Whatever it is, President Trump has never 'seen anything like it'

While touring Dayton, Ohio’s Miami Valley Hospital last Wednesday, President Trump turned to the staff who have been treating victims of that Sunday’s mass shooting, which left nine people dead and wounded another 27, and asked, “Have you ever seen anything like that?”

That unassuming remark from a president who sought to comfort those dealing with tragedy was belied by the fact that later that same day, Trump headed to El Paso, Texas, where residents and hospital staff workers were, in fact, dealing with a situation all too similar to the scene in Dayton. Eight of the 24 people wounded in that Saturday’s racially motivated mass shooting, which took another 22 lives, were being treated at University Medical Center.

While the medical professionals in Dayton and El Paso may indeed never have personally “seen anything” like the number of casualties they continue to treat from a single crime, the weekend’s carnage was strikingly familiar for a nation that has endured 255 mass shootings in 2019 alone.

Trump has often framed the events unfolding around him as unprecedented. Whether speaking about natural disasters or his own modest electoral victory during the 2016 presidential election, Trump has routinely portrayed the challenges he has faced as something never before seen in the history of the nation, or perhaps the world. Take his descriptions of the hurricanes to have struck the country over the past two and a half years.

When Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 40 inches of rain on Texas, submerging much of Houston, leaving 106 Americans dead and racking up an estimated $125 million in U.S. damages, Trump rightly framed the storm in historical terms.

Two weeks later, after cutting a swath of destruction through the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma neared the U.S. mainland, where it took 92 lives. Once again, the president employed superlatives in his warning.

Following in Irma’s footsteps, Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico of 2,795 was tabulated only after a study was commissioned by the island’s then governor. Even before that, however, the Trump administration’s response to the storm and its aftermath had been widely criticized. On the defensive, Trump deflected blame by pointing out the singular nature of Maria.

“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here that’s really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this — and what is your death count as of this moment? 70? 16 people, certified. 16 people versus in the thousands. … You can be very proud of what’s taken place.”

When Hurricane Florence took aim at the Carolinas a year later, though, Trump once again saw something potentially unparalleled. “They haven’t seen anything like what’s coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever,” the president said from the Oval Office.

President Trump arrives at El Paso International Airport. (Evan Vucci/AP)

That pattern of Trump describing natural disasters that occur during his time in office as aberrant is itself anything but rare.

After the Tubbs fire tore through Sonoma, Calif., becoming, for a brief time, the most destructive wildfire in state history, Trump said the 250 blazes that hit the area, leaving 44 dead in a month, were “like we’ve never seen.”

A year later, however, the president headed to Northern California to survey the damage done by the Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people.

“We’ve never seen anything like this, and California has never seen anything like this,” the president said. When pressed by reporters on the role the climate change had in making the blaze so unusual, Trump seemed to acknowledge that human beings might have a role both in helping effect climate change and in lessening the impact of the wildfires it makes more prevalent.

“I have a strong opinion,” Trump replied. “I want great climate and we’re going to have that. And we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”

Trump depicts himself as an unrivaled force of nature and is given to describing himself as possessing exceptional abilities. When answering a reporter’s question about the House’s efforts to secure testimony from officials named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump referenced the U.S. Constitution, a document that has guided all the presidents before him, as somehow tailored to him alone.

“Nobody ever mentions Article II,” Trump said. “It gives me all those rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before.”

Trump also likes to tout what he sees as his unmatched effects on the U.S. economy. In his 2019 State of the Union address, he touted his role in what he portrayed as an “economic miracle.”

“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before. There’s been nothing like it,” Trump claimed, despite that fact that the gross domestic product failed to reach the 3 percent in 2018 that the president had promised.

While past administrations have overseen more robust economic growth than the current White House, Trump has seen fit to declare that he alone can keep this “unprecedented” momentum going.

Like all presidents, Trump finds comfort in the unconditional support of his followers. As his 2020 reelection campaign gets underway, he has already begun assuring them that they are part of a movement unlike any in history.

At a reelection rally in Cincinnati, Trump again told them what they seemed to want to hear.

“But there has never been a movement like this,” Trump told his crowd. “This is a movement the likes of which they’ve never seen before, maybe anywhere, but certainly in this country.”

Placing oneself at the center of a drama and imbuing it with historic importance may simply be excused as an understandable human trait, a throwaway line not to be taken too seriously. Failing to acknowledge the trend lines of life and death threats, such as mass shootings and climate change, however, is another thing altogether, whatever its origins.

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