A Disaster in the White House for Puerto Rico

A Disaster in the White House for Puerto Rico
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A woman in the wreckage of her home in Puerto Rico. Credit Mario Tama/Getty Images

Americans have gotten into the uneasy habit of wondering how low President Trump might go each day in his multiple tirades against those he imagines as enemies, critics and easy targets. But did he really have to pick on the storm-ravaged American citizens of Puerto Rico, of all defenseless people, and reveal such a cold-hearted lack of empathy for their plight?

Mr. Trump’s salvo of tweets on Thursday as the island struggled with devastation — suggesting people were ingrates responsible for much of their suffering — set a new low, even meaner than his usual harangues and self-aggrandizement. It called into question whether Mr. Trump grasps and accepts the responsibilities of his office when he imperiously suggested that federal emergency aid and workers could not be maintained on the island “forever.”

In his rant, Mr. Trump made it sound as if the island’s 3.4 million residents were at his executive mercy. But in fact the federal emergency process, backed by congressional funding, typically stations workers on site for years to help communities recover from natural disasters.

“‘Puerto Rico survived the hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making,’” Mr. Trump tweeted, citing and trumpeting the view of a broadcast anchor. The island’s electric grid and infrastructure were already a “disaster” before the twin hurricanes hit last month, he continued, as if trying to bargain a weak adversary down in one of his fabled deals. He alleged “a total lack of accountability” and pointedly raised the question of how much Congress will be willing to spend on recovery.

The president displayed no hard-hearted budget alert in his previous tributes and vows to persevere in behalf of earlier hurricane victims in mainland Texas and Florida. He promised to be with them “EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER” to recover and rebuild. He pledged a personal donation of $1 million for the Houston area’s recovery. The contrast with Puerto Rico, a United States territory with deep financial troubles before the storm and no vote in the presidential election, became painfully clear in Mr. Trump’s tweets.

Three weeks after the hurricanes, Puerto Rico remained devastated, with at least 45 dead, 84 percent of the island still without electricity, most cellphone towers down, and less than 10 percent of the 5,000 miles of roads open. The shortage of potable water is so severe that officials fear residents might be tapping toxic Superfund sites.

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