Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Raul Reyes: Trump tweets on weekend about NFL, not Puerto Rico, until noting its "billions of dollars owed to Wall Street"
Reyes: His callousness about the American commonwealth, and delusion about Texas, Florida "great" recovery are shameful
After spending the weekend feuding with football players and trashing Sen. John McCain, on Monday night President Donald Trump turned his attention to the devastation still faced by several regions in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” he tweeted to his 39 million followers.
Just what is wrong with the President’s tweets about these areas struggling through a tremendous recovery?
Let’s begin with Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million American citizens (more than many states) that has been plunged into darkness for the foreseeable future. But it wasn’t until Tuesday, six days after Maria hit Puerto Rico, that Trump made a substantive late-to-the-disaster statement during a press conference with the Spanish foreign minister at the White House.
“All available resources, including the military, are being marshaled to save lives,” he said. And “we have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and everyone else.” He allowed that the people of Puerto Rico “are important to all of us.”
That would have been more convincing had Trump to that point not been essentially silent about the chaos there, though he did also note in a tweet Monday: “its old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape was devastated.”
Taken with his, and his vice president’s, failure to visit the island thus far (Trump announced Tuesday that he would go next week – “some people say, I read it this morning, it’s literally destroyed”) this seems to be an attempt to deflect accountability away from his administration’s role in the recovery effort. As of Monday, according to an article in New York magazine, party leaders “were waiting for a formal disaster request from the Trump administration.”
But Trump tweeted on: “Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
These comments are unconscionable given that Puerto Rico – right now – has limited communication and is on the verge of a massive humanitarian crisis. The island may be without power for months. The devastation there has been described as “apocalyptic” – and Trump is concerned about what the territory owes to Wall Street and the banks? The lack of empathy is staggering.
How ironic that in the wake of a catastrophic disaster, our President feels the need to mention what Puerto Rico owes to its creditor banks, particularly given his own history of multiple bankruptcies. Our fellow Americans on the island are facing unprecedented, horrific living conditions and this is what Trump finds noteworthy.
Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, and its people are US citizens, although most Americans do not know that. Although they are Americans, Puerto Ricans on the island do not have a voting member of Congress to advocate for their interests. If only they could count on the President to amplify the fact that they need help – and they need it quickly.
Instead, this past weekend it was left for island officials to plead their case directly to the media, and for former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to call for the US Navy to be sent to the island to assist in relief efforts.
Sure, Trump did offer, regarding the disasters, that “food, water, and medical supplies are top priorities.” The fact that he tweeted these sentiments made them appear an afterthought. Until Tuesday, days after Maria made landfall, Trump did not mention the plight of the US Virgin Islands, which have been virtually destroyed, at all.
Which brings us to the states Trump DID mention in his tweets — although it’s unclear whether he knew what he was talking about. Mr. President, Texas and Florida are not “doing great.” They were doing great before two hurricanes walloped them, but it will be a long time before they are back to pre-Harvey and pre-Irma conditions.
In southeast Texas, many families are coping with the loss of their homes and possessions and figuring out how and where to live now. City and state officials are already sparring over how to fund the ongoing cleanup efforts. And according to news reports, relief has come slowly for smaller towns along the Texas coast.
Florida is in a similar predicament. The state, especially Miami, was lucky to dodge the full force of a Category 5 hurricane. Still, thousands of people were without power for days, and they, too, are salvaging their lives and getting to work on rebuilding. Thanks to Irma, Florida’s tourism, agriculture, and insurance industries are reeling. Sunshine State residents are facing unexpected property damage and financial losses, with many planning to apply for federal assistance. A FEMA disaster recovery center opened in Miami-Dade County just this week.
Trump’s casual — and ludicrous — pronouncement about how “great” Texas and Florida are doing after two severe weather events downplays the long road ahead for these states, and amounts to an abuse of his position as chief executive with the power of the bully pulpit.
The risk is that the short-attention-span American public and media will soon move on to the next big story and forget about our fellow Americans’ suffering. Though it may come as a shock to the President, this is not all about him; just because he has visited Texas and Florida post-storm does not mean things are going well there.
In contrast to the very personal ways that Trump often engages in Twitter when he is on the attack, his tweets about storm damage in the country he leads, particularly when it comes to Puerto Rico, have an oddly impassive tone, as though he were an observer.
Yet he is the chief executive, with the power to elevate a national discussion or issue, literally, at his fingertips. That he has taken nearly a week to do so in the case of Puerto Rico only adds to the perception that he cares little about Latinos; no wonder 67% of Latinos disapprove of the job he is doing as President.
Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands all deserve continuing attention and concern from our President. Trump’s tweets stand as their own shameful disaster.