[Column] Trump and Puerto Rico
Is the U.S. doing enough to help Puerto Rico?
The U.S. media is saying no. And the reason is President Donald Trump.
Since the hurricane, the Puerto Rico tragedy has been front-page news. Almost every day Trump says something about Puerto Rico. At every opportunity, the U.S. and world media asks him about Puerto Rico.
And of course, every Puerto Rican, as never before, is listening to every word Trump says, desperately wanting to know what his administration is doing to lift the island from the tragedy.
At the beginning, the focus of the massive media coverage was on the fury of Hurricane Maria and the extent of the horrendous damage. But as the days passed, it became an even bigger story as it gradually emerged that the damage was far worse than anyone had thought, and it was shocking and heartbreaking to see how bad it was, how much the Puerto Ricans were suffering.
The focus of the story changed. Now it was on Trump: that he really didn’t understand, and probably really did not care how bad it was. The story became that his administration is not doing nearly enough to help the island.
If Puerto Ricans were still suffering a month after the hurricane, the reason, the culprit, was Trump.
Take the column by New York Times columnist David Leonhardt: The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico by the numbers. More than 80 percent without power, 28 percent without running water, 40 percent without a cellphone signal, half the hospitals without electricity.
And he asks: “Where, oh where, is the urgency from Washington about this crisis?”
Or Paul Krugman’s biting column: Let them eat paper towels. He is referring of course to the TV images of Trump on the island throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans. And the reason why aid has been “woefully inadequate,” he writes, “is the usual four-letter word – race. Puerto Ricans would undoubtedly be getting better treatment if they were all of, say, Norwegian descent.”
So the story is that Puerto Ricans are not getting the aid other Americans get in a tragedy of this magnitude because of Trump’s racism. The same old Trump prejudice against Hispanics that he has always displayed in his obsession with illegal immigrants.
Now, is all this true? Are Puerto Ricans suffering because of slow and inadequate help from the U.S. government essentially because of Trump’s prejudice against Hispanics, against Puerto Ricans?
Several things are obvious.
One is that Puerto Rico was in a terrible crisis before the hurricane that has to do with the effect of the hurricane. It is obvious that the power system collapsed, and Puerto Ricans are and will be without power, because of the gross negligence of the island’s governments, which allowed the system to deteriorate. Can’t blame Trump.
Two, it’s obvious that even if the U.S. response had been rapid and adequate, the destruction has been so massive that Puerto Ricans would still be suffering today.
Third, it’s obvious that the response to the Puerto Rico tragedy cannot be compared with responses in the continental U.S. for the enormous difficulties of getting massive help to an island a thousand miles from the continent. Can’t blame Trump.
And the media will always criticize Trump. It’s what it’s supposed to do, especially during such a big tragedy. And especially with Trump’s permanent war on the press.
But, yes, you can blame Trump for something. And it’s exactly the same since he became President.
He has a pathological compulsion to say things that makes things worse. And he has done it again. When San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz cried out for more help, saying that Puerto Ricans were dying, of course it was true. But Trump decided to attack her.
And then attack all Puerto Ricans, implying that they were not doing enough, depending too much on Uncle Sam. But this was not enough, saying that U.S. disaster help was not “forever,” implying, as U.S. media headlines said, that he was already thinking of pulling out.
For a people in desperate need of massive help, a people hanging on every word of the President of the United States, what Trump has been doing is more than irresponsible, it is cruel.
I have no idea what Trump believes and feels. I have no idea if he is prejudiced against Hispanics, against Puerto Ricans, if the columnists are right in saying that “racism” is the cause of the slow and inadequate response.
I have no idea and I think nobody knows precisely because Trump is always contradicting himself – one day saying how much he loves Puerto Ricans, the next implying that lazy Puerto Ricans are taking advantage of American generosity – and he is always lying.
I think no one knows because Trump does not use words the way most people do, to communicate what they believe and feel, but to get an effect – and clearly to satisfy a pathological need to fight with everyone –even Carmen Yulín.
And I don’t know if the help from the U.S. is adequate, if it should and could be doing more.
But I think this. Again, all the help the Trump administration and the U.S. can give is not enough. But the American response has been massive. There are thousands of men and women from the U.S. government and others on the island trying hard to help. Because of the extraordinary coverage of the humanitarian crisis by the U.S. media, there is real, deep, massive desire throughout the U.S. to help.
The problem is Trump. In Puerto Rico as in so much else, his pathological need to say things that make things worse.
–A.W. Maldonado was a former reporter and columnist for the San Juan Star, executive editor of El Mundo, and publisher and editor of El Reportero.