It’s a sad day when Puerto Rico’s governor has to take to the airwaves to remind Americans that the 3.4 million people living in the U.S. territory are citizens of their nation, too, but that’s exactly what Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has been reduced to — repeatedly — in the wake of Hurricane Maria and the suffering it has caused. The Category 4 hurricane left most of the island without power, and many remain without running water. The devastation has been extreme and could worsen if an 88-year-old failing earthen dam in the northwest collapses.
It has been nearly a week since the storm hit, and what are Puerto Ricans hearing from President Donald Trump? Concerns about professional football players and whether they should be fired for silently protesting racial inequality and police brutality during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner by taking a knee. When the president finally got around to tweeting about Puerto Rico on Monday night, it was not only to acknowledge the damage but to chide the islanders about their “massive debt” and the billions of dollars owed to bankers and Wall Street.
Mr. Trump insists aid is on the way. FEMA Administrator Brock Long and the president’s homeland security adviser have been sent to Puerto Rico to assess the damage, and FEMA claims 10,000 federal workers have been dispatched. But with damaged ports and airports, the logistical challenges are considerable. Help has been slow to arrive. And neither the White House nor top leaders in Congress seem particularly worked up about it. Mr. Trump even tweeted on Monday that “Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,” which doesn’t jive with the experience of Governor Rosselló, who this week called for more search-and-rescue assistance and record levels of humanitarian relief.
Make no mistake, the governor is caught in a political trap. He’s also been thanking President Trump and others for what assistance has been dispatched. He’s well aware that Puerto Rico was in bad financial shape long before it was hit by Hurricane Maria (and, to a lesser extent, Hurricane Irma earlier this month). The island needs emergency aid now, but it also could use help putting its economic house back in order. His best pitch? That any humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico will translate into one on the mainland as Puerto Ricans travel from their homes to find shelter and employment.
Must it come to that? Does it take fear of a refugee crisis for Mr. Trump to make the disaster as much of a front burner issue as a perceived lack of patriotism by some of the 1,700 or so players in the National Football League? For some reason, helping people doesn’t seem to have the appeal to this president that dividing people and questioning their patriotism has, particularly when it touches on matters of race. Is there a reason why these victims don’t tug at Mr. Trump’s heartstrings? As much as his tweets about Puerto Rico on Monday suggested he’s aware of what’s going on, he’ll have to write at least 17 more to catch up with his NFL kneeling-related output over the weekend.
Perhaps it’s just as well that most of Puerto Rico remains under a blackout and local residents aren’t getting a taste of this presidential indifference. At the very least, they might have noticed that Mr. Trump isn’t showing the same level of concern for hurricane damage in their island as he did for earlier damage to Texas and Florida, both of which he had visited by this point. Perhaps Puerto Ricans just haven’t been showing up at his “Make America Great Again” rallies in sufficient number.
No doubt Americans will rally behind Puerto Rico. There are certainly hopeful signs like the efforts by the five ex-presidents and their “One America Appeal” to raise money for relief. Meanwhile, the administration doesn’t anticipate asking Congress for an aid package until next week at the earliest. If Governor Rosselló is smart, he may just want to show up at the next NFL game — the Chicago Bears at the Green Bay Packers Thursday evening — and take a knee. It’s the best way to get noticed by @realDonaldTrump.
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.