For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who breathes, Donald Trump has thus far failed to utter or tweet a word about the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that pegs the Puerto Rico hurricane death toll at more than 4,600 — dwarfing the casualty counts from Katrina and 9/11.
On Tuesday night, hours after the report went public, he orchestrated one of his rant-rallies, this time in Nashville, and talked about country music, “fake news,” MS-13, “Crooked Hillary,” the border wall he still thinks Mexico will pay for, Jay-Z, players who kneel during the National Anthem, lousy airports, the perfidy of dying John McCain … but not a word about the ever-increasing hurricane-related deaths of fellow American citizens. Not a word about how the Harvard statisticians have trumped the official estimated death toll of 64.
And at last check this morning, he still hadn’t tweeted a word; as usual, he was fixated solely on himself. At 5:11 a.m., he thumbed this doozy: “Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!” Which was hilarious, because here’s what he said on NBC News one year ago: “I was going to fire Comey … And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, and it’s excuse by the Democrats.’ ”
The Harvard report is not definitive — another study, conducted by public health experts at George Washington University, is due soon — but surely it’s more important than Bob Iger. (He’s an ABC executive. Trump is mad at him for … whatever.) But, as we all know, Trump is cognitively incapable of taking responsibility for Puerto Rico. Harry Truman famously said that, for presidents, “the buck stops here,” but that credo has become another casualty of this dystopian era.
It’s common knowledge by now that federal preparedness for Hurricane Maria, as it neared the island, was woefully inadequate; that military assets were not fully mobilized; that Trump, in the immediate aftermath of Maria, played golf for four days; that Trump’s FEMA devoted far more resources to the devastation wrought in Houston by Hurricane Harvey, while Trump complained on Twitter that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.”
As retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who helmed the military’s relief efforts after Katrina, remarked recently, “We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world. (But in Puerto Rico) we didn’t use those assets the way they should’ve been used.” Indeed, the Harvard study reportedly echoes the volunteer nurses who’ve been working on the ground in Puerto Rico. Their largest union, National Nurse United, said this week that the study confirms what it already knew — that Puerto Ricans were “left to die,” thanks to a federal response that has “failed its own American citizens.”
The last time Trump raised his profile on Puerto Rico — roughly eight months ago — he lauded the supposedly single-digit death toll, congratulated himself for leading the federal response, and tossed paper towels to a bunch of people. This was probably his most extensive comment about the devastation: “They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels. I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun. They said, ‘Throw ’em to me! Throw ’em to me, Mr. President!’ … And also when I walked in the cheering was incredible.”
The truth about post-Maria Puerto Rico — the mounting deaths, particularly among the elderly and infirm, attributable to the loss of medical care and basic services — has been evident for months — but the truth doesn’t jibe with Trump’s delusional belief that he’s a perpetual winner.
Of course, the biggest problem for most Puerto Ricans is that they are brown people. That’s another reason why Trump has shown no interest in the Harvard report. He doesn’t care much for brown people — not just because he is a racist, but because their fellow Hispanics in America tend to vote Democratic. They don’t love him, so why should he do anything for them? His white base doesn’t care about Hispanics, so why should he? Especially now, when he’s busy conflating all immigrants with the “animals” of MS-13. (And for similar reasons, the Republicans on Capitol Hill have said virtually nothing about the Harvard report.)
What I most remember, about the storm last September, was a tweet that Trump thumbed during the worst devastation: “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!” There you have it. Brown people were in crisis, so his response was to assail dissenting black men. Why would we expect that his response to the Harvard study would be any more enlightened?
The bottom line: By failing in his responsibilities to the American citizens of Puerto Rico (assuming he even knows they’re citizens), he has shown yet again that he is manifestly unfit to hold his current job. But you knew that already.