The Rationalist Papers (25): The Sharpie

Why am I talking about a hurricane map from a year ago when the election is next week?

Because it tells you quite a lot about who we’re voting for.

Just a reminder: these Rationalist Papers posts are for the group I call the deciders: conservative, moderate, undecided, and third-party voters considering their choices in the 2020 US Presidential election.

What really happened in SharpieGate?


President Trump received a briefing about Hurricane Dorian. On September 1, 2019, he tweeted that states including Alabama were at risk.

But this information, if were ever true, was out of date. The National Weather Service tweeted a correction. It had to, because there was not an evacuation effort in Alabama and widespread fear could cause many other problems.

Then Trump held a press conference with an obviously doctored map. Bloomberg and the Washington Post reported that Trump had drawn the extra line on the map himself.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump then went on an extended media campaign to justify himself, including tweeting a dangerously out-of-date week-old forecast, stating (inaccurately) that Alabama had once had a 95% chance of being hit, and releasing a statement in his support from Rear Admiral Peter Brown, his homeland security and counterterrorism advisor. He also continued to tweet about how he’d been right and was being unfairly targeted by CNN.

Why this matters now

Here’s what you can learn from this.

  1. Trump thinks you are stupid. He thinks you can’t tell that he drew on a map with a Sharpie before a press briefing. By contrast, Biden publishes detailed plans about what he is planning on doing and makes points that actually require thinking. He does not treat voters as stupid.
  2. Trump won’t listen to scientists. If there is a conflict between his image and what science says, Trump protects his image. (The history of his coronavirus statements in conflict with the opinions of health experts was, in retrospect, predictable.) Biden has vowed that he will listen to the scientists.
  3. Trump never admits a mistake, even when he is wrong. He turned the full power of his office to proving he was right, even though he was operating on outdated and dangerous information. The unwillingness to ever admit a mistake is a serious character flaw in a president. Biden is willing to admit when he makes a mistake, as he has regarding past votes on a crime bill and the Iraq war.
  4. Trump has poor impulse control. Drawing on a map with a Sharpie was bad judgment committed in a moment of stress. Biden never loses his cool under pressure. Reacting emotionally under pressure is dangerous in a president.
  5. Trump cannot let things go. When a hurricane is headed for the coast, that’s not the time to pick a media feud about what you said and why you said it a week ago. And when you are president, a hurricane is always headed for the coast, or a war is brewing in Asia, or a treaty is on the brink of collapse, or a mass shooter is threatening a school. Those are the things that should command your attention, not what CNN wrote four days earlier that demands a statement from some Homeland Security official to protect your own ego.

Temperament is crucial. Have you seen enough?

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  1. I’m with Art. Really grateful that you’ve done/are doing this! Sure wish I could get the right people to read it.

    1. I echo the sentiment. There’s just no rational reason to vote for someone like him.

      This series has made its point abundantly clear. Let’s hope that undecided folks listen. Too bad that the Webbies don’t award a prize for best blog series.