Donald Trump is a man known for saying unbelievably dumb and cartoonishly despicable things, but the way he's handling the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico is gross even by his callous standards. Aside from his obsession with reminding us that Puerto Rico is, in fact, an island, the president seems most interested in lashing out at the people who are criticizing how long it's taking his administration to provide the US territory with desperately needed aid.
According to Vox, FEMA still "has not authorized every disaster response tool it has at its disposal—including aid for more permanent repairs on the island's roads, bridges, water control facilities, public utilities, and government buildings." Trump initially refused to waive the Jones Act, a 1920 "maritime law requiring shipments of goods between two US ports to be made with American-flagged vessels, manned by American crews," Bloomberg reported, even though his administration had temporarily waived the act for relief efforts in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. Although the administration eventually granted Puerto Rico a temporary waiver, Trump's initial reasoning for withholding the waiver was that "a lot of people… who work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted."
Ninety-three percent of Puerto Rico has no power, and distributing aid is an enormous challenge. But Trump doesn't want to talk about that. Instead, he's launched into some of his trademark tangents:
Puerto Rico Is an Island!
Something we've learned from the crisis in Puerto Rico is that Donald Trump knows what an island is: "The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water," he said during a speech on tax reform last week, using basic geography as an excuse for why disaster relief efforts weren't moving more quickly.
And there's never been a storm this bad before!
Trump said in Puerto Rico on Tuesday: "It got hit as a five — Category 5 storm, which just literally never happens… Few people have even heard of [a Category 5] hitting land. But it hit land." (There have been many Category 5 storms to make landfall in the United States, including Irma and Harvey.)
It has a lot of debt!
Trump, always the one to blame the victim, has proved himself unable to understand the crisis in Puerto Rico without including an aside about the US territory's financial hardships. Last week, he tweeted, "Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble." On Tuesday, he followed up on his comments about Puerto Rico's multibillion-dollar debt crisis, which he is compelled to mention basically every time he talks about disaster relief.
"I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack," the president said jokingly on his trip to the Island Tuesday. "Because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico."
At least more people didn't die!
On his trip, Trump told Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló that he should "be very proud" of the relief efforts, explaining, "Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud." (Hurricane Katrina took 1,833 lives.)
Having a lower death toll than your Republican predecessor in the crisis you are mismanaging is perhaps not the best thing to brag about. George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina is one of the most shameful and morally abject moments during his time in office.
You're being really selfish and mean!
In the president's Twitter meltdown about Puerto Rico last week, he lashed out at the San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, in response to her begging him to "save us from dying."
"The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump," the president began, then blamed Cruz and her colleagues for their inability "to get their workers to help," complaining that "they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."
During his visit, Trump threw paper towels into a crowd of hurricane victims as if he was shooting T-shirts out of a cannon at a concert. "A lot of love in this room," he remarked.
Look at what a wonderful job I'm doing!
In classic Trumpian style, the president is focused on the public perception of his response more than anything else. Over the weekend, he responded to criticism that he wasn't doing enough for Puerto Rico by calling it "fake news."
"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico," he tweeted on Saturday. "Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates, people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military."
The president then warned Puerto Rican residents, "Do not believe the #FakeNews! #PRStrong." Luckily for Trump, 93 percent of the Island doesn't have electricity, so it's unlikely they have access to the "fake news" he desperately doesn't want them to see.
On his trip to Puerto Rico, Trump has repeatedly said that Puerto Rico officials think he is doing a great job. "Well, I think she's come back a long way," Trump said of Mayor Cruz, who decided to meet with the president despite his insults. "I think it's now acknowledged what a great job we've done, and people are looking at that."
The president said of Governor Rosselló, "From the beginning this governor was not playing politics, he was giving us the highest grades."
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