By Gabriella Ciuffetelli
Despite the continued attacks on the NFL, threats against North Korea and the resignation of (now former) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, it’s truly astounding that President Trump has found the time this week to fixate on yet another target … Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, Trump claimed Puerto Ricans simply need to do more to help themselves overcome the massive hurricane-induced devastation. In his usual fashion, the president took to Twitter, saying islanders “… want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”As if an island-wide natural disaster is but a minor inconvenience to be solved by some neighborly kindness.
As an avid supporter of limited government myself, it is troubling that the president would attempt to skirt one of the few justifiable times in which the government should actively intervene to solve a “localized” problem.
This is especially troubling when juxtaposed with the Trump administration’s hurricane response efforts in states like Texas and Florida. As the world’s oldest territory, Puerto Rico may not have statehood status, however it most certainly is the United States’ responsibility. Leaving island residents out to dry is unacceptable. This is not just a Puerto Rican problem – it is an American one.
Trump has also taken to Twitter to attack San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, saying her “poor leadership ability” kept Puerto Rican workers from assisting with relief efforts. This came after Cruz criticized federal relief efforts, telling the government, “you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
And yet, one look at the president’s “personal” Twitter account would make you think everything is fine. After tweeting that Cruz “has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the president went on to praise other Puerto Rican leaders.
Trump then took a break from attacking a politician for asking for more help to insist he has “done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico.”
These tweets steal attention from Puerto Rico’s ongoing critical need for federal aid, while also – and perhaps more dangerously – politicizing a natural disaster. After all, it is a lot easier to shake your head at your phone every time one of these tweets comes across the screen than it is to acknowledge the suffering being faced by the island’s 3.4 million residents.
Now, Trump does deserve credit for temporarily lifting the Jones Act – a move that will make it easier for vital supplies to reach Puerto Rico. He also amended his disaster declaration to provide more funding for the island.
It is also worth noting, as some of the president’s supporters have, that there are underlying problems that make it more difficult to recover. Infrastructure and mismanagement issues are nothing new for the island, and ultimately amounted to an ongoing debt crisis.
But that by no means excuses the president’s recent behavior. Nor does it relieve the administration of its responsibility during this crisis. At the end of the day a U.S. territory is without bare necessities like food, water and electricity, and if local leaders say they need more help, the federal government must endeavor to provide it.
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