PARIS — Donald Trump's task on Tuesday should have been simple enough. Traveling to the storm-ravaged island of Puerto Rico, the American president was supposed to offer some comforting words, distribute emergency supplies, and commit the federal government to rebuild the U.S. territory as quickly as possible.
But rather than disaster relief, Trump was just a disaster. Instead of rehabilitating his image — after a series of insensitive tweets this past weekend aimed at a Puerto Rican mayor and two weeks of stoking racial tension over the national anthem at football games — he once again showed the world that he is unfit for office.
This, of course, also comes as the country is reeling from the worst mass shooting in modern American history on Sunday night. Hitting the right notes on that, likewise, was not in the offing. While departing the White House on his way to San Juan, he called the massacre in Las Vegas, which left 59 concert-goers dead, a "miracle," apparently as a way to praise local police efforts.
But it was in Puerto Rico where the "miscommunicator-in-chief" was in rare form. He chided the devastated island territory for throwing "our budget a little out of whack." (Needless to say, his cheeky joke didn't land.) He quickly followed up by telling the gathered crowd and media cameras that despite the toll — "what is your death count now? 16? 17?" (now up to 34) — that Hurricane Maria was not a "real" catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina. He then turned a photo op into a practice session of lazy jump shots with rolls of paper towel.
The president's comportment in Puerto Rico reveals a man seemingly bored — and quite possibly annoyed — by his duties as the Commander-in-Chief. He offered neither empathy nor reassurance. Perhaps he never intended to.
Leading a nation in these troubled times means that Trump has a somewhat similar job to do Wednesday in Las Vegas. Will he manage to comfort bereaved family members? Will he comfort a city in mourning? Can he find the right words? Will he try again to play politics in the wrong setting? Watching each stop on this trainwreck of a presidency is turning into a kind of grim parlor game: What will he be today, asshole or idiot?
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