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Acting presidential not enough

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By Julian Eure
Content Editor

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who knew Donald Trump could act so presidential?

Certainly not the Donald Trump who loves to mock those who’ve criticized him, both during the 2016 campaign and afterward, for “not acting presidential enough.” That Donald Trump relishes making fun of the very notion of “acting presidential,” as if it’s some form of politically correct behavior only a weak leader would show.

But there was Trump during his visit to hurricane-ravaged North and South Carolina last week, acting presidential.

Oh sure, there were still missteps and examples of Trump being Trump. According to The Associated Press, the president asked an emergency official how Lake Norman had fared during Hurricane Florence, saying he couldn’t “tell you why, but I love that area.” Trump of course owns a golf club near the lake, which is near Charlotte. He also joked with a family who ended up with a large yacht in their yard, telling them “at least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” And he awkwardly told someone to whom he had handed food to “have a good time” — a repeat of the tone-deaf statement he made to flood victims at a shelter in Houston following Hurricane Harvey last year.

But for those who’ve come to expect less of our 45th president, particularly when it comes to expressing empathy for the plight of others, Trump’s visit to the Carolinas was a welcome surprise.

Instead of shooting hoops with paper towels — the enduring image from Trump’s visit to devastated Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria a year ago — the images we saw of the president in New Bern showed him serving plates of food at a church, touring devastated neighborhoods and chatting with and hugging storm victims. He asked residents how their homes had fared during the storm, told volunteers they “had done a good job” and spoke with the kind of empathy one expects from our national leaders when tragedy strikes. He told all North and South Carolinians who’ve lost loved ones and property in the destructive storm that “America grieves with you and our hearts break for you. ... We will never forget your loss. We will never leave your side. We’re with you all the way.”

Of course there was motivation — and probably intense pressure from his advisers — for Trump to act presidential during his visit to the Carolinas. The mid-term elections in November are now fast approaching, and Trump can ill-afford to be seen as uncaring or unsympathetic to victims of a devastating storm, particularly in a part of the country where he continues to enjoy strong political support. If Trump’s Republican Party loses majorities in the House, which it’s likely to do, and in the Senate, which is also possible, the president’s administration will face a slew of investigative hearings and the president himself could be at risk of impeachment.

We could also point out that the Carolinas are places Trump likely sees as “real” America. They aren’t Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with a mostly Hispanic populace where Trump continues to dispute the number of deaths caused by Maria.

Presidents, however, are supposed to rise above politics and personal prejudices when responding to national disasters, and we believe President Trump did that during his brief visit to the Carolinas last week. He deserves praise for his concern, kind words and expressions of empathy. He also should be saluted for acting presidential.

Words can only do so much, however. Trump’s true expression of empathy will need to come when the stormwaters finally recede. The president promised there will be “(a) lot of money coming from Washington” to help Florence victims rebuild and that the federal government “will be there 100 percent.”

Trump must follow through on those promises. His words can’t just be the make-it-up-as-you-go bluster he’s known for. Being presidential in a time of crisis requires more than just acting like one.

Julian Eure is managing editor for The Daily Advance.

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