HARTMAN: Cut El Presidente Some Slack On Puerto Rico, Todo Bien?

The United States has had a rough summer.  Hurricanes Harvey and Maria wreaked havoc on southeastern Texas, southwestern Louisiana, southern Florida, and now Puerto Rico.  Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath feel their pain – deeply and legitimately – and many have reached out to help, whether with donations of money, clothing and goods, prayers, or labor.

That’s what we do.  We’re Americans.

Puerto Rico is having a particularly hard time.  A territory of the United States with more than 3 million citizen-residents, the island was devastated by Maria.  A full assessment of damage has yet to be determined, the progress hobbled by lack of power, transportation and access.

It’s a bad scene.

Washington probably hasn’t responded as quickly as it should’ve, and there’s been chatter that President Donald Trump wasn’t quite clear on the fact that the victims and survivors are American citizens.  There’s even been noise that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the one who beseeched the White House and Pentagon to dispatch the U.S.S. Comfort, a hospital ship.

All that may be true.  As a Katrina survivor, I know the importance of rapid response.  But I also know the value of cutting the POTUS – whoever happens to hold the title at the moment – a little slack.

A few days ago, Trump sent a series of three tweets about the crisis in Puerto Rico.  In the first, he mentioned the crippled economy and staggering debt of the island’s government.  In the third, he offered comfort and pledged aid.  It is on the first, however, that his critics (of which I am often one) fixated.  Many said his mention of P.R.’s apparently poor government and weak economic structure showed a lack of compassion.  Eh.  Not so much.  What it actually showed, I think, is this president’s fixation on and experience with money (and bankruptcy, on the verge of which Puerto Rico dangles).

It is perfectly valid to mention the economy of a disaster-impacted area when calamities strike, because it speaks to the ability of said community/state/nation/territory to handle its own mess.  He didn’t phrase it well; he rarely does.  President Trump shoots from the hip, often with unintended consequences, and I think this was such an occasion.

A flood, tornado, hurricane, or any other calamity that strikes a place – and the people who occupy that place – has vast impact.  In a place with a strong economy, the impact may not be less, but the recovery may be more swift.  Contrarily, in a place that is poor, with a weak economy and already-crumbling infrastructure, the recovery will be slower – especially without the deep pockets of a large government and/or foreign aid.

I’m a frequent critic of 45, and I have no intention of stopping.  He’s not a conservative by any reasonable definition, and he doesn’t represent the Republican Party to which I’ve belonged for 27 years.  He is not, however, always wrong.  In this case, pointing out Puerto Rico’s feeble economic and fiscal situation wasn’t heartless; it was pragmatic.

Everyone should rise up to help our fellow citizens in times of distress, no matter where they are.  Calling Donald Trump wrong on this – one of his many off-the-cuff tweets – however, misses the mark.

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