That’s mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz pictured above, who on Wednesday was wading chest-high through flooded sections of San Juan carrying a bullhorn while looking for victims. The optics of the picture are remarkable picture because it was taken almost a week after Hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. It also demonstrates what a tough and left San Juan in ruin, but it’s also a magnificent testimony to what leadership is supposed to look like.
You’re not seeing much leadership in Washington. The response by the Administration and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) to the dire situation has been tepid at best, and outright indifferent at worst. While the island isn’t as easily accessible as say, Florida or Texas, the United States still stands as the most powerful country to have existed, so surely to goodness if you’ve landed astronauts on a giant rock 300,000 miles away, you can also muster up the resources to send in some ships to an island off your right coast.
Cruz took to the airways Friday night on CNN, where she begged for help. “I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying,” said Cruz.
Then Cruz started taking her digs at the Trump Administration. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
Well guess who was Tweeting this morning? Yup:
There’s no way of spinning it. Trump’s tweet was dripping with rage towards a (very popular) female politician, who just so happens to be a Democrat, and perhaps worst of all, an hispanic.
So the President “goes there” yet again. Hillary Clinton, another accomplished poli, is a “nasty woman.” An African American football player protesting police brutality? You’re a “son of a bitch.” And who can mistake the obvious tinge of racism, accusing residents of “wanting everything to be done for them.”
It’s classic Trump-ism. Criticized by someone directly, heaven forbid this time a woman from a racial minority, he reaches for his phone and rages to the base. It’s a much a release for him as it is consumption for the folks who worship him.
In the spring of 2007, I visited New Orleans which at that time, was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded a good part of neighbourhoods who were so unfortunate as to be under the level of Lake Pontchartain, which sits directly north. Actually, the flooding mainly affected the lowest sections of the city, both literally and socially. No section was more devastated than the 9th ward, which at more than 10 feet under lake level, was essentially washed away.
Although I’d arrived some 18 months after the storm, you might be fooled into thinking it had happened the week previous. One very sunny afternoon I decided to take a stroll, by myself, through the 9th. The ward appeared as though an atom bomb had been dropped, with entire streets marked by concrete pads from which houses once stood. Dotted here and there were houses that managed to stay standing, but most had been abandoned. The big red numbers spray painted on the front indicating the number of human bodies that were found inside, were still painfully visible.
What happened to New Orleans wasn’t only an indictment of the sad state of affairs within the then George W. Bush Administration, with unqualified cronies like Micheal Brown running the rescue show. It was an indictment of the indifference response in America to devastated communities. The people who had their homes swept away, poor, mainly African American, were simply forgotten. Many were bussed to Texas, where they became somebody else’s problem.
The mistakes, the bumbling and the institutional prejudices which left 10s of thousands holding the bag in The Big Easy was one of the great American scandals of the 2000s. A kind of event so traumatic to a region that you’d have thought “never again.”
10 years later, we find ourselves right back in that place with the situation in Puerto Rico, which was devastated last week by Hurricane Maria. The night after Maria hit, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was giving her assessment of the situation which ought to have raised a million red flags of concern in Washington:
The response from the Trump Administration however, was indifference (at best) and outright hostility (at worst). Response to providing relief to the island has been pathetically slow, marked by squabbles over implementing the Jones Act, an old, archaic, utterly out of date piece of legislation that has little meaningful relation to disaster relief. And yet, that’s the hill President Trump and his party in Congress decided to defend – the Jones Act, instead of sending in badly needed humanitarian supplies.
And so more than a week on from Maria, 97% of the island sits stranded without electricity, and at least half the population has little or no access to fresh water. You might expect this kind of response from a 3rd world nation, not by the United States.
But then, there’s nothing really normal about America right now, is there?