Columns, Opinion

Burke’s Bully Pulpit: Trump fumbles Puerto Rico

Late September, Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico, leaving the island without food, water or power. President Donald Trump has taken a strange approach to solving this ongoing crisis: stepping back and opening up the gates for new heroes to come to light. In a moment like this, I wonder if it will eventually be looked at as Trump’s “Hurricane Katrina moment.”

Making enemies is something that seems to come naturally to Trump. This situation is proving to be no different, and it is downright absurd to watch. Putting aside the human aspect of this tragedy, take into consideration the political headway that could have been made.

Trump could have, for lack of a better word, “used” this devastating natural disaster to seem more human and likeable to the public. A proper response by the government would have led to an uptick in support for the administration. The support that Puerto Rico currently needs was given to Florida and Texas almost immediately, while reports of the Federal Emergency Management Agency underutilizing their workforce are rolling in.

The American public is starting to take notice of the lack of response to the island. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s approval rating is now at a low of 37.8 percent. As sad as it is, political ratings depend on responses to national tragedies. This time around, Trump really squandered his opportunity for the public to gain some faith in his administration. I guess our president would rather tweet about how good he is at something than actually show us. It is a weird world we live in.

Instead of showing the citizens of both the United States and Puerto Rico a speedy and helpful response to the disaster, Trump decided to attack the mayor of San Juan on Twitter. At this point, we can all agree that the president needs to get off Twitter, or else he’ll keep creating problems where there aren’t any. The most ironic thing about this latest Twitter barrage is the fact that Trump is using a medium that requires internet and electricity to tell the people of Puerto Rico how the response is going.

In addition to the Twitter attacks, mentioning Puerto Rico’s debt crisis does nothing to help the situation. When I saw Trump talking about how this recovery effort is affecting the budget, I cringed and shook my head. I originally went into this administration with an open mind — I always look at two sides of an issue, because I think it opens the door for new, fresh ideas. Lately, I feel like I know exactly what I am going to get from this administration, and the results are usually frustrating.

By almost blatantly lying about the recovery efforts, Trump has allowed a few new heroes to come to light. The first one is San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Her politics do not matter. What matters is the fact that she has been seen wading through flood waters to get to families that need help. She is taking matters into her own hands and helping wherever she can. Cruz said she wanted to keep politics out of a situation that desperately did not need it. I look at her as a real hero because I couldn’t picture any of my local leaders really getting their hands dirty for people beyond just the photo opportunity.

The other hero that may emerge in the coming weeks is Elon Musk. In a great use of Twitter, Musk responded to someone asking about the possibility of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid. He showed interest, and the governor of the territory, Ricardo Rossello, now wants to talk. If Musk were to rebuild the power grid with a private company and not the U.S. government, it would be a huge slap in the face to the Trump administration. But at this point, the people of that island need all the help they can get. Musk once sat on some of the president’s advisory boards, but left after the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords.

The popularity of these two people in the eyes of the everyday American is sure to be much higher than the popularity of the leader of our nation. It is strange to say, but millions of people who looked to the United States for help are now starting to look elsewhere. It is clear that FEMA and the Trump administration are not going to be there to answer Puerto Rican prayers. Trump should be ashamed of the way that this has been handled so far. The least he could do is to make sure that efforts are increased.

In short, American citizens are dying, suffering and losing everything they have ever had, while our president is seemingly treating it like a joke. Out of all the decisions that Trump has had to make so far, this may be his worst.


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