Herman: President Donald Trump’s ill-chosen words

It goes without saying that the first thing you feel and say about a disaster as deep as Hurricane Harvey is about the people who’ve suffered and are still suffering.

Unless you’re the 45th president of the United States of America.

The upside of low expectations is that they’re easy to meet.

Unless you’re the 45th president of the United States of America.

It’s always best to think of others first.

Unless you’re the 45th president of the United States of America.

As the death toll rose, as volunteers did Texas proud by rescuing fellow Texans, as we took the very first small steps toward what will be a long, painful, tear-filled, expensive road to recovery that will not be realized by all, President Donald J. Trump came to Texas Tuesday and talked about his favorite topic — Donald J. Trump.

RELATED: ‘Harvey, it sounds likes such an innocent name.’ On Trump and empathy.

A president’s words always matter, especially when people are suffering. This president has a troubling penchant for summoning the wrong words and skipping the right ones.

At a Corpus Christi fire station, Trump — after a briefing and instead of opening with sympathy for the millions of people impacted by Harvey — started by thanking Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn for showing up: “I know it was hard to get here for both of you.”

Somehow, somewhere, someone was facing more challenges than a couple of senators faced at that moment.

Then Trump thanked and congratulated his staff and Cabinet members, all of whom, he assured us, are “doing a fantastic job.”

My late mom had a saying: “SPS. Self-praise stinks.” Trump’s words certainly had the odor of self-praise, especially at a moment when people were suffering.

Trump then turned to what he seems to think is the ultimate measure of success and accomplishment at this crucial time in U.S. history: getting your face on TV.

“And a man who has really become famous on television over the last couple of days — Mr. Long,” Trump said of FEMA Administrator Brock Long.

And then our president talked about his very favorite topic, one he always thinks is appropriate: himself and what people think and will think of him.

“We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” Trump said. However, he said, “we won’t say congratulations” quite yet.

Later, in Austin after a briefing from state leaders, Trump began his remarks by again congratulating his aides. He promised continuing help for Texas as we recover.

There was nary a word of empathy for the suffering.

But the day’s most Trumpian moment of all, the one we’ve come to expect and recoil from, came after the briefing outside the Corpus Christi fire station when he told people who had gathered there, “We’re here to take care of you.”

Those words were appropriate and welcomed.

Then there was this: “Thank you, everybody. What a crowd. What a turnout.” The moment, in Trump’s odd head, was all about him, and what kind of crowd he could draw.

“I will tell you,” he told the crowd, “this is historic. It’s epic, what happened.”

Yes, it was and is. But good things also can be historic and epic. Other words might have come to your mind at that moment, perhaps words like tragic and devastating. Our president’s mind works differently than yours. Words like that didn’t come to his mind or mouth.

HURRICANE HARVEY: While Houston got swamped, Travis County rescue boats sat idle

On Air Force One en route back to Washington, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked this: “Was there a reason the president didn’t talk that much about the people who were actually killed in the storm, the people who were displaced, who have been left homeless? It seemed like the focus was on making sure the federal government was working well with state and local officials.”

Sanders: “I don’t think you could deny the powerful effects that some of the images that we’ve seen over the past couple of days. Certainly, something that I know is very moving (to) both to the president and the first lady. One of the reasons she really wanted to be part of the trip today. I think he’s made very clear the priority is taking care of the people and doing whatever we can, but also letting the state and local officials take the lead in the process. And we’re going to continue doing everything we can from our side to help in that.”

Did you hear an answer in that? I didn’t.

On the morning after his trip, after criticism of his words flowed, Trump on Wednesday took to Twitter to finally say the right thing, albeit later than you would have done so: “After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”

Later Wednesday, in a tax reform speech in Springfield, Mo., Trump said: “To those affected by this storm, we are praying for you and we are here with you every single step of the way. … To those Americans who have lost loved ones, all of America is grieving with you, and our hearts are joined with yours forever.”

Yes. And it would have been even better a day earlier when he was in Texas.

Sanders said her boss will return to Texas in coming days and will have “the chance to meet with some of the evacuees.”

If that doesn’t move him to words of sympathy I don’t know what will.

Being White House press secretary is always difficult.

Especially when you’re doing it for the 45th president of the United States of America.

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