Scott Brinton

Trump is sitting pretty while Puerto Rico suffers


I had planned to write about heart disease in this column. That can wait.

Over the weekend, I grew increasingly angry with President Trump because of his inept — and, frankly, inane — response to the massive humanitarian crisis that is Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which leveled the Caribbean island on Sept. 19.

At press time, CNN, which has a team of its top correspondents on the ground there, was reporting that 95 percent of Puerto Ricans were without electricity, 89 percent were without cellular service and 50 percent were without clean drinking water.

Trump’s gut reaction? Attack the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, because she dared to hold a news conference to “beg” for more federal aid on behalf of her people. My goodness, I thought, does the president have no sense of compassion, no sense of shame?

People are starving — through no fault of their own — and he cannot stomach the idea that the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital would take to the airwaves to speak up and out. In short, she was doing her job.

Don’t ask me who Eric Boehlert is, but he was so right when he commented in a Twitter post, “Katrina was a logistical failure. Puerto Rico is a moral failure.”

Have we, as a nation, devolved to the point where we feel no sense of outrage at the president’s incompetent response to one of the worst natural disasters to befall American citizens — and, yes, Puerto Ricans are American citizens — in our history?

Remember how furious we were in 2005, when President George W. Bush continued his “long-planned” vacation at his 1,600-acre Texas ranch while Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, and then flew over the storm-ravaged landscape in Air Force One, rather than put his boots on the ground there? People of all political stripes were angry. The optics were horrible for Bush, but his reasoning made a modicum of sense: landing the president in the disaster zone would have drawn precious first-responder resources away from the crisis at hand.

In what way, shape or form did it make sense for Trump to attack Cruz? Or, moreover, her people? What did she say or do that was so terrible that Trump would lambaste her in the Twittersphere as he did?

Once again, we saw the president divide along political lines, when he should have united people behind the common cause of providing aid to our neediest citizens. Rather than attempt to squelch Cruz’s voice, he should have amplified it — and in doing so, apply maximum pressure to federal officials to accelerate their response to this crisis before people start to die of starvation and illness.

That was what President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did in Hurricane Sandy’s wake, when they shed their partisan stripes and embraced in a show of unity, signaling to all of America that people would come before politics. Obama and Christie were — and are — fierce political rivals, but when it came time to lead after a monumental crisis, they stepped up and rose above the fray.

Trump is so mired in political double-speak that he can’t see beyond petty partisanship. In rapid-fire succession, three major hurricanes struck the U.S. — yes, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. — and the president had the audacity to spend three straight weekends luxuriating at his tony New Jersey golf resort, feasting on five-star cuisine and (possibly, probably) playing golf. That is not leadership!

Trump is the modern version of Marie Antoinette. He is so caught up in his own richly appointed bubble that he cannot see that people are suffering — let alone understand their pain. For him, it appears, a visit to one of the hurricane zones is a photo op.

On his first visit to Texas, he kept first responders and victims at arm’s length. No, scratch that. He kept them much farther away than that, standing alone on a stage with a microphone, proclaiming how wonderfully the federal government was responding to the disaster while wearing a USA baseball cap emblazoned with the number 45. (He’s the 45th president.) He happens to be selling the caps for $40 each as an ongoing political fundraiser. Meanwhile, Melania Trump strangely wore a cap with FLOTUS across the front to remind us that she is, in fact, the first lady.

Cruz demonstrated real leadership when she grabbed a bullhorn and waded into waist-deep, “sewage-tinged” water, calling to her people in search of survivors. She demonstrated real leadership when she spent hours boxing donated meals to be sent to people who can’t work anymore, and thus have no money to buy food.

It is a terrible thing to be rendered helpless by nature. I know. I was a victim of Hurricane Sandy. We should all pray for our brothers and sisters crippled by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Better yet, we should give what we can.

Scott Brinton is the Herald Community Newspapers’ executive editor and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments about this column?