President Trump sent the mainstream media into a tizzy Tuesday when, in complimenting officials on the response, he compared the storm to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Every death is a horror,” the president said. “But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this. What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
“What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
“Where to begin?” Chris Cillizza snorted at CNN.com. “How about suggesting that what happened in Puerto Rico – an entire island devastated, huge swaths without power, food and water in short supply – wasn’t a ‘real’ catastrophe because not that many people died? Or what about using death count as a talking point?”
The death count is the talking point. It is the difference between a storm that will require a massive rebuilding effort and a storm whose name parents won’t give their children for decades. Double figures – the estimate went up to 34 shortly after Trump left the island – does not compare to the more than 1,800 who died in Katrina.
New Orleans never fully recovered. It is not even the biggest city in Louisiana anymore – Baton Rouge is.
He then lectures Trump that “‘proud’ is not the right word for how people should – or do – feel. It’s not even close.” Why not? Puerto Rico is 1,200 miles offshore. The Cajun Navy could not come to the rescue. The island’s infrastructure was in tatters before the storm – brought low by corruption and mismanagement on the part of its famously incompetent government.
The Trump administration had ships headed toward the island before the storm even hit. These were the amphibious carriers, large ships with flight decks that can land and dispatch heavy-lift helicopters and big decks below that can carry more than 150 tons of food, water and supplies. They have hospitals on board and were treating patients soon after the storm departed.
The rest of the article degenerated into an attack on Trump’s alleged lack of empathy. Telling those leading the response they should be proud of what they accomplished actually was “the opposite of empathy,” Cillizza wrote.
“Trump is using those who lost their lives as a way to make a broader argument that the media’s criticism of him is unfair and biased. See, I told you I was doing a great job, Trump was saying. Everyone here thinks so! Me, me, me, me.”
There was more, Cillizza wrote, to confirm that Trump “lacks the empathy gene.” Trump said Puerto Rico had great weather “but every once in a while you get hit. And you really got hit.” This is true and unobjectionable if you are not looking for empathy gene violations.
Cillizza said Trump knew “the big question today in Puerto Rico was whether he could show some actual empathy, some human kindness to people he didn’t know but who were still his constituents. And even knowing that, Trump delivered a navel-gazing, self-championing, victimhood-seeking speech that reeked of tone-deafness and out-of-touch-ism.”
There’s some tone-deafness and out-of-touch-ism involved here. But it’s not coming from the president.