Since Donald Trump took office in January of 2017, it has been a year of disasters. Three massive hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. Mass shootings at a concert in Las Vegas and a church in Texas were among the deadliest in modern American history. Terrorist attacks around the world killed thousands. School shootings, naval ship crashes, white nationalist violence, wildfires, police killed in the line of duty, and innocent and unarmed people killed by police all cost lives here and abroad in the first year of the presidency. So how did a new president respond? 

With Twitter, Trump’s chosen outlet for his response to the events each day. His Twitter timeline tells the story of the first 12-plus months of the Donald Trump era. As these calamities unfolded — some acts of nature and other acts of humanity — some drew Trump’s attention. Others he ignored totally. Some received a great deal of his immediate attention, ranging as high as 40-plus tweets about Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. Some served as little more than convenient pretext for a one-off tweet to smear critics and promote his Islamophobic and xenophobic worldview. In all, a ThinkProgress review of his feed from his inauguration to February 6, 2018 finds that 244 of his 2,632 tweets and retweets (including a few he later deleted, accessed via were responses of some kind to tragic event that happened on his watch. In more than 75 of those, the president overtly sought to politicize and exploit the tragedy for political gain.

Crediit: Diana Ofosu Crediit: Diana Ofosu


Some patterns emerged.

Trump uses tragedy to convince the public to ban Muslims

At least fourteen of the tragedies Trump highlighted through his tweets involved attacks by people apparently acting on behalf of ISIS, the Taliban, or others he termed “Radical Islamic Terrorists.” Incidents in cities like Barcelona, Kabul, London, Paris, and New York were met with at least 62 Trump tweets — 29 of them pushing Trump’s political talking points.

Most were messages tying the attacks to Islam, denouncing “political correctness,” and claiming the attacks were examples of why his Muslim travel ban is necessary.

A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017

We must keep “evil” out of our country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017

Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017

I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

As a candidate, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going in,” but courts have determined the travel ban is intended to discriminate, rather than make the country safer.

Trump uses tragedy to say immigrants are dangerous

Perhaps an even bigger priority for Trump than his Islamophobic policies are his xenophobic policies, especially his dream of a “big, beautiful wall” at the southern border — a project he insisted over and over would be paid for by Mexico but now seeks $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to built. While candidate Trump talked mostly about ending illegal immigration, President Trump has also proposed to end many of the ways people legally immigrate to the United States.

After the October 31, 2017 truck attack in New York City by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, Trump pounced with a string of anti-immigrant tweets. He used the deaths to call for the elimination of both the diversity lottery and the rules that allow preference to immediate family members of immigrants (which Trump misleadingly dismisses as “chain migration”).

The terrorist came into our country through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

I am calling on Congress to TERMINATE the diversity visa lottery program that presents significant vulnerabilities to our national security.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017

Congress must end chain migration so that we can have a system that is SECURITY BASED! We need to make AMERICA SAFE! #USA🇺🇸

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017

Early Sunday morning, NFL linebacker Edwin Jackson was killed by a drunk driver. Only after police revealed that the driver was an undocumented immigrant — two days later — did Trump tweet out his condolences and spotlight his death as one of “many such preventable tragedies” that would stop if only the Democratic minority in Congress would “get tough on the Border [sic].”

My prayers and best wishes are with the family of Edwin Jackson, a wonderful young man whose life was so senselessly taken. @Colts

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2018

So disgraceful that a person illegally in our country killed @Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson. This is just one of many such preventable tragedies. We must get the Dems to get tough on the Border, and with illegal immigration, FAST!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2018

Trump thinks Chicago is a violent wasteland

Perhaps because it was the hometown of his predecessor — or maybe because protesters stopped his 2016 campaign from taking place there — but Trump has repeatedly attempted to portray Chicago as the most violent city imaginable.

Although his inaugural address promised that “American carnage” in violent inner-cities like the Windy City “stops right here and stops right now,” there were still 650 murders — some of them among the 2,785 recorded shooting incidents — there in the first year of Trump’s presidency (less than a 16-percent decline from 2016).

While Trump has done virtually nothing to actually reduce gun violence, he did repeatedly highlight homicides in Chicago and threaten some sort of federal takeover of law enforcement there.

If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible “carnage” going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017

Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2017

Seven people shot and killed yesterday in Chicago. What is going on there – totally out of control. Chicago needs help!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017

In August, after coming under fire for his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump retweeted a tweet from a supporter with white nationalist ties, demanding to know why the national media was not paying as much attention to the shootings going on in Chicago over the same weekend.

Trump blames Puerto Rico for a poor hurricane recovery

In September, Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, causing historic damages to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, American territories that are home to millions of U.S. citizens. More than four months later, huge swaths of Puerto Rico remain without electrical power and running water. The administration’s insufficient response to the storm drew bipartisan criticism and has been labeled “Trump’s Katrina.”

While Trump devoted more tweets (at least 48) to Hurricane Maria than any other single tragedy of his presidency to date, more than a third of them were used to push his political message. Trump quickly pivoted from messages like “we are with you,” to trying to deflect any blame, proclaiming that Puerto Rico was a mess before the storm. Rather than express empathy with Americans killed, or struggling to survive without food or water, much of Trump’s message was, essentially, “it’s their own fault.”

Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017

…It’s old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017

…owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well. #FEMA

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017

This continued for weeks after the storm hit, including an October claim that “the wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the [hurricanes].” 

The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H’s. I will always be with them!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2017

Trump uses tragedy to malign the media

Another frequent refrain from Trump, especially after he took a pounding for his tone-deaf handling of Puerto Rico and Charlottesville, was to lash out at the media for being unfair to him. Trump, who has frequently used Twitter to attack the “fake news” provided by news outlets other than Fox News, seemed especially irked that these outlets accurately reported on his response to these disasters.

Over and over, he complained of the media’s coverage of Puerto Rico:

To the people of Puerto Rico:Do not believe the #FakeNews!#PRStrong🇵🇷

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

……#FakeNews critics are working overtime, but we’re getting great marks from the people that truly matter! #PRStrong🇵🇷

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

The Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico doing their best to take the spirit away from our soldiers and first R’s. Shame!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

Despite the Fake News Media in conjunction with the Dems, an amazing job is being done in Puerto Rico. Great people!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

He did the same with Charlottesville, calling the American press “dishonest” and “truly bad people”:

Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017

The public is learning (even more so) how dishonest the Fake News is. They totally misrepresent what I say about hate, bigotry etc. Shame!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017

Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn’t cover fairly. People got it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2017

In all, at least 13 of Trump’s tweets about Charlottesville and Maria were dedicated to attacks on journalists.

Trump uses tragedy to enthusiastically smears his critics

Trump’s disdain for critics goes beyond just the media. He also repeatedly used tragedies tweeted out criticism of other politicians as part of his response to tragedies.

After the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico criticized the Trump administration’s hurricane response, he went after her personally:

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

When a fellow Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, criticized his botched Charlottesville response, Trump blasted him as “publicity seeking” and implied it would cost Graham his senate seat:

Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017

…and people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie. He just can’t forget his election trouncing.The people of South Carolina will remember!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017

After a deadly attack in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan — who is Muslim and has previously criticized Trump’s divisive and Islamophobic actions — urged his city not to be alarmed by the heightened presence of police. Trump seized on this, out of context, to accuse Khan of not taking the violent attacks seriously:

At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2017

Though fact-checkers debunked Trump’s false assertion, he repeated his attack on London’s mayor and threw in a smear of the media for good measure:

Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017

Trump also attempted to blame the New York truck attack on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), citing something he heard while watching Fox News:

“Senator Chuck Schumer helping to import Europes problems” said Col.Tony Shaffer. We will stop this craziness! @foxandfriends

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

Even private citizens were not immune. He went after Myeshia Johnson, the grieving widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in a U.S. military operation Niger in October. She had revealed that Trump told her in a condolence call that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” and she said the president struggled to even remember his name. In return, Trump essentially called her a liar on Twitter.

I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2017

Crediit: Diana Ofosu Crediit: Diana OfosuTrump thinks law enforcement is great, but pays no attention to police officer-involved shootings

One of the themes of Donald Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention speech was that he was the candidate who supports law enforcement. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country,” he told the audience.

In August, after white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville turned violent and Heather Heyer was killed by a Nazi sympathizer, Trump responded with a tweet sending “condolences to the family,” but he later expressed sympathies for white nationalists at the event.

But when later that day, two Virginia State Police officers were killed in a helicopter crash while participating in surveillance of the Charlottesville rallies, Trump responded with a retweet of a Secret Service tweet sending “thoughts & prayers” and with a tweet of his own sending “[d]eepest condolences” and praising the officers as “all among the best this nation produces.”

Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You’re all among the best this nation produces.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017

He similarly offered quick condolences after a Colorado sheriff’s deputy was killed in a New Year’s Eve mass shooting, saying, “We love our police and law enforcement – God Bless them all!”

My deepest condolences to the victims of the terrible shooting in Douglas County @DCSheriff, and their families. We love our police and law enforcement – God Bless them all! #LESM

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2017

More than a dozen of Trump’s tweets in response to tragedies have highlighted his appreciation for American law enforcement and denouncing “anti-police agitators.”

Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017

But the president did not respond at all to the more than 1,000 people fatally shot by police officers since his inauguration — even when those killed were unarmed. For example, when Kansas police shot and killed an unarmed innocent man after a fake 911 call by online gamers, Trump ignored the tragedy and instead tweeted about how unfair it is that is able to use the postal service to ship products at an affordable rate, how Fox & Friends proves that his approval ratings are equal to where Obama’s eight years earlier, and how climate change must be a hoax because it was cold that day

Trump ignored national and international tragedies unless they could score him political points

Those police shootings were not the only tragedies that Trump just simply ignored. A ThinkProgress review of multiple other databases based on publicly available information found dozens of fatal attacks, at home and abroad, that neither fit Trump’s political narrative nor received even a single tweet’s response from the president.

At least eight mass-casualty attacks in places like Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria were responsible for more than 100 deaths each — mostly of Muslims. Trump met each with Twitter silence.

The Gun Violence Archive documents seven mass shootings since April in the United States that resulted in five or more deaths, but received no Trump response. But Trump did notice after the June attacks on the London Bridge that that particular attack did not involve guns:

Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2017

And while none has received the attention that Columbine and Sandy Hook received, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund has documented more than 75 school shootings in the United States since Trump took office. Three dozen of these were intentional attacks that resulted in the injury or death of another person. Trump responded to just two of these via Twitter.

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After a January 2018 school shooting in Kentucky left 18 students injured and two more dead, Trump did not initially let the tragedy distract from his tweets smearing FBI agents and demanding a border wall. Only a day after the Prime Minister of Canada tweeted his condolences did Trump finally follow his lead.

I’ve spoken with Kentucky’s @GovMattBevin to offer condolences on behalf of Canadians for today’s shooting in Benton. Our hearts go out to Kentuckians, and to all those affected by this tragedy.

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 23, 2018

Earlier today, I spoke with @GovMattBevin of Kentucky regarding yesterday’s shooting at Marshall County High School. My thoughts and prayers are with Bailey Holt, Preston Cope, their families, and all of the wounded victims who are in recovery. We are with you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2018

The one other school shooting that seemed to received Trump’s attention was a November shooting at the Rancho Tehama Elementary School in northern California. Trump literally reused his tweet from a different tragedy nine days earlier (in Sutherland Springs, Texas), tweeting “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived.”

The next morning, Trump (apparently realizing his error), deleted the tweet — and did not replace it. The shooter, after all, was a white man who should not have had access to a gun, making it incongruent with any of the president’s political messages.

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