`Harvey, it sounds likes such an innocent name.’ On T(rump) and empathy.

[cmg_anvato video=”4161629″]

Good day Austin:

So, Donald Trump, president of the United States and the world’s premier tweeter, was in Austin. I was there, and right in front of him, I tweeted at him and about him.

And look at that.

4,360 likes. 2,323 retweets. 1,155 quotes, or whatever that its.

And counting.

Look. I was trending in Boston.

Tweeting in Austin. Trending in Boston.

How does that happen?


But, even more amazingly, I beat the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, with the most nimble thumbs in the Southwest, or maybe the world, with this tweet by a matter of seconds.

826 likes. 434 retweets. 300 whatevers.

Nice try, Patrick.

But, seriously, as most of you who read this will know, Patrick is a phenom. Soon after he came to Texas I told Chris Hooks that they should name the basic unit of journalistic productivity the Svitek. In electricity you’ve got your amperes, and in journalism, you’ve got your sviteks.

So how did this happen?

Well, here is what Trump actually said, and note that Ben is Ben Carson who, you may recall, went from being viciously mocked by Trump to being secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

President Trump: Probably there’s never been anything so expensive in our country’s history. There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity as what we’ve witnessed with Harvey. Sounds like such an innocent name, Ben, right, but it’s not innocent. It’s not innocent.

So I was typing out a tweet based on the first part of that quote, the stuff about how expensive and ferocious Harvey was, when the money quote came, I trashed what I was writing, and, my adrenalin flowing, I tapped out what I heard and tweeted it seconds ahead of Patrick, whose version was a little, a few seconds, more complete.

I knew it was a good quote, but  I must admit, I was surprised by how much reaction it got.

To me, it was the presidential equivalent of a dad joke. I could see being president and saying something stupid like that.

“Hurricane Bob. Bob was my father’s name. He was a great guy. Unlike Hurricane Bob. Which ruined my vacation.”

But, after all the things Trump has said and done, for some reason this one seemed to surprise people.

Let us pause here to consider the question of President Trump and empathy.

He doesn’t have any, or at any rate is incapable of expressing it. He has a form of narcissism that precludes it.

But this is not news. Or I guess maybe it is in the context of all the suffering that was, after all, the reason for coming to Corpus Christi and Austin yesterday.

This question of Trump’s lack of empathy was subtly embedded in the pool report by the incomparable David McSwane, a friend and former colleague at the Statesman, now with the Dallas Morning News.

I was seated with Patrick Svitek and another former Statesman colleague, Mike Ward, somewhere in the bowels of the DPS building waiting on POTUS yesterday, when one of them reported that McSwane had filed a pool report for the president’s event outside Corpus Christi.

My eyes widened. McSwane? Pool report? This ought to be good. I couldn’t help grinning.

It didn’t disappoint.

Here’s a bit of it.

After the briefing, Trump did an impromptu rally type speech in front of a few hundred Trump supporters who somehow managed to know exactly where the president was doing the briefing.

He stood on a raised platform of some type. Couldn’t tell if it was a step ladder or not. But he was not on a truck. Spoke into a microphone.

” I love you, you are special, we’re here to take care of you. It’s going well.”

“What a crowd, what a turnout.”

Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans and no expression of sympathy for them. The message was services are coming and Texans will be OK.

“Texas can handle anything,” POTUS said.

“We are going to get you back and operating immediately,” he told the crowd (this contradicts the “Long haul” Sen. John Cornyn has publicly discussed and the caveat from FEMA administrator long moments earlier that it’s going to be a slow process).

This is a pool report that was sent out by the White House of Donald Trump, who also gave all these national reporters he so despises a lift to and from Texas in his big plane (though I guess they pay a lot of money for that).

Which is all good, and a great testament to the hardiness of our institutions, though I did wonder whether the reporter who was actually supposed to do that pool report was tied up in the closet in the fire station in Annabelle, where Trump held his unempathetic rally.



But, hand it to David, he hit the nail on the head. This was the big presidential story today – Trump’s lack of empathy – and a screen grab of David’s pool report was the first thing I saw when I awoke at 5 this morning to see how my retweets were going, and turned on Morning Joe.

Indeed, it seemed that maybe even DT had seen DM’s pool report and taken it to heart.

Come on folks. The man is trying.

Have a heart.

And, even if David hit the nail on the head, there are other nails whose heads need hitting.

As someone who covered the post-Katrina recovery in Washington for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, I can tell you that empathy is swell, but folks in need are more interested in you showing them the big FEMA and other federal money.

So, if you’re Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and you’re interested in doing the best by your state and the people in need, what’s the harm in flattering the president’s narcissism, covering for his lack of empathy, and steering him down a path that will deliver for Texas in a bigger way than all the the other Texas clout in Washington can?

Anyway, speaking of narcissism, back to reaction to my big tweet.









From the AP: Harvey Updyke finishes jail sentence

OPELIKA, Ala. — The University of Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn University’s landmark oak trees at Toomer’s Corner has been released from jail and cleared to leave the state.

Harvey Updyke Jr., 64, left the Lee County jail in Opelika on Monday morning after serving 76 days following his guilty plea. Attorney Andrew Stanley said Updyke was on his way to Louisiana where he will live with his wife, Elva.

“He’s very sincere. He wants to go back to Louisiana and never wants to be heard from ever again,” Stanley said.



Finally, there was the photo, which also got a lot of attention on Twitter.

There’s a lot going on. The president, clearly identified by the cardboard sign. The merchandising of the his and hers USA and FLOTUS hats. What was seen as the Stepford Wife bearing of the First Lady (though I won’t dwell on this because I think the attacks on her yesterday were wholly out of line). The cameo by Austin’s own Roger Williams.




And Eric, this is a total misread of Roger Williams.





Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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