Not since Michael D. Brown got that “heckuva job” praise over the federal government’s Hurricane Katrina response and then resigned over his poor performance for his Hurricane Katrina response has a presidential assessment of U.S. disaster aid swung quite so wildly as in recent days. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was in Puerto Rico reassuring residents that the federal government was going to be helping them “every single day” until the island is restored. On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump was promising the opposite.
In several postings on Twitter, Mr. Trump gave a skeptical assessment of Puerto Rico’s future. The most telling: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Whatever one might think of Puerto Rico’s financial struggles prior to Hurricane Maria, the past is the past and unchanged since Mr. Pence’s visit. So who deserves Alternative Fact of the Week honors, the vice president for pledging federal presence “every step of the way” when that was never the intention or a president who just pulled the rug from under him without admitting it was all a lie? Here’s an idea. Let’s just call them codependents, and Americans can decide which is the abusive, emotionally manipulative one (Hint: President Trump) and which is the insecure enabler (Vice President Pence).
Still, one can’t help but suspect President Trump holds a grudge against Puerto Ricans for not praising him enough. How inconvenient they are to the presidential narrative. How ungrateful for the rolls of paper towels he tossed their way! That so many still lack power or clean water or medical care is bound to throw the federal budget “a little out of whack,” as Mr. Trump suggested. Why, the island of 3.4 million people didn’t even rack up a really big “death count” (with an estimated 34 as of last week) as happened during a “real catastrophe” like Katrina.
What seems to escape the president is that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They have been for a century. That means the president and Congress are just as responsible for their welfare as they are to any resident of Florida or Texas. That so many inhabitants are poor or that its elected officials failed to invest sufficiently in infrastructure doesn’t change that. The buck has to stop somewhere, Mr. Trump.
We expect somebody from the Trump administration will chime in before long and attempt to smooth over the imperious man at the top. He (or probably she, in the form of Trumpsplainer-in-chief Sarah Huckabee Sanders) will likely point out that, of course, the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t have workers there forever. Emergency workers are never in one place forever. But what they’ll undoubtedly fail to acknowledge is that the president would never have posted such a dire warning about Florida or Texas while they were in the throes of a crisis. He just wouldn’t — not while people were still suffering as badly as so many are suffering in Puerto Rico. And the usual suspects will undoubtedly attack the press for reporting the president’s tweets without Sean Hannity-style sycophancy and worship. That’s just how the White House rolls these days.
Meanwhile, let’s revisit exactly what Mr. Pence told Puerto Ricans during his visit last week: “I say to all of you gathered today to the people of Puerto Rico: We are with you, we stand with you, and we will be with you every single day until Puerto Rico is restored bigger and better than ever before.” And then there were the promises made by the president himself who suggested, among other things, that the island’s debt will be “wiped” out only to have his budget director walk that idea back — hard. “We are not going to bail them out. We are not going to pay off those debts,” Mick Mulvaney announced hours later.
In Puerto Rico, where the actual facts haven’t changed all that much since Maria hit three weeks ago, it’s probably a good thing so many aren’t witnessing such bizarre behavior. They are suffering enough.
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