster.” She added that Trump has received detailed briefings, and “talking to a lot of the people on the ground – that certainly is a firsthand account.”
Actually, that’s literally the definition of a second-hand account. If you haven’t seen developments, but others have described them to you, that’s not “a firsthand account”; it’s the opposite. The White House can say Trump made a well-intentioned mistake in his description, but changing the meaning of words shouldn’t be one of the press secretary’s options.
The president went a step further last night on Instragram, again saying he witnesses devastation in Texas “first hand,” but this time showing a picture of him looking at a radar image of Texas on a large monitor.
But again, seeing the effects of the storm on a screen and witnessing them in person are not the same thing.
I’ve heard people describe television as a window on the world, but Trump and his team need to appreciate the fact that the phrase is intended to be metaphorical.