It started when President Trump added Alabama to the list of potential states affected by Hurricane Dorian, which is not what up-to-date weather specialists predicted. But Trump doubled down, placing more effort on appearing to have been correct than was placed on being accurate.
Emergency management officials scrambled to reassure the public that Alabama was not at risk, and at least one source reports that Wilbur Ross threatened firings at NOAA for those who contradicted the president. The president demonstrated that Alabama was, in fact, in the hurricane storm pathway scenario by showing a week-old map amended with a Sharpie pen, and it wasn’t even from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The map was from South Florida Water Management District. Quipped Stephen Colbert, “That’s like getting your MRI from Glamour Shots.”
Sharpiegate has spawned an imaginative reaction from the Twitter-sphere. Cartoonists have had an field day. In one meme, Trump penciled a billion-dollar check purportedly from Mexico with "For Wall" noted on the memo line. In another, there is drawn a Sharpie wall across the entire southern U.S. border. Another one shows a Sharpie tornado over the Birmingham, Alabama, cityscape as proof the president was right. One cartoon shows proof of huge inauguration crowd sizes by the addition of Sharpie stick figures. Another adds a Sharpie hand of Melania extended to hold hands with the president.
In one, the president’s umbrella is drawn to extend over his wife as they walk in the rain. In one, the president’s head is sketched taller than Obama. There are several showing his hands marked larger, in various scenarios. My favorite was proof that Trump had never met Jeffrey Epstein: In a couples photo of Trump and Epstein with their escorts, Epstein’s face is X’d out. Another cartoon purports to prove Trump’s campaign trail claim that windmills cause cancer, depicting a dead stick figure beneath a wind generator. Another shows the popular vote count where the numbers are changed, to suggest Trump won the popular vote. And one is an Obama birth certificate, crudely scribbled-in with birthplace Kenya.
We all wish we could fix things with a Sharpie – the president’s 2,310 ethical breaches since 20,176 documented by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, for example. We could mark through 10,976 false or misleading claims made by the president. Actually, that number is just through June 10, 2019. But when the numbers amount to 12 falsehoods a day, it seems inconsequential to update; the point is that this administration makes decisions based on vague mistruths.
We grow up believing the best way to solve problems starts with precisely defining the objective facts. One of the consequences of this "big picture," "vague brushstrokes," Gestalt, subjective overview approach to policymaking is that when scientists can’t do science, systems don’t work. Sharpiegate, despite its fodder for comedians, explains how likely it is that this president could be getting it wrong on climate science policy, greenhouse gas emissions implications, Arctic National Wildlife Reserve drilling, risk assessments on toxic substances, and more.
This president has been ad hoc on everything from nukes in North Korea to meeting with the Taliban – or not. It shows. Internal pressures in the executive branch cabinets result in rank-and-file governmental employees taking matters into their own hands to protect the public from the risks associated with this type of swashbuckling, just as they did to preserve climate data when it was purged from the government website. We are seeing how strong systems become tested.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.