In contrast to the all-hands-on-deck response to hurricanes in Texas and Florida, President Donald Trump has been shockingly inert when it comes to Puerto Rico’s and the U.S. Virgin Islands’s devastation in the wake of Hurricane Maria —which appears far more serious and potentially long-lasting than the damage visited by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. (The Virgin Islands have been hit twice — by Irma and then by Maria.)
The Post reports: “President Trump, facing mounting questions about his commitment to Puerto Rico’s recovery, took to Twitter Monday night, saying the U.S. territory is ‘in deep trouble,’ in part because of problems that predated Hurricane Maria.
“Trump said Puerto Rico was already suffering from ‘broken infrastructure,’ including an old electrical grid, which he said was ‘devastated’ by Hurricane Maria, as well as ‘massive debt.’
“‘Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,’ Trump said in his series of tweets, which credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He noted that, by contrast, Texas and Florida, hit by earlier hurricanes, ‘are doing great.’”
This is stunning. He’s the president; his administration is responsible for the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; and his administration will be held accountable for conditions on the islands.
The administration insists that its response has been “robust,” but Americans will watch on TV the devastation, homelessness and the ongoing threat of flooding in Puerto Rico and equally awful conditions in the U.S. Virgin Islands and conclude that the administration’s response has been lacking. Hospitals are running out of power, and communication has been cut off for most residents, creating life-threatening conditions on a massive scale. CNN reports:
“Hurricane Maria whipped Puerto Rico with Irma-level winds, drenched the island with Harvey-level flooding, crippled communications, decimated buildings and damaged a dam that puts downstream residents at risk of catastrophe.
“But help has been slow to come to communities where the devastation is described as ‘apocalyptic,’ officials and residents argue.
“Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the island faces a humanitarian crisis. He urged Congress to approve a commensurate aid package as the US commonwealth, already hammered by a prolonged economic crisis, tries to get back on its feet. The governor joined others in emphasizing that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.”
In contrast to the relief package for Texas that flew through Congress, aid for Puerto Rico is not expected to come up for a vote for weeks.
Everyone not living under a rock during Hurricane Katrina recalls the photo of President George W. Bush looking out the airplane window at the destruction down below in New Orleans. Trying to stay out of the way of first responders, Bush was labeled as remote, cut-off and even racist. His presidency never recovered.
Here the image may be of Trump shouting about NFL players at a political rally in Alabama, or a screen shot of his obsessive tweets and insults about athletes standing (or not) during the national anthem. His neglect of the Spanish-speaking American territory will be labeled racist, and he surely has provided ample evidence of his lack of concern for anyone but his own base of primarily white males.
Someone at the White House apparently caught on. Tuesday, the administration hurriedly announced that Trump would be visiting Puerto Rico — next Tuesday. He’d better be careful before and during his visit not be caught in his own “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” (Bush’s comment to his FEMA chief, Michael Brown) moment.
Trump cares only about what’s in front of his nose and what’s on Fox News (which has been wall-to-wall NFL-protest coverage). His obsession is divisive culture wars, not governance — and the latter is what matters in moments of true crisis. One can imagine he had no real appreciation for the depth of the suffering wrought by Maria, nor political reason that the non-voting islands would warrant his attention. He better focus fast, utilize every resource imaginable and stop engaging in divisive nonsense in lieu of responding to a third natural disaster.