Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Donald Trump finally notices Puerto Rico—long enough to blame them for their problems

People use their cell phones at night in one of the few places with cell signal in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 25, 2017, where a 7pm-6am curfew has been imposed following impact of Hurricane Maria on the island.  / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO        (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
On Monday evening, Donald Trump finally got around to mentioning Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricane Maria finished passing over the island. And what he delivered was a level of cruelty usually reserved for four-year-olds holding  a magnifying glass above ants.

Trump followed this initial tweet with a couple of followup. They did not make things better.
It’s old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water, and medical are top priorities — and doing well. #FEMA
Donald Trump finally deigned to notice three and a half million Americans in Puerto Rico. Americans without power, without shelter, and—despite Trump’s afterthought—without clean water, without adequate food or medical care. Americans living in the shattered ruins of their homes unable to even communicate with loved ones to let them know they’re still alive. And he blamed them. 
It took Donald Trump five full days to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on the lives of 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico, and when he finally did so his comments on Twitter were so devoid of empathy it threatened to spark a new controversy.
It was the first comment Trump has made on Puerto Rico since hours before Maria made landfall as a category four hurricane pummelling the island and destroying its entire power network with winds of up to 155mph (250km/h). On that occasion he told the people of Puerto Rico: “We are with you.”
But for many Puerto Ricans the reality five days after the hurricane struck is that the US president has not been with them.
The day after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, FEMA had 31,000 workers in the area. And that was in addition to volunteers who were able to drive to Texas from across the nation. The total number of people who were there to help in Texas was in the hundreds of thousands. The total amount of materials available was massive.

The same thing happened in Florida, where electrical crews from thirteen states were on their way to Florida before Irma even struck. Power was restored for millions there within a day of the winds passage while both FEMA and other agencies descended on the state in masses.

And both states had one simple response to protecting their people—evacuation. Well before the wind and the rains came, millions of people took to the road, driving out of East Texas and out of the Florida peninsula to safely ride out the storm in neighboring states.

But in Puerto Rico, there are no highways offering a convenient route to evacuation. Which doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Facing a sure disaster, Donald Trump could have ordered the armed forces to conduct an emergency air evacuation of the island, moving hundreds of thousands of the most directly threatened to safety. He didn’t.

Likewise, there are no highways to bring in supplies. Trump might have conducted an airlift in advance of the storm to make certain that Puerto Rico was adequately stocked with those basic necessities as well as the materials needed to get the electrical and communications grids up and running. He didn’t.

There were no electrical crews brought in from other states. There were no shiploads of supplies. Even the Navy’s hospiral ships, which were used in disasters within the continental United States, have not been sent to Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands together, FEMA has deployed 600 and a total of 10,000 federal workers. That’s a fraction of the people sent to Texas for a situation that’s infinitely more dire.

Trump points out that Puerto Rico is in terrible fiscal shape—and it is. That’s part of why the situation there requires a much larger Federal response that was needed in states that were hit by less devastation and far better able to address the situation. Puerto Rico demands a massive government response—the kind that Donald Trump seems capable of envisioning only when it comes to attacking other countries. And it needs it yesterday.

The responsibility for what’s happening Puerto Rico can’t be shuffled off or evaded. Maria may have damaged the island, but Donald Trump is turning that disaster into a lingering catastrophe.
More than half of the Americans on the island don’t have safe drinking water, and after prolonged silence, Trump decided this would be a good time to emphasize to Puerto Ricans the money they owe to Wall Street.

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