What could have been a minor blunder — President Donald Trump's tweet that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian — has now turned into a major failure for his administration, one that calls into question the very integrity of agencies on which this country depends.
It was bad enough when Trump, true to form, refused to back down from a tweet in which he attempted to play meteorologist-in-chief, claiming that "Alabama will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated." The good folks at the Birmingham, Ala., National Weather Service, of course did the right thing, countering the unfounded assertion and spreading calm by noting correctly that Dorian would remain too far east to be a threat.
Unwilling to admit his error, Trump displayed an official weather map that had been altered after the fact in a juvenile attempt to save face. Thus was born Sharpiegate, and a slew of memes that heaped embarrassment and humiliation on an already enraged president.
Then came the worst — and most concerning — note in an already surreal episode of Extreme President. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to reports in the New York Times, threatened to fire leaders at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for having allowed Trump to be publicly contradicted. That led to an astonishing, unsigned memo in which NOAA essentially threw the National Weather Service in Birmingham under the bus.
We can't say it strongly enough: This must not be allowed to become a new norm.
The National Weather Service, which falls under NOAA, performs an essential and lifesaving function in times of imminent weather disaster. Its information must be as accurate and up-to-date as possible, its integrity unimpeachable.
Commerce has denied Ross issued such a threat, but how then to explain the unsigned memo? Ross at the very least must testify under oath to Congress about this whole miserable affair. Commerce is an agency whose influence is underrated by the public. Its massive portfolio encompasses economic affairs, industry, trade and intellectual property. In addition to NOAA, it is in charge of the decennial U.S. census (we're still grappling with the fiasco that was Ross' attempt to undermine the census with his citizenship question), patents, telecommunications and the public safety broadband network.
That such an agency would be compromised leads to the likelihood that others are also bending the rules to curry favor — or at the very least — avoid presidential wrath. Witness the Justice Department, which has launched an antitrust investigation of several auto manufacturers for conspiring to ... adhere to cleaner air standards? Yes, incredibly, that's right. Trump's ego was wounded by manufacturers that did not line up behind his attempt to weaken clean air standards, so off runs the Justice Department to apply some legal muscle.
It's absurd and wrong and must stop, before the government that until now has led the free world is further weakened.