Trump to Puerto Rico: It’s your own fault

Updated 3:22 PM EDT, Thu October 12, 2017
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Story highlights

Raul Reyes: Seeming to be blame Puerto Rico for crisis, Trump ready to wash his hands of it

He says it's disgraceful for the President of all Americans to hold this mindset

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.

CNN —  

What did Puerto Rico ever do to Donald Trump? On Thursday morning, the tweeter in chief struck again, and it wasn’t pretty. It showed a shocking lack of compassion, if not outright heartlessness toward the Americans suffering on the island.

Around 6:50 a.m., Trump tweeted, “Puerto Rico survived the hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making, says Sharyl Attkisson.” Attkisson is a journalist with a show on the Sinclair Broadcast Group, but that is beside the point.

In another tweet Thursday morning, Trump decried the “lack of accountability” and noted that the island’s infrastructure was “a disaster” before the hurricane.

He seemed to be attempting to quote the governor, while at the same time absolving himself of accountability for this crisis.

But let’s be clear: If there is a “lack of accountability,” Trump should fix it, by ordering the Department of Homeland of Security (which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to remedy the situation. And mentioning that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was in bad shape before Hurricane Maria sure seems like a way to deflect blame for conditions now.

The President’s next tweet about the Puerto Rico crisis was the worst: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Consider what Trump is saying here: This crisis is far from over – and the federal response has been by many accounts inadequate – yet he is already thinking about the time when the government moves on and leaves Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves.

Coming from our chief executive, the President of all Americans – including the 3.4 million citizens in Puerto Rico – this mindset is shocking,

No one is asking for FEMA and first responders to stay in Puerto Rico forever. People on the island would love nothing more than to be able to resume their normal lives. This insensitive tweet harks back to another, when the President said that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.”

For Trump to signal that the danger in Puerto Rico is largely past bespeaks a dangerous level of complacency.

Hurricane Maria hit the island three weeks ago, and so far the death toll is up to 45. This is the official death toll; news outlets such as Vox have reported another 450 deaths, along with at least 69 people still missing.

The Center for Investigative Journalism reports that bodies are piling up at the morgues of the hospitals on the island. Medical experts are worrying about the outbreak of disease in the US commonwealth. It is incomprehensible that Trump is already speaking of this catastrophic event as if it were in the rearview mirror. Actually, we do not yet know the full scope of the devastation of Maria.

Still, Trump appears ready to pivot away from this national disaster and back to the island’s ongoing financial crisis. Puerto Rico was in the midst of a complicated fiscal restructuring before Maria – but now is the time to help our fellow citizens, not blame them for supposed financial irresponsibility. Trump’s comments are inconsistent with what his vice president recently said: Mike Pence pledged to help Puerto Ricans “every step of the way” in their recovery

On Wednesday, The New York Times described the “dire condition” of health care on the island, noting “many sick people across the island remain in mortal peril.” Nearly 85% of the island lacks electricity, and 36% is without running water. This is real life on the island, and Trump wants to discuss who owes what to whom?

For the record, despite what the President may believe, the fiscal crisis was not “of their own making.” The truth is far more complicated, involving US hedge funds and banks, population trends, US government regulations and other issues.

Thursday’s tweets are another sad example of the President’s indifference to the suffering in Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey hitting South Texas, Trump publicly pledged $1 million of his own money to the relief effort. Puerto Rico? Nothing so far, unless you count a visit in which he lobbed paper towels at a crowd as if he were competing in an amateur basketball competition. BuzzFeed reports that the town he visited, Guaynabo, still lacks electricity and drinking water, one week later.

These tweets represent a disturbing lack of empathy. He attacked the mayor of San Juan for daring to criticize the federal government response. While Puerto Ricans have been recovering bodies and sweeping away debris, he has spent the last three weekends golfing. Though Trump wants billions for his unnecessary border wall, he seems resentful of having the country invest in Puerto Rico’s full recovery.

At a time when many Americans want to help Puerto Rico, the President has not even tweeted out links to charities or organizations providing aid. Moreover, by repeatedly talking about how “great” the recovery efforts are going, Trump is painting a false picture of what is really happening on the island.

It is hard to fathom why Trump does not deem our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico worthy of our help. His response has been a national disgrace.