The pen has never been mightier. President Donald Trump's Sharpie pen, that is.
Trump's suspected use of a signature black Sharpie to alter a hurricane map has triggered thousands of mocking tweets, late-night comedy jokes and a viral internet meme. It has also further fused a staple of American homes and offices with the image of a highly divisive president, showing that even a humdrum marker maker can be swept up in the constant furore surrounding the Trump White House.
Trump is a longtime user of the Sharpie pen, whose thick bold imprint is a visual reflection of Trump's blunt — some might say crude — style. Well before he was president, he regularly used the pens to sign autographs, write notes and mark up printed news articles before sending them back to their authors.
As president, Trump appears more enamoured of the pens than ever, using them to sign his name to proclamations and legislation in his distinctive EKG-style signature. He has even had the company custom design a presidential version of its iconic pen, emblazoned with his signature, for his official use.
The free publicity Sharpie has enjoyed during the Trump era, and especially in the day since the appearance of the altered hurricane map, is almost impossible to calculate. But that attention has taken on a different tone this week, with some Trump critics even calling (perhaps jokingly) for a boycott of the pen maker, which is owned by the conglomerate Newell Brands.
In public, at least, the brand has not exactly revelled in the president's embrace: The official Sharpie Twitter account has not mentioned Trump since his election. Representatives for the company and the White House did not offer comment.
The current frenzy erupted after Trump displayed a map in the Oval Office on Thursday showing the early path of Hurricane Dorian, with what appeared to be a Sharpie-drawn line extending the projected storm path into the state of Alabama. Trump had been criticized for stating days earlier that the state was at risk from the storm when federal weather forecasters had said no such thing, and the doctored map appeared to be an effort to retroactively justify Trump's tweet.
The story raged into another day on Thursday as Trump defended himself on Twitter, and his White House homeland security adviser, Peter Brown, issued an unusual statement appearing to accept responsibility for the larger flap. Brown said the president's Sunday warnings that Alabama was in danger from the storm were based on a briefing he had given the president that morning, "which included the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama."
Since the altered map's display on Wednesday, Twitter has been ablaze with ridicule of the apparently crude effort to align the facts with the president's prior statement, including the emergence of a #sharpiegate hashtag and a viral meme in which other images are doctored with thick black lines, including one in which Trump's face is crudely scrawled onto Mount Rushmore and another in which stick figures appear in bare patches of aerial photos of the crowd at Trump's 2017 inauguration. Some of Trump's critics also used the opportunity to poke fun at his prized policy priority: the wall.
Trump has made no secret of the fact that he was not satisfied with the government-issued pens he was given for official signatures when he first arrived at the White House.
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"I was signing documents with a very expensive pen and it didn't write well," Trump said on an HBO special produced by the political website Axios. "It was a horrible pen, and it was extremely expensive. A government-ordered pen." He said that he had pulled out a standard Sharpie pen and concluded that it not only "writes much better," but also "costs almost nothing."
"So, I called up the folks at Sharpie and I said, 'Do me a favor, can you make the pen in black? Make it look rich?'" he said. He then held up one of several thick black markers bearing his own signature, in gold, for the camera.
Over the course of his presidency, close observers have noted what appeared to be telltale Sharpie lines in everything from Trump's signature on legislation to his notecards at official events and markings on prepared remarks.
As of May, the Rhode Island-based pen company A.T. Cross was still identifying itself as the official pen supplier to the White House, a relationship formalised by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s but which the company says began decades earlier. It is unclear whether Trump was criticising the company's sleek ballpoint pens when he talked to Axios.
But in January 2017, the White House reportedly ordered 150 of the company's Century II black lacquer and gold rollerball pens which currently start at a retail price of $116. (Purchased in bulk, standard Sharpie markers can retail for less than a dollar apiece.)
A recent post on the company's website suggested that Trump has not abandoned the classic pens. It referred to the Century II as "Mr. Trump's current favorite model."
In his remarks to Axios, Trump seemed conscious of the publicity he was giving even then to the makers of his favorite pen. As he touted the wonders of the pen, he paused for a moment and interjected: "I don't want to make this a commercial for Sharpie."
Written by: Michael Crowley
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES