Editorial: As Puerto Rico suffers, Trump looks away

  • People wait in line outside a grocery store to buy food that wouldn't spoil and that they could prepare without electricity in San Juan on Monday. Most stores and restaurants remain closed. Nearly all of Puerto Rico was without power or water five days after Hurricane Maria. AP

Published: 9/27/2017 12:30:04 AM

At 3.5 million people, Puerto Rico’s population exceeds that of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont combined. Like the residents of those New England states, Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They are in dire need after a devastating one-two punch by hurricanes Irma and Maria – need that isn’t being met with adequate speed or adequate federal resources.

The blame for that lies with President Donald Trump.

The president, while ignoring Puerto Rico’s plight, spent five days conducting a moronic attack on NFL and NBA players whose symbolic protest against inequality, racism and police brutality during the playing of the national anthem offended him. With U.S. troops at war in at least three nations, wildfires in the West, Texas and Florida struggling to recover from hurricane damage and people dying daily in Puerto Rico, this is what the so-called leader of the free world cares about.

The media once again fell for the distraction.

According to one count, ABC, CBS and NBC devoted four times as much air time to Trump’s war with professional athletes, primarily black professional athletes, than to the devastation in Puerto Rico. Print media was nearly as bad. Most sources devoted far more space to Trump’s impulsive tweets than they were worth.

When Trump finally did get around to addressing the impact of the hurricane, he did so by blaming the Puerto Ricans.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” Trump said in his first missive. That was followed by, “Its old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well.” No they aren’t.

Neither are the citizens in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Like Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, they are not states, but American all the same.

Puerto Rico is 1,069 miles by sea from Key West, Fla. Its main airport was damaged by the Category 4 hurricane that tore off roofs, toppled almost all the island’s cell towers and utility poles, downed or denuded trees, and destroyed 80 percent of the island’s crops. Yet Trump failed to deploy hospital ships, waive restrictions on foreign ships carrying relief supplies or order the kind of massive, humanitarian military response needed to address the natural disaster.

One has to wonder if America’s famously ignorant president knew that Puerto Ricans are American citizens and, to give voice to a much darker thought, if the response would have been different if the island’s inhabitants were white instead of brown. Would it have been different if Puerto Ricans, like the residents of 50 states, had the right to vote in presidential elections or were represented by a member of Congress with the right to not just observe, but vote?

It was 90 degrees and extremely humid in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. Lacking power, the ill and elderly were without even fans to cool them or electricity to power life-saving medical equipment. Many lacked food, potable water, fuel for vehicles or passable roads to drive them on if they had fuel. Most of the island’s hospitals are without power to run lights, let alone dialysis machines and the refrigerators that keep medicines from spoiling.

Coping with the disaster in Puerto Rico and the rebuilding of the island’s infrastructure and economy is far beyond the ability of relief organizations. It calls for a massive, long-term response by the federal government.

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