Of all Donald Trump’s challenges to expert opinion, his doctoring of an official weather map is at once the funniest and the most sinister.
There he was, as the eastern U.S. braced under the threat of wind and water devastation with a map crudely altered to show how, in his unique opinion, Hurricane Dorian might jump its appointed traces and strike Alabama! Just why Alabama was not explained.
Sane viewers of this pseudo-scientific spectacle might wonder why a president would voluntarily perform an act of forgery and falsification that recalls what Lincoln called “the pope’s bull against the comet.” Trump’s wise predecessor named neither the pope nor the comet, but the point for critics crying for an accelerated Emancipation Proclamation was clear: It was a challenge to visual astronomy — errancy in plain view. So would be a limited emancipation of slaves at a time of Confederate victories on civil war battlefields.
The world is laughing, yes, but with a timely shudder.
Just why Trump should follow suit into ludicrous mischief is reasonably clear. He repeatedly challenges experts who challenge his views, however capricious, whether the are intelligence agents at the CIA or FBI or fallible prophets at the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Weather Bureau. Being himself, by his own styling, all-wise and all-knowing, when he says a storm may cut across Florida and strike a distant state he has to be right — or, if corrected by the weather wizards, he must invent a prediction of their making that led him into error. Even if he has to draw an erratic semi-circle with a Sharpie.
Yes, the world is chuckling at the spectacle — at least until the echoes of this stunt are remembered. There are clear echoes of the totalitarian regimes of the last century, when biology in the Soviet Union was forced to dance to the tunes of Lysenko, who preached that acquired characteristics could be genetically transmitted — usually known as the Lamarkian heresy. This old mischief was presumably by way of reinforcing the Leninist-Stalinist “science” of the New Soviet Man: a genetic marvel produced by Marxist theory. Lysenkoism bullied Soviet academics, with elusive consequences.
Far more sinister, but weirdly parallel in the universe of pseudo-learning, was the condemnation of “Jewish science” with its persecutions, murders, expulsions and book burnings under Hitler. The injury to German physics was mainly to the Nazi war effort of 1939-45 and the benefit to the Allies arrayed against it — maybe even including the German failure to win the race to build atomic weapons. A “master race” was the aim; national disgrace was the result.
It is hard to imagine Donald Trump grinding away at meteorological textbooks (or any other books) with the energy he daily devotes to television viewing and tweeting. It seems more likely that he will continue to make a dunce of himself — and a victim of the American public — by challenging any authoritative opinion that gets in his way.
Experts are usually far from infallible, but when they offer informed views of either violent storms or Vladimir Putin’s purposes in Ukraine, presidents should listen. They usually do; but not the infallible Mr. Trump.