The last time President Donald Trump brought a black marking pen to the fore was September, when he altered a weather map to show Hurricane Dorian could have hit Alabama.
HIs presentation proved to be a waste of time.
This week, the black ink formed large block letters on white paper that cued him to say: "I want nothing … I want no quid pro quo … This is the final word from the Pres of the U.S.”
Thus Trump dramatized his denial that he tried to shake down Ukraine for political gain.
Underlying both these odd little writing exercises was a single phenomenon unseen in modern American history — a president's open disregard for the advice and efforts of federal professionals serving his administration.
This is a major theme in the House impeachment hearings. Trump's approach to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was nothing a professional diplomat or bureaucrat — Republican or Democrat — wouldn't have warned against if asked.
The National Weather Service, much smaller and by mission less political than the State Department, simply reported what they knew to be the track of Dorian in real time. The president for whatever reason indulged his whims and twisted the story.
State Department and National Security Council officials who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee this week ended up tracking another kind of Trump-created storm path.
The likelihood of Ukraine having been the "real Russia" in the 2016 election — a "theory" Trump favors — echoes Dorian's fictional threat to Mobile Bay.
Former NSC official Fiona Hill said in extraordinary testimony Thursday: "The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports."
That sort of argument would carry no weight with this president. During his tenure Trump has publicly pilloried and privately demeaned his own appointees at the Justice Department, the FBI, the Pentagon, the Federal Reserve and the Department of Homeland Security.
For example, Trump tweeted of Jay Powell, his Federal Reserve chief: "My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?" The mental process that led Trump to think this ridicule benefited anyone is at best difficult to read.
During the last campaign, Trump said: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me." Then he loaded his administration with generals who have since fallen out with him. He's derided one of them, ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis by saying: “I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
Military officials have warned that ISIS remains a threat in the Middle East.
By all accounts, Trump blew off Defense Department opinions when he decided to issue pardons to three service members accused of war crimes. He also ignored warnings from Homeland Security to give greater priority to threats of domestic terrorism such as those from white supremacists.
On a workaday level, for more and more people in the federal government, there seems to be a sharp difference between serving the country and coddling the president.