This morning the president made a bizarre series of statements about Puerto Rico:
President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a “disaster before hurricanes,” Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that recovery workers will not stay “forever.”
In a trio of tweets, Trump wrote” “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Hurricane Maria made landfall three weeks ago, but Trump is already complaining that Puerto Rico is tying up resources. The government keeps U.S. forces in foreign countries on the other side of the world carrying out dubious missions for more than a decade at enormous expense, but less than a month of using some military resources to help Americans after a catastrophe is apparently a terrible burden. Some of the government’s agencies will be needed in Puerto Rico for a long time to come, and others will always be there because it is part of our country. One gets the impression from a lot of Trump’s complaints about Puerto Rico that he thinks he should get personal credit for the government’s fulfillment of basic obligations to its citizens.
It’s impossible to miss that Trump has signaled repeatedly through his statements and his (lack of) actions that Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be given the same treatment or respect as Americans on the mainland despite the extraordinary disaster that has befallen people on the island. The appropriate response in this situation would be for the president to pledge to support recovery efforts as long as necessary and to reassure citizens living in a disaster area that they won’t be forgotten. Instead, Trump makes it sound as if he can’t wash his hands of the problem soon enough.
The general who was brought in to improve the response to Hurricane Katrina reacted to Trump’s statements this morning:
— Russel L. Honore’ (@ltgrusselhonore) October 12, 2017
The initial federal response has been slower and less effective than it should be. Because of the extent of the storm’s devastation, there is a greater need for federal help than there usually is in the wake of hurricanes. There is ample evidence that the island will need much more immediate and longer-term assistance as it recovers from the disaster. The president and his administration show no signs of understanding that. Puerto Rico needs a sustained, large-scale commitment from the federal government that will be measured in years rather than weeks. If the president already finds the limited and inadequate response by the administration to be so burdensome and says so publicly, that tells the people working under him and the people living on the island that repairing and rebuilding Puerto Rico isn’t going to be a priority. The result of that is the ongoing unacceptable neglect of millions of Americans that desperately need help.