,On April 16 2019 the Facebook page “Proud Liberal Americans” shared a subsequently popular meme (archived here), purportedly contrasting statements provided by United States Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump about the fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral:
At the top was a photograph of Obama and a quote:
“Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures and we’re thinking of the people of France during your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost — but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can.”
Underneath that portion, a photograph of Trump appeared with a different quote:
“It was burning at a level you rarely see a fire burn. They think it was caused by renovation. Renovation — what’s that all about? So that puts a damper on what we were about to say. To be honest. With that being said, I want to tell you that a lot has been accomplished in our country in the past two and a half years.”
An accompanying comment intimated that the selected quotes illustrated the respective fitness for office of former President Obama and President Trump:
Only one of these men is Presidential.
The quote attributed to Barack Obama is authentic, as presented in an April 15 2019 tweet posted to his official Twitter account:
Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can. pic.twitter.com/SpMEvv1BzB
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 15, 2019
The quoted remarks attributed to President Trump appeared to be presented only in part. A NBC News video captured remarks by the President which matched those in the meme:
A transcription of the remarks was also available on WhiteHouse.gov, on a page titled “Remarks by President Trump in Roundtable Discussion on the Economy and Tax Reform | Burnsville, MN.” As the title indicated, President Trump was speaking in the context of a roundtable discussion about economics and tax policy, not providing official remarks about the fire at Notre Dame.
At the start of the unrelated remarks, President Trump said:
Well, thank you very much. We’re in communication with France. They’re having a terrible, terrible fire. You probably saw. Some of you have heard. Some of you have not because you’ve been here. But I will tell you, the fire that they’re having at the Notre Dame Cathedral is something like few people have witnessed. When we left — we had a whole group of your great representatives. And when we left the plane, it was — it was burning at a level that you rarely see a fire burn.
It’s one of the great treasures of the world. The greatest artists in the world. Probably, if you think about it, I would say, Jovita, it might be greater than almost any museum in the world. And it’s burning very badly. It looks like it’s burning to the ground.
So — so that puts a damper on what we’re about to say, to be honest, because that is beyond countries, that’s beyond anything. That’s a part of our growing up. It’s a part of our culture. It’s a part of our lives. That’s a truly great cathedral. And I’ve been there and I’ve seen it, and there’s no cathedral, I think — I could say there’s probably no cathedral in the world like it.
It’s a terrible scene. They think it was caused by — at this moment, they don’t know — but they think it was caused by renovation. And I hope that’s the reason. Renovation — you know, what’s that all about? But it’s a terrible sight to behold.
With that being said, I want to tell you that a lot of progress has been made by our country in the last two and a half years.
Trump’s remarks were rearranged and large portions of them edited out, but they were presented in a way that to suggest that the comments were of the same sort of official response as the comment by Obama on the same day. However, the meme did not indicate that Trump’s remarks were made in the larger context of an unrelated appearance.
President Trump did send a tweet the day of the Notre Dame fire:
God bless the people of France!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
On April 17 2019, Trump tweeted:
Just had a wonderful conversation with @Pontifex Francis offering condolences from the People of the United States for the horrible and destructive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. I offered the help of our great experts on renovation and construction as I did….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2019
….in my conversation yesterday with President @EmmanuelMacron of France. I also wished both Pope Francis and President Macron a very Happy Easter!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2019
However, neither the roundtable remarks nor the tweets above were the White House’s official statement in response to the Notre Dame fire. An April 16 2019 statement published to the White House’s official site formally addressed the incident:
This morning, President Donald J. Trump, on behalf of the American people, offered his condolences to President Emmanuel Macron of France for the devastation caused by the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The United States stands with French citizens, the city of Paris, and the millions of visitors from around the world who have sought solace in that iconic structure. The Cathedral has served as a spiritual home for almost a millennium, and we are saddened to witness the damage to this architectural masterpiece. Notre Dame will continue to serve as a symbol of France, including its freedom of religion and democracy. France is the oldest ally of the United States, and we remember with grateful hearts the tolling of Notre Dame’s bells on September 12, 2001, in solemn recognition of the tragic September 11th attacks on American soil. Those bells will sound again. We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization. Vive la France!
Although President Barack Obama’s statement was accurately represented in the meme, President Donald Trump’s remarks were not. Not only were the included remarks misleadingly edited, they did not represent Trump’s official statements about the Notre Dame fire. The statement directly above was Trump’s official statement, and the quote on the meme was cherry-picked from a much longer set of remarks he made at an unrelated event.