Puerto Rico: Could Hurricane Maria Become ‘Trump’s Katrina?’
In the six days since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, President Trump has made a lot of news. He updated his controversial travel ban, elevated his war of words with Kim Jong-Un, sparked a firestorm of controversy with NBA and NFL players on Twitter, failed to repeal Obamacare, and faced reports that his staffers (including Ivanka and Jared Kushner) used personal email accounts. Yet he has not drummed up many headlines about one of the biggest stories at all: the 3 million Americans who are currently stranded without electricity on an island in the Atlantic.
On Tuesday, the president announced that he will travel to Puerto Rico next Tuesday, Oct. 3, to view the island’s devastation. That day, says the Trump Administration, is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery and relief. In the meantime, FEMA, the National Guard, and other aid organizations are collaborating to provide relief. Yet despite these efforts, Puerto Rico’s governor warns that the situation could soon become a humanitarian crisis.
If Twitter is any indication of the president’s focus, Puerto Rico does not appear to be his central concern. When, on Monday, he referenced the situation on the island, he started by pointing out its financial problems, rather than the plight of its inhabitants. Since the storm made landfall on the island, President Trump has tweeted about it five times. By comparison, he has tweeted about the U.S. flag, anthem, and professional athletes more than 20 times.
Now, a week after Hurricane Maria hit, some observers are starting to wonder if the administration is mishandling the storm—and indeed, whether it could become Trump’s equivalent of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that became a focal point for criticism of George W. Bush’s presidency in 2005. As Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democratic Puerto Rican from New York warned Trump on Tuesday: “If you don’t take this crisis seriously this is going to be your Katrina.”
Trump’s take is that he was not preoccupied with the NFL last weekend, and that he has “‘plenty of time’ on his hands, adding that all he does is work,” reports the Associated Press. But given reports that the president frequently fuels controversy to distract from issues that plague and concern him, it seems possible that he used the NFL and national anthem frenzy to obscure other issues. He has embraced distraction in the past by tweeting about divisive stories he saw on Fox News—and even playing into the ‘covfefe’ meme. Intentional or not, he uses distraction so skillfully that people don’t even realize they are missing something until it bubbles up again later.
For example, until now, this story neglected to mention that it was also revealed last week that the administration is feeling the heat from Robert Mueller’s rapidly progressing Russia investigation—another issue the president would like to go away.
As helpful as distraction can be for the administration, the danger it poses to those who rely on the president’s attention and decisiveness cannot be overstated. If all goes according to plan, the president will arrive in Puerto Rico 13 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. By then, what will be left?