Trump’s refusal to ever admit mistakes

President Donald Trump talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump doesn’t make mistakes. At least according to him.

Trump’s relentless justifications of his erroneous warnings that Hurricane Dorian was threatening Alabama on Sunday, which created days of ridicule and skepticism, are just the latest example of the president’s lifelong reluctance to admit an error, no matter how innocuous.

His fervent, dayslong pushback has displayed not only his prolonged focus on a personal spat but his willingness, notably again late on Thursday, to deploy government staff and resources to justify an inaccurate claim. Presidential proclamations can move markets, rattle world capitals and, in this case, unnecessarily alarm the residents of a state. Trump’s relationship with the truth and accountability threatened to, yet again, diminish the weight of any president’s words.

“Great presidents admit when they’ve screwed up, they fix it, and they move on,” said presidential historian Jon Meacham. “Right now, it is a mistake about a hurricane hitting a state. But it can also be a far bigger deal and cost people lives and help create a climate where people can’t trust the government.”

This was far from the first time Trump has refused to admit a mistake. Examples range from the harmless, like his assertion that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history, to the more serious, like his claim of widespread voter fraud in 2016 that led to the establishment of an election commission to try and back up his claim.

This particular Trump tempest, as so often, began with a tweet.

On Sunday, the Republican president warned that Alabama was “most likely to be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” By then, however, Alabama faced no threat at all from Dorian, as the National Weather Service quickly declared.

Rather than dropping it, Trump went into overdrive defending his alert, and he was still at it four days later.

On Wednesday, Trump displayed a map of Dorian’s projected path that showed the cone of uncertainty covering much of Florida but stopping in its panhandle. Until, that is, an extension was added in black marker that covered a swath of Alabama.

The president, who is known for his love of Sharpies, pleaded ignorance about the ad hoc alteration. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he responded when questioned.

That night and the next day, he took to Twitter to again insist that certain storm tracking models proved he was right. He tweeted outdated maps, he pushed White House staff to support his claims and he doubled down — eight times over — on his erroneous forecast.

“In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed,” he said in one of the tweets. “What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!”

Then, late Thursday, the White House put out an official statement from Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown, the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

It was he, Brown wrote under the White House letterhead, who briefed Trump on Sunday, showing him the official National Hurricane Center forecast but also a number of other models, which “showed possible storm impacts well outside the official forecast cone.”

The running controversy, stirred daily by the president, has electrified social media, with #Sharpie trending on Twitter and jokes galore. But, for some, it has become a new referendum on Trump and his fitness for office.

“I’m really worried. I feel sorry for the president,” said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, who hopes to take Trump on in the 2020 election. “And that is not the way we should feel about the most powerful figure in this country. Somebody on whose wisdom and judgment our lives literally depend.”

But White House allies defended the president and accused the media of preferring to overreact to the blunder rather than focus on the lives still in the storm’s way.

“This president gets the worst press of any president in the history of the republic,” said Geraldo Rivera, a reporter and Trump confidant. “Everything he says and does is cross-checked and scrutinized to reveal him to be stupid, uninformed or a liar.”

Even as the hurricane battered the East Coast, Trump’s attention was still on Alabama, repeatedly tweeting old forecasts that suggested Alabama could get hit by the storm.

“Americans are in harm’s way and the president is laser-focused on … covering up a small mistake he made,” tweeted former FBI Director James Comey, a noted Trump critic. “Narcissism is not leadership. America deserves better.”

Trump has made a career of not acknowledging errors, going full steam ahead even when caught in an error or lie.

“I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

That approach has, at times, served him well, allowing him to plow though controversies assured that many of his followers choose to trust his word over the press. But critics say it is one thing to claim Trump Tower in Manhattan has 68 stories though by any measure it has 58, and it is another to use government resources and push his staff to reverse-engineer something in an attempt to suggest he was right all along.

After he loudly warned of the dangers of a caravan of migrants in 2018, administration officials cited a terrorism arrest statistic that was proven false. When Trump said he had ready a middle-class tax cut plan before the midterm elections, though nothing had been discussed, officials scrambled to craft a plan. When Trump fumed that the size of his inaugural crowd was reported to be smaller than his predecessor’s, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was forced to defend the false claim. And even when Trump mistakenly tweeted the nonsensical word “covfefe” late one night, the president, instead of owning up to a typo or errant message, later sent Spicer to declare, “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

Trump has owned up to a few mistakes: He apologized, once, for the Access Hollywood tape that captured him boasting about groping women — though he later mused that the audio might be fake. And the mistakes he has made in office were, by his account, the appointments of officials who have let him down, like Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

His attitude is no joke to those who worry about the potential consequences when the matter is far more grave than a weather map.

“The Constitution, with its checks and balances, was drafted on the intellectual foundation that we all make mistakes all the time: a president does, Congress does, the courts do, the people do,” said Meacham. “It’s remarkable that more harm hasn’t come of it. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.”


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Trump lays low after latest mass shootings

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As the nation reeled from two mass shootings in less than a day, President Donald Trump spent the first hours after the tragedies out of sight at his New Jersey golf course, sending out tweets of support awkwardly mixed in with those promoting a celebrity fight and attacking his political foes.

Americans did not glimpse the Republican president in the immediate aftermath of a shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed at least 20 people and, hours later, one in Dayton, Ohio, that claimed at least nine lives. Not until Trump and the first lady prepared to fly back to Washington in the late afternoon Sunday did he appear before cameras.

“Hate has no place in our country, and we’re going to take care of it,” Trump declared before boarding Air Force One.

While connecting “hate” and mental illness to the shootings, Trump made no direct mention of gun laws, a factor brought up by Democratic officials and those seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Trump’s reelection next year. He also ignored questions about the anti-immigration language in a manifesto written by the El Paso shooter that mirrors some of his own.

Trump tried to assure Americans he was dealing with the problem and defended his administration in light of criticism following the latest in a string of mass shootings.

“We have done much more than most administrations,” he said, without elaboration. “We have done actually a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.”

Never seemingly comfortable consoling a nation in grief, Trump will be carefully watched for his response to the attacks, again inviting comparison to his predecessors who have tried to heal the country in moments of national trauma.

Investigators focused on whether the El Paso attack was a hate crime after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly beforehand. Detectives sought to determine if it was written by the man who was arrested.

In recent weeks, the president has issued racist tweets about four women of color who serve in Congress, and in rallies has spoken of an “invasion” at the southern border. His reelection strategy has placed racial animus at the forefront in an effort that his aides say is designed to activate his base of conservative voters, an approach not seen by an American president in the modern era.

Trump also has been widely criticized for offering a false equivalency when discussing racial violence, notably when he said there were “very fine people, on both sides,” after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of an anti-racism demonstrator.

The shootings will likely complicate that strategy, and Democrats who are campaigning to deny Trump a second term were quick to lay blame at the president’s feet.

“You reap what you sow, and he is sowing seeds of hate in this country. This harvest of hate violence we’re seeing right now lies at his feet,” Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ″He is responsible.”

White House aides said the president has been receiving updates about both shootings.

“The FBI, local and state law enforcement are working together in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “God bless the people of El Paso Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”

His first tweet after the El Paso shooting on Saturday hit similar notes, with Trump calling it “terrible” and promising the full support of the federal government. But just 14 minutes later, he tweeted again, a discordant post wishing UFC fighter Colby Covington, a Trump supporter, good luck in his fight that evening. That was soon followed up with a pair of retweets of African American supporters offering testimonials to Trump’s policies helping black voters, though the president polls very poorly with black people.

Trump’s two eldest sons attended the UFC fight, while social media photos show that Trump stopped by a wedding at his Bedminster club on Saturday night.

The motive for the Dayton shooting, which happened in a popular nightlife district, was not immediately known. But Democrats pointed to the El Paso attack and blamed Trump for his incendiary rhetoric about immigrants that they say fosters an atmosphere of hate and violence.

Federal officials said they were treating the El Paso attack as a domestic terrorism case.

Trump’s language about immigrants, and his hardline policies, loomed over the El Paso shooting.

He has described groups of immigrants as “infestations,” declared in his campaign kickoff that many of those coming from Mexico were “rapists,” deemed a caravan of Hispanic migrants as invaders and wondered why the United States accepted so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. Critics also point to his campaign proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, his suggestion that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and his administration’s efforts to curtail asylum and separate immigrant children from their parents at the border.

The president also has repeatedly been denounced for being slow to criticize acts of violence carried out by white nationalists, or deem them acts of domestic terrorism, most notably when he declared there were good people on “both sides” of the deadly clash in Charlottesville in 2017. The number of hate groups has surged to record highs under Trump’s presidency, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“He is encouraging this. He doesn’t just tolerate it; he encourages it. Folks are responding to this. It doesn’t just offend us, it encourages the kind of violence that we’re seeing, including in my home town of El Paso yesterday,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a 2020 Democratic contender, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ″He is an open, avowed racist and is encouraging more racism in this country. And this is incredibly dangerous for the United States of America right now.”

Other Democratic candidates also slammed Trump’s lack of response.

“We must come together to reject this dangerous and growing culture of bigotry espoused by Trump and his allies,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “Instead of wasting money putting children in cages, we must seriously address the scourge of violent bigotry and domestic terrorism.”

And Pete Buttigieg said Trump is “condoning and encouraging white nationalism.”

“It is very clear that this kind of hate is being legitimized from on high,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in an interview on CNN.

Trump ordered flags to be lowered in remembrance of both shootings.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended the president’s response, saying Trump was “a combination of saddened by this and he’s angry about it.” Mulvaney told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s first call was “to the attorney general to find out what we could do to prevent this type of thing from happening.”

“These are sick people,” he said. “And we need to figure out what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Mulvaney focused on the challenges of mental illness and largely dodged the notion of supporting widespread gun control measures, though he pointed out the administration banned bump stocks, which help turn semi-automatic weapons into even more lethal automatic ones. Trump, who has enjoyed deep support from the National Rifle Association gun lobbying group, has stayed away from most gun control measures, including after being personally lobbied by survivors of last year’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call an emergency session to put a House-passed bill on universal background checks up for debate and a vote “immediately.”

White House officials said there were no immediate plans for Trump to address the nation. Trump said Sunday he would be giving a statement on the situation Monday morning.

Other presidents have used the aftermath of a national tragedy to reassure citizens, including when George W. Bush visited a mosque less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to stand up for Muslims in the United States and when Obama spoke emotionally after mass shootings at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, and a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Trump has struggled to convey such empathy and support, and drew widespread criticism when he tossed paper towels like basketballs to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. He has also, at times, seemed to welcome violence toward immigrants. At a May rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, Trump bemoaned legal protections for migrants and asked rhetorically, “How do you stop these people?”

“Shoot them!” cried one audience member.

Trump chuckled and said, “Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”


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Vets worry about Trump’s D-Day actions

headstones at the Colleville American military cemetery, in Colleville sur Mer, France. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

World leaders will gather in solemn assembly next week above the sandy beaches of Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the world-changing D-Day invasion of France. It’s typically a heartfelt tribute to alliance and sacrifice and a unified vow for enduring unity, outweighing any national or political skirmish of the moment.

That’s what has some U.S. veterans and others worried about President Donald Trump’s attendance. The president has shown a repeated willingness to inject nationalistic rhetoric and political partisanship into moments once aimed at unity. For Trump, there is no water’s edge for politics, no veneer of nonpartisanship around military or national security matters.

The president, who did not serve in the military before becoming commander in chief, has feuded with Gold Star families, blasted political opponents on foreign soil, and mocked Sen. John McCain, a prisoner of war, for being captured by the enemy. Trump’s antipathy for the late senator was so well known that the White House this week requested that the Navy keep the USS McCain out of the president’s line of sight during a recent trip to Japan, so as not to rile the president.

It’s a pattern that is set to get more scrutiny in coming days, as Trump heads overseas for the D-Day memorial where he will be joined at the service by, among others, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat whom he has called “crazy Nancy” and warned not to try to impeach him.

“It’s unfortunate we have to be even concerned that this historic commemoration will be overly politicized, but this is the command climate he’s created and the reality we have,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and former head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We have to send our president. You go with the president we’ve got, and this is the president we’ve got. So we’re rightfully holding our breath for an event like this.”

More than 9,000 Americans died in the D-Day operation that marked a turning point in World War II, beginning the Allied push to drive the Nazis out of France and eventually Europe. On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, rows of white crosses and the Stars of David stretch as far as the eye can see — markers of sacrifices.

The president missed the other significant military commemoration of his term.

In November, also in France, Trump scuttled plans to honor the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. The White House said the president’s helicopter could not make it to the site because of bad weather. It did not explain why Trump could not make the 50-mile drive. His absence set off howls from many veterans.

Trump blamed the Secret Service and the next day went to a different cemetery outside Paris.

In recent days, he visited Arlington National Cemetery and spent Memorial Day on a naval ship in Japan.

“You are the ones keep going and striving, and keeping America safe, and strong, and proud, and free,” Trump said during the visit. He also wished everyone a “Happy Memorial Day,” a greeting some find off-key for a holiday dedicated to honoring dead servicemembers.

Ahead of the trip, the White House told the U.S. Navy to keep the warship rededicated in honor of Sen. McCain out of sight of the president. The president denied knowing about the request but said the gesture was “well-meaning” because he was no fan of McCain, a prisoner of war whom Trump once mocked by saying he preferred soldiers who “weren’t captured.”

Trump also sided with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un over criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden. Some veteran groups were pleased that Trump was attending the D-Day commemoration but urged him to leave the political broadsides at home.

“In situations like these, it’s best for President Trump to focus on his positive vision for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and advocating for a more restrained foreign policy,” said Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser for the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.

Plenty of previous presidents have embraced the military, identifying themselves with its power and patriotism. But Trump’s relationship with the armed forces — and the families of individual soldiers — has at times been uniquely fraught.

As a candidate, he feuded with the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq, and as president clashed with the mother of Sgt. La David Johnson, who died in Niger. Though Trump has been a boisterous cheerleader for the Pentagon, he is part of a recent trend of commanders-in-chief who did not serve in the military. He received a deferment that allowed him to not serve in Vietnam War due to bone spurs, but has been unable to remember in which foot, leading to accusations of draft dodging, including this week from 2020 rivals.

“You have somebody who thinks it’s all right to let somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled in order to do it,” said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who served as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “That is an assault on the honor of this country.”

And while a number of veterans groups have applauded Trump’s efforts to improve mental and physical health care to former officers, many of those same organizations sharply criticized Trump’s recent consideration to pardon several American military members accused of war crimes, including headline-grabbing cases of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive.

“It is mind-blowing that these are the persons this administration is considering for pardons,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an associate director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, one of several veterans’ groups that oppose the pardons.

Trump considered issuing the pardons for Memorial Day but later said he may wait for some trials to conclude. But his international trips have repeatedly been interrupted by distractions back home, and many around him fear that even a solemn World War II observance may not be enough to prevent the president from tweeting an attack at special counsel Robert Mueller or escalating tensions with his hosts, outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May or French president Emmanuel Macron.


Additional reporting by AP’s Hope Yen and Emily Swanson in Washington.


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