We are seeing the beginning of a concerted attempt to turn the crisis in Puerto Rico into “Trump’s Katrina.” And, as T. Becket Adams points out, those responsible aren’t even being subtle about it. All of a sudden, we have new talking points: Trump is ignoring Puerto Rico! Trump hates brown people! Trump doesn’t even know that Puerto Ricans are Americans!
This is unfair. Indeed, when pushed, the critique seems more to be that Trump isn’t tweeting about Puerto Rico (and then, when he does tweet, that he shouldn’t be tweeting, or that he should tweet differently, or that the timing of his tweets was wrong, or that he shouldn’t push back on Twitter against the idea that he doesn’t care about the island). But tweeting does not a rescue operation make, and until about five minutes ago, everyone in America seemed to know that. Without question, the administration will make mistakes. That is the nature of government. Thus far, however, there is no evidence that those mistakes will be the product of arrogance, of neglect, or of racism against the non-white. Here’s a transcript of an interview with Puerto Rico’s governor that ran on PBS last night:
JOHN YANG: Governor, are you getting all the aid you need or getting it fast enough from the states?
GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: First of all, we are very grateful for the administration. They have responded quickly.
The president has been very attentive to the situation, personally calling me several times. FEMA and the FEMA director have been here in Puerto Rico twice. As a matter of fact, they were here with us today, making sure that all the resources in FEMA were working in conjunction with the central government.
We have been working together. We have been getting results. The magnitude of this catastrophe is enormous. This is going to take a lot of help, a lot of collaboration. So, my call is to congressmen and congresswomen to take action quickly and conclusively with an aid package for Puerto Rico.
This morning, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, echoed Rossello’s sentiments. As NBC reports, Cruz called into CNN to share “harrowing details of rescue efforts in her city,” and to “[praise] the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ‘great job’ and ‘logistics help.’”
Meanwhile, FEMA is running a live-stream of its activities on Twitter. Among the work being documented: “10k+ federal staff are on the ground in PR/USVI assisting with search & rescue, restoring power, & moving commodities”; “86 generators in PR & St. Thomas with 186+”; “@USCG continues hurricane #Maria response with 13 cutters, 10 aircraft, partners @fema @USNavy @prffa”; “today, 2,500+ National Guard members are responding in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to support relief efforts.” Etc. etc. This ain’t neglect.
Moreover, the quality of the response thus far does not seem to have been an accident. On Saturday, Politico reported that the governor was impressed by the federal government’s planning, which was unusually robust:
Rossello and other officials praised the federal government for planning its response in detail before the storm hit, a contrast with what Puerto Rico has long seen as the neglect of 3.4 million Americans living in a territory without a vote in Congress or the electoral college.
“This is the first time we get this type of federal coordination,” said Resident Commission Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Washington.
None of this is to say that Congress can afford to sit on its hands. Nor is it to say that all is fine and dandy in Puerto Rico. It’s not, and it won’t be for a while. It is, however, to throw some much-needed cold water on one of the most blatant and most mendacious narrative-building attempts I have seen in recent years. President Trump has many flaws. But he is not ignoring Puerto Rico.