U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. 
Leah Millis/Reuters

Trump keeps looking at hurricanes through a historical lens

At a White House event earlier, Donald Trump reflected on Hurricane Michael, which he described in historical terms.

“The one good thing we can say … is that it was the fastest hurricane anybody has seen. It was speedy. If it wasn’t, there would be absolutely nothing left,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “It was incredibly powerful.” […]

“We have not seen destruction like that in a long time,” he said.

The president used similar language yesterday, describing Hurricane Michael as being exceptionally large. “When you look at it, topically, it’s almost the entire size of the Gulf,” Trump said. “And they haven’t seen that. Maybe they haven’t seen that at all. Nobody has seen that before.”

This has quickly become the president’s go-to framing: recent hurricanes aren’t just serious threats and deadly disasters, he insists that people see the storms as unprecedented.

A month ago, Trump said of Hurricane Florence, “They haven’t seen anything like what’s coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever.” (He later said the storm was “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.”)

The president did the same thing last year. As Hurricane Harvey approached Texas’ gulf coast, Trump couldn’t stop marveling at its size and intensity. At a news conference, he said, “I’ve heard the words, ‘epic.’ I’ve heard ‘historic.’ That’s what it is.” It followed a tweet in which Trump added, “Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen.”

Soon after, as Irma approached land, he tweeted, “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!” It was followed by, “Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen.”

A Washington Post piece noted last year that Trump tends to focus on “the historic epicness” of a hurricane.

And at a certain level, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps there’s some value, not only in conveying to the public the seriousness of deadly hurricane threats, but in reminding Americans that these storms are intensifying in scale and severity as the climate crisis intensifies.

But it’s hard not to wonder if the president sees every storm through a historical lens as a way to justify a self-aggrandizing posture.

Other presidents – mere mortals – had to deal with modest hurricanes, but not Donald J. Trump. He confronts the biggest, wettest, fastest, and deadliest storms anyone has ever seen.