Donald Trump made a regrettable trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, visiting the devastated island for the first time since Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20. Instead of comforting beleaguered residents or its leaders, Trump sought adulation and self-praise from officials for his bungled handling of the storm recovery effort.
Gratitude was bestowed upon locals that groveled to Trump’s liking about the late and insufficient U.S. response. He added insult to the assembled gathering by informing the island nation that Hurricane Maria was not a “real catastrophe” when compared with the death toll from Hurricane Katrina, and joked about how Puerto Rico’s recovery was adversely impacting the U.S. budget.
“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who died, and you look at what happened here and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”
It was cringe-worthy patter from the orange one, our Cheeto Benito, like some bad standup routine, with Trump’s thin skin for criticism on full display before a nation that lacks food, water and electricity. The petty nature of this president continues to find new lows as he spent last weekend personally attacking the mayor of San Juan after she made the case publicly that the U.S. response was insufficient and people were literally dying from the lack of resources reaching Puerto Rico’s inhabitants.
Trump readily praised FEMA and the military. Yet everyone on the island recognized the U.S. response was slow, disorganized and bordered on negligent considering the utter dismantling of the island’s infrastructure.
It took essential items like water, MREs and diapers days to arrive, but worse, once ships and planes showed up, there was no federal leadership to address logistics of transportation and distribution.
Part of the reasoning behind this poor effort was fatigue, as Maria was the third hurricane in quick succession to impact the Atlantic season.
Hurricane Harvey was a beast of a storm that ravaged the Houston metropolitan area and surrounding municipalities for more than a week, bringing catastrophic flooding that began on August 26. As the waters in Texas and Louisiana began to recede, Hurricane Irma blasted the U.S. Virgin Islands and caused trouble for Puerto Rico before coming ashore in the Florida Keys on September 10.
Irma hit Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Category 4 with 130-mph winds. This left 65 percent of the state without power and gushing flood waters paralyzed wide swaths across the state. Every county from Key West to the Georgia line was affected, and Irma continued causing havoc into Georgia and South Carolina.
Then came Hurricane Maria on September 20. It was a Cat-4 with maximum sustained winds of more than 150-mph, the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, and strongest to make landfall in Puerto Rico in some 80-plus years.
Few roofs survived the fury. The fragile power grid failed, leaving the entire island of 3.5 million people without power. Cellphone towers toppled in the wind wiping out communication. Debris and rampant flooding locked rescuers in place for days, unable to render assistance.
One resident described Maria as if it were a 50-to-60 mile wide tornado that raged across Puerto Rico for some 30 hours.
Here’s the thing, Texas and Florida have dealt with destructive storms recently, and had preparedness measures in place. They also are attached to a giant country, allowing folks to evacuate and for assisters to arrive quickly to impacted regions.
There is nothing easy about Puerto Rico. It’s a poverty-stricken nation that caters to wealthy world travelers. There is no evacuation option or money to construct buildings resistant to the deadly vengeance of a storm like Maria.
Trump chose to move on after his ego-stroking praise fest with officials Tuesday at Muñiz Air Force Base, to a church where the president chucked paper towels and toilet paper rolls at weary Puerto Rican residents who had lost their homes. He played like a spoiled boy prince offering moldy bread to hungry riffraff.
This was impressively tone-deaf even for Trump. He then met residents, but instead of traveling 10 minutes out of San Juan where the destruction was unavoidable, he went to a gated community that received minimal damage. He further embarrassed himself by refusing to look at the San Juan mayor as she gracefully offered an explanation for her impassioned plea for enhanced assistance. Trump concluded his trip by hopping back aboard Air Force One an hour ahead of schedule to escape an uncomfortable situation.
The more sinister explanation for Trump’s bungled handling of Puerto Rico is his prejudicial attitude toward those of color. Harvey hit Texas, which is a Republican stronghold and home to wealthy executives from the fossil fuel industry. Florida, where Irma landed, is a swing state, governed by a Republican, where the president spends considerable time at his luxury Mar-a-Lago resort. Both these states saw a rapid and robust storm recovery response, including a $15 billion aid package passed by Congress.
Whereas Puerto Rico is a poor country inhabited by people of color and weeks later the federal effort remains lackluster. We all saw how Trump handled Charlottesville, and likewise saw the spin he took on NFL players peacefully protesting the killing of African-Americans by law enforcement. There is a different metric in play by Trump depending upon the color, culture and nationality of those involved.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hit it right on the head when he called Donald Trump, the President of the United States, a moron.