As Category 4 Hurricane Florence barrels toward the eastern seaboard, Donald Trump is calling his last two major hurricane disaster relief operations each a “success”—revealing exactly how “prepared” he and his administration are for this latest potential catastrophe.
“We are as ready as anybody has ever been,” Trump said on Tuesday, in front of a map showing the projected landfall of Florence, which is expected to bring dangerous rain, wind, and flooding to the Carolinas and elsewhere beginning on Thursday. His formidable analytical powers were brought to bear on the characteristics of the impending storm, which he called “tremendously big and tremendously wet.” He went on to praise FEMA and the response of law enforcement after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which recent studies have revealed left a death toll of nearly 3,000 people. “I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it’s an island, so you just—you can’t truck things onto it. Everything is by boat. The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
On Wednesday, Trump repeated this claim, as well as praising his administration’s actions after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey on the U.S. mainland: “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan),” he tweeted, “We are ready for the big one that is coming!” The Texas Department of State Health Services found that at least 88 people died in the state because of Harvey.
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Trump’s reality distortions are often so wildly untrue as to be comical (see: his claim that Aretha Franklin once “worked for” him), but national disasters are instances in which his managerial incompetence and disregard for the most vulnerable of Americans become truly visible—and lethal. Both evacuation and recovery from events like hurricanes are harder on the poor, research shows. In Houston and its nearby cities, poorer, often historically redlined, districts in low-lying areas were disproportionately impacted by flooding, in comparison to wealthier districts with better infrastructure, according to data from ThinkProgress. The devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on the debt-plagued island of Puerto Rico are widely known, especially after the latest death toll numbers were made public. San Juan mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, called his “despicable” comments essentially baseless. “They really do not have any connection with reality,” she said. “It just shows that for him, everything is about him and political posturing. The man has no idea, he has no solidarity, no sympathy, no empathy for anything that does not make him look good. . . . He says he has done a good job when 3,000 people have died.” Underlying both disasters is the issue of climate change, which Trump’s administration continues to inhibit the American government from addressing.
On the eve of Florence’s projected landfall, Trump’s praise of FEMA is, deservedly, under scrutiny: On Tuesday, Senator Jeff Merkley shared documents that show the Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million in FEMA funds to ICE, to be used for things like building and stocking detention centers for immigrants taken into custody. And a CBS News correspondent discovered a cache of potentially millions of water bottles sitting unopened on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.
Florence will be another test for Trump’s presidential qualifications, one that he’s already failed. As American lives once again hang in the balance, it’s clear that Trump’s focus on his own imagined accomplishments is a distraction from his political incompetence, with what seems likely to be fatal results. “Trump thinks losing 3,000 lives is a success,” Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Can you imagine what he thinks failure looks like?”
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