For nearly 40 minutes early Saturday morning, Hawaiians were in fear that a ballistic missile was headed for the islands. Many received an alert on their cell phones that read, “”BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The White House, attempting to both appear on top of the story and preemptively exonerate the president from any blame, released statement in the middle of the chaos saying in part that, “The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise.”
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The statement was issued by Deputy Press Sec. Lindsey Walters. But there’s a huge problem. It’s not at all representative of what happened, and given the timing of the statement, it might even be considered a lie designed to ensure the focus of the mishap stayed away from Trump.
This was not an exercise, state run or otherwise. It was one small human error that had massive ramifications.
“It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige told CNN.
The alert went out to television and radio outlets as well. The Hawaii Office of Emergency Management sent a corrective tweet minutes later once the error became apparent, but the damage was done as chaos ensued across the state, and across the country as word got out.
Not until 38 minutes after the initial cell phone notification did Hawaiians receive a second emergency alert confirming the original message was a false alarm.
Where was the fully engaged, mentally stable president you may ask? On the golf course, of course, and on Twitter tweeting not reassurances to Hawaiians – who have been on edge since he escalated his petty rhetorical feud with the newly nuclear North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un last year – but insults to Democrats over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals negotiations.
President Trump has long been known to play fast and loose with the truth, and he’s made a career freely exaggerating, augmenting, and even inventing facts he thinks reinforce the reality he wants to project for himself. That’s fine, perhaps, when you’re greatly overstating your net worth, or how many floors are in your building, or how legitimate your university is.
But when a president is as unmoored to the truth as this one has shown to be, how can we trust him in the most urgent times of crisis? God forbid this morning’s unfortunate mishap wasn’t a false alarm and the president was forced to act. How could we have believed him – or believed in him – if we were forced to return fire?
That’s a lesson we should pray we never have to learn.