Trump Rants About Sharks, and Everyone Just Pretends It’s Normal

Par for the course. Trump is Trump. But imagine the response if Joe Biden had said it.

A close-up of teeth
Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty.

June 12, 2024, 4:42 PM ET

Hours before meeting with his probation officer about his recent felony convictions, a leading candidate for U.S. president went on a bizarre rant about sharks.

Sharks, Donald Trump claimed, were attacking more frequently than usual (not true) and posed a newfound risk because boats were being required to use batteries (not true), which would cause them to sink because they were too heavy (really, really not true—the world’s heaviest cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas, managed to stay afloat because of the laws of physics despite weighing more than 550 million pounds).

Trump, undeterred by truth or science, invoked his intellectual credentials by mentioning his “relationship to MIT.” (Trump’s uncle was a professor at the university, pioneering rotational radiation therapy, which seems a somewhat tenuous connection for conferring shark- or battery-related expertise to his nephew.) If Trump had been able to ask his uncle about the risks of being electrocuted by a boat battery because, as Trump put it, “there’s a lot of electric current coming through that water,” perhaps the professor would have informed him that high-capacity batteries would rapidly discharge in seawater and pose minuscule risk to humans because the water conducts electricity far better than human bodies do.

Sharks appear to have troubled Trump’s mind for years. On July 4, 2013, Trump twice tweeted about them, saying, “Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks—and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.” Two minutes later, he followed that nugget of wisdom with: “Sharks are last on my list—other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!”

These deranged rants are tempting to laugh off. They’re par for the course. Trump is Trump. But Trump may also soon be the president of the United States. Imagine the response if Joe Biden had made the same rambling remarks, word for word. Consider this excerpt:

“I say, ‘What would happen if the boat sank from its weight and you’re in the boat and you have this tremendously powerful battery and the battery’s underwater, and there’s a shark that’s approximately 10 yards over there?’ By the way, a lot of shark attacks lately. Do you notice that? A lot of shark … I watched some guys justifying it today: ‘Well, they weren’t really that angry. They bit off the young lady’s leg because of the fact that they were not hungry, but they misunderstood who she was.’ These people are crazy.”

Coming from Biden, that exact statement might have prompted calls from across the political spectrum for him to drop out of the race. From Trump, it was a blip that barely registered. I’ve previously called this dynamic “the banality of crazy”: Trump’s ludicrous statements are ignored precisely because they’re so routine—and routine occurrences don’t drive the news. They are the proverbial “dog bites man” stories that get ignored by the press. Except that even this truism breaks down when it comes to the asymmetry between coverage of Trump and Biden: Based on Google News tallies, the news story about Biden’s dog biting a Secret Service agent spurred far more press coverage than Trump saying that he would order shoplifters to be shot without a trial if he became president.

Still, Trump appears to be benefiting from the sheer superfluity of crazy. At rallies, the former president makes stream-of-consciousness statements that would raise questions about the mental acuity of anyone who said them at, say, the tail end of a night at a neighborhood bar, but that somehow don’t generate the same level of concern within the press or the Republican Party when Trump says them in front of a cheering crowd. By contrast, when Biden makes a gaffe—mixing up a name or a date rather than, for example, suggesting that boats sink because they’re heavy—questions arise about his mental fitness to be president. A president who occasionally misspeaks is far less worrying than one who purveys delusional fantasies and conspiracy theories. Biden may gaffe, but he lives in reality; Trump often doesn’t.

Today, a prominent New York Times columnist called on one of the two candidates to drop out. Astonishingly, it wasn’t the authoritarian felon who inspired a violent mob to attack the Capitol, tried to overturn a democratic election, has been banned from doing business in New York due to fraud—and yet again showcased his loose grip on reality by ranting about sharks.

The Atlantic