An Unfit President Fails Puerto Rico

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Reflections by Michelle Goldberg on how Trump made Hurricane Maria so much worse than it needed to be:

In the frustrated anguish of Puerto Rico, we can see the real-world consequences of Donald Trump’s flagrant incompetence.

A little more than eight months ago, the United States inaugurated one of its worst people as president, a nasty showbiz huckster whose own staffers speak of him as if he were a malevolent toddler. Yet the country has held up pretty well, considering.

Yes, there were emboldened Nazis marching in the streets, and crucial intelligence on the Islamic State casually passed to the Russians. Striving young immigrants who’d been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have seen their lives upended and trans people have been barred from enlisting in the military.

Yet most of the institutions of American governance continued to function. The stock market plunged on the night of Trump’s election, but then it turned around and started soaring. The economic recovery that began under Barack Obama continued. It was hard to see any immediate material impact from the Trump White House’s chaos and melodrama. Until now.

Reports from post-hurricane Puerto Rico tell of American citizens experiencing a level of humanitarian desperation usually seen only in the poorest of countries. As of Saturday, according to the Department of Defense, only 45 percent of customers on the island had access to drinking water. People are frantically seeking food and medical supplies, and there’s not enough diesel to deliver much of the aid that’s reached San Juan. While that city’s mayor pleaded with the world for help, the president of the United States tweeted racially inflected insults at her and her people from his golf club. He implied they are lazy and “want everything to be done for them” rather than helping themselves.

Under any president, Hurricane Maria would have been disastrous, but it seems clear that Trump’s inattention made the fallout worse. As The Washington Post reported, there were four days after the storm hit when Trump appeared disengaged from the burgeoning emergency. Instead of mobilizing the government on Puerto Rico’s behalf, he spent much of his time picking fights with N.F.L. athletes. After visiting Puerto Rico with CNN, Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the military response to Hurricane Katrina, told me that because of the administration’s sluggishness, “we lost about a good six or seven days.”

You can read the rest at the New York Times.

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