Stormy weather and Trump’s further absence of leadership

It is kind of stunning how tone deaf the Trump Administration has become. By this time it shouldn’t be, but it is anyhow. After all, Puerto Rico was not hit by just one hurricane, but by two hurricanes. Hurricane Irma first made a swipe at the island before moving onto Florida. Florida was quite fortunate in that ultimately Irma picked a pretty benign path to wreak its destruction, with the Florida Keys taking the worst of it. Still, it was quite bad, and it knocked out much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. I have a sister in Fort Lauderdale. Like most of south Florida, she, her husband and her dog evacuated for a week. They dealt with massive traffic jams and lack of fuel, problems that could have been mitigated. She lost a few tiles off her roof from tree damage and suffered a water main break. It could have been a lot worse.

At least she didn’t live in Puerto Rico. It’s not easy to escape Puerto Rico and few Puerto Ricans have the means to get off the island even if they wanted to. So they had to hunker down during Irma and then do the best they could to survive. FEMA for the most part had its attention elsewhere, so these American citizens were largely left to their own resources. The more powerful Hurricane Maria wiped out pretty much everything that was left including lots of its bridges and most of its power grid. This left large parts of the island effectively landlocked: no power, no communications and with residents left to fend for themselves.

With sewage systems collapsing and their water supplies damaged many residents fought off thirst by drinking contaminated water, some coming down with wholly preventable diseases like cholera in the process. Drinking the water was problematic but there was not much you could do when the food ran out. Puerto Rico seems to be evolving into the equivalent of a third world country with disease, starvation and with what’s left of their homes providing an al fresco living experience for months or years to come.

Meanwhile, what bothered our “president” was that some NFL football players were bending on one knee during the national anthem. He saw it as being unpatriotic whereas the right to protest is actually one of the amazing features of our country. Clearly the administration is tone deaf to the harassment and killing of principally black citizens by our police. I don’t believe that Trump was all that upset by these protests. Rather, he was looking for something new and shiny to distract the public and enrage his supporters. He would have found something else if necessary because otherwise the press might spend more time looking at his administration’s poor handling of these hurricanes, particularly in Puerto Rico.

It’s not like we don’t know what to do to help people when these events happen. Food and clean water can be staged in the likely path of the storm. Generators can be brought in to support hospitals along with diesel needed to keep them going. It doesn’t cost that much to provide tents and temporary awnings, and I imagine there are chamber pot suppliers still in this business. Plans could have been in place to clear landing strips. The Corp of Engineers could have been on standby to build temporary bridges.

But none of this was new or shiny. It’s not clear that Trump even knew that Puerto Rico was part of the United States. He seems to have been surprised to learn that it was in the Atlantic Ocean, although it’s more accurately in the Caribbean Sea. In any event with no path to statehood and no representatives in Congress, there was no political reason to look at or care about Puerto Rico. It’s not surprising then that Congress gave it little attention and found it convenient to cut its support to the island. When the inevitable problems emerged of too many needs chasing too few resources, it was the fault of Puerto Ricans. So more austerity was needed, to force them to lift themselves by their own bootstraps somehow. In reality though it just forced more Puerto Ricans to leave the island, principally to Florida and New York.

Puerto Ricans have known for quite a while that our country doesn’t care about them, and they’ve been voting with their feet, since they are disenfranchised at the ballot box. Irma and Maria though now prove beyond a doubt that our country, at least our federal government, doesn’t care about them. At best they are second-class citizens, even though Puerto Rican citizens disproportionately fight in our wars and serve in our military.

The implicit reason is that most Americans don’t see them as citizens. They are too brown to be real citizens, and worse speak mostly Spanish. In an openly racist administration, they are even less seen. When they are seen at all, it is with barely disguised disgust. Mostly they are simply ignored.

Some of us though don’t feel this way, including my wife and I who have been contributing heartily to Puerto Rico’s relief. Some of us think that being an American citizen should mean something. As a first world country no citizen should have to worry about drinking rainwater or coming down with cholera. They should know that someone has your back. It’s not the state of Puerto Rico since it is not a state. It can’t be entirely its territorial government whose resources can’t begin to adequately cover the needs of its people. So it has to be the federal government, except right now our government clearly doesn’t give a crap about them. Puerto Ricans have been other-ized. If anything, whatever support we supply is a demonstration of power and a clear signal: you are not first-class citizens.

If only there had been even this much thought from the Trump administration. Basically Puerto Rico was not even on their radar. They just didn’t see a problem and you certainly can’t care about what you refuse to see. Doubtless our weather service and emergency managers dutifully raised the issue of Puerto Rico’s vulnerabilities and the impact of these storms. But Trump’s complete tone deafness and his lack of empathy for anyone not like him (white) simply made it a nonissue.

All the resources we needed to mitigate this disaster could have been there; they simply weren’t utilized for the most part. So the Trump administration is playing catch up. Trump is claiming everything is going perfectly when obviously it’s the complete opposite. Not that his supporters will know or care; they too excel at being tone deaf. In Trump’s mind, that’s all that really matters. His supporters need to be kept happy, but since he is incapable of doing much to actually make them happy he has to pander to their prejudices and cause distractions instead. That’s apparently all that really matters.

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