This past weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter and unleashed a barrage of unrelenting criticisms in response to San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz’s requests for increased federal aid. While allies of Trump believe that the administration has done all that is feasible in terms of aid, given Puerto Rico’s distance from the mainland United States, others have condemned the president for his dismissive attitude towards the U.S. territory. When natural disasters occur, it is only natural that we as Americans should disregard our political differences and unite behind the goal of aiding our fellow citizens no matter where they may reside. Moreover, as recently exemplified by the Trump administration’s response to Maria, however, there have clearly been instances in which the federal government’s ability to provide adequate, timely relief has been called into question.
Hurricane Katrina has largely become regarded as a national failure by the federal government in properly administering aid to a community obliterated by a natural disaster. Not only did thousands of New Orleans residents find themselves cooped up in the city’s Superdome for several days but also a disproportionate percentage of the people left in the aftermath were African Americans. People of color who are outside of the middle class are in many cases unable to pool the resources to leave the epicenter of crises and find themselves neglected by all forms of government: state, local, and federal. When they take their survival into their own hands, subsequent media coverage often broadcasts polarizing narratives. Black residents seen carrying food from grocery stores are labeled thieves while their white counterparts are portrayed more sympathetically.
A little over five years ago, Hurricane Sandy wrecked and ravaged several northeastern states, mainly New York and New Jersey. While Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, rejected Obama’s visitation, Chris Christie formed an unlikely team with Obama when the former president arrived to assess Sandy’s damage to New Jersey residents. While there was some speculation on whether Christie used the partnership to garner votes for the upcoming gubernatorial election, the decision to focus on rebuilding New Jersey was paramount in ensuring a process of gradual recovery. In contrast, Trump has maintained an air of hostility that serves no greater purpose than to divide and foster negative sentiments among the American populace during such trying times. Even governor Ricardo Rossello, a strong supporter of Trump, has reminded representatives and senators to provide the same relief that has been provided to Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims.
The current situation in Puerto Rico is the result of larger structural issues that go beyond the American territory. We need to acknowledge that systems of white supremacy allow for the disproportionate treatment against people of color pleading for their lives 1500 miles away from Washington. Just as in previous natural disasters, the long rebuilding process ahead in the aftermath of Maria’s wrath in Puerto Rico will largely be predicated on a unified political commitment by the federal government and local leaders. Moreover, as evident by his politically immature response to the tragedy, President Trump has shown yet again his inability to handle the most basic responsibility that come with being the President: caring about the people he serves.
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