When last seen in Puerto Rico, in the awful aftermath of Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump displayed the fullness of his sensitivity by tossing rolls of paper towels to a cluster of desperate people, causing many to imagine Marie Antoinette lobbing crumbs of cake to the starving people of France.
The president was in Puerto Rico to take bows for what he claimed was a marvelous effort by him and his Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The official death toll in Puerto Rico was listed at 64. Now, with slight adjustment for truth, it is listed at nearly 3,000.
The president apparently finds this not only acceptable, but worthy of praise.
This week, he described the federal government’s efforts in Puerto Rico as an “A-plus.” He said the government got terrific grades for disaster responses in Texas and Florida, but boasted, “I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
He said this roughly one year after Maria, where 300,000 homes were damaged in the storm and many are still covered by canvas.
He said this knowing (we assume) that electricity was not restored to every customer in Puerto Rico until a few weeks ago.
He said this knowing (we assume) that thousands went without food and water while FEMA’s warehouses lay empty as Maria hit, and no government truck drivers were available to deliver relief even if any had been available.
All of this is worth keeping in mind as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas (and people around Baltimore still wonder if any effects might be felt around here.)
President Trump is now telling us, “We are as ready as anybody has ever been” for Florence. This language would be much more reassuring had this president not declared Puerto Rico, with its 3,000 dead and its 300,000 damaged homes, “an incredible, unsung success” and an “A-plus” effort by the federal government.
As he made these stunning remarks, Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas with winds somewhere north of 130 miles per hour, and FEMA officials were warning of “catastrophic flooding” and upwards of a million people have evacuated their homes for safer ground.
If, heaven forbid, the damage to the Carolinas, or anywhere else across America’s mainland, approaches Puerto Rico’s damage, we shall see if this president continues to describe an “incredible success.”
Or if Puerto Rico, out there in the distance, out there just off the coast of most Americans’ consciousness, out there with people of dark skin, might just require a different kind of “success” measurement from this president.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.