Now that the GOP’s kill-Obamacare fantasy is DOA yet again, and now that Trump is hopefully in the final phase of trash-tweeting about uppity black athletes, wouldn’t it be swell if our “leaders” of all-Republican rule devoted some of their precious time to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico? Where all the beleaguered inhabitants are American citizens?
Wait, I’ll rephrase my questions: If the state of Iowa — which has fewer American citizens than Puerto Rico — had been hit by a storm that knocked out its entire power grid, plus 95 percent of its cellphone towers, plus most of its roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and its agricultural economy, would the Republican Congress have spent a week saying and doing nothing? Would Trump have stayed silent about Iowa, preferring instead to tweet out his tinpot patriotism, never bothering — not even once — to demand that Congress pass a massive aid package?
We all know what’s going on here. Yes, the people of Puerto Rico are American citizens (although I wonder whether Trump knows that), but these citizens happen to be brown people. Worse yet, they’re brown people who didn’t vote in the 2016 election, because, as denizens of a U.S. territory stuck in limbo for the past 100 years, they’re barred from voting. And they don’t have any clout in Congress, to put an aid package on the front burner or get much of anything else, because they don’t have any voting representatives in Congress.
Trump tweeted last night that “Florida & Texas are doing great” after Hurricane Irma, never mentioning, of course, that Florida and Texas have the congressional clout to garner billions of recovery bucks. Instead, with his inimitable sense of timing, he reminded everyone in a tweet — while Puerto Rico at its lowest ebb from Maria — that the economically strapped island owes lots of money “to Wall Street and the banks.”
The governor of Puerto Rico, Riccardo Rossello, said in a statement yesterday: “We are U.S. citizens … We ask the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress to take swift action to help Puerto Rico rebuild. This is a game-changer. We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America.” And on CNN, he said: “We need something tangble, a bill that actually answers to our need right now.”
Don’t hold your breath, friend. Congressional Republicans are too preoccupied at the moment with trying to resuscitate its current kill-Obamacare corpse; their top priority is to destroy voters’ health coverage, not to bail out brown people who can’t vote. And Trump is primarily concerned at the moment with the NFL’s ratings; that’s way more fun than spending money to help brown people whose lives have been devastated. And rest assured, he doesn’t think your island is America.
Nobody ever said life was fair, but it still seems awfully unjust that Puerto Rico — which has more citizens than Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming combined — has zero voting members in the Senate and House, whereas those states have eight senators and four representatives.
It seems unjust that Puerto Ricans have citizenship, U.S. passports, and the opportunity to die in combat as U.S. soldiers — but no clout in D.C. They have one spokesperson in the House (a “resident commissioner”), who’s allowed to propose bills and speak on the floor, but that’s all. It’s been that way since 1917, when the island was granted the status of a “commonwealth” after nearly 20 years as a colonial possession. Puerto Ricans have actually voted for U.S. statehood — in referenda earlier this year and in 2012 — but Congress is not legally bound to honor that wish.
And there’s no way this particular Congress would want Puerto Rico to be sewn onto the American flag. A state with 3.5 million citizens typically gets five or six House members; the odds are nil that a Republican Congress would ever agree to add five or six Hispanic congressmen, and two Hispanic senators, all of whom would caucus with the Democrats. Any Republican who’d dare endorse statehood would surely face the wrath of Trumplandia.
And so, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, the people of Puerto Rico — deprived of food, water, and shelter — will have to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Presumably they’ll get more attention in Washington now that more journalists are finally on the ground — instead of getting only one minute of air time on the five Sunday morning news shows. The sole senator who seems to be on the case is Marco Rubio, who said yesterday: “The important part is to make sure [Puerto Rico] is not forgotten. We have a fundamental obligation to a U.S. territory and American citizens to respond to a hurricane there the way we would anywhere in the country.”
Surely that will help Trump see reason … but wait! Here’s a fresh tweet from this morning:
“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!”
Dare I suggest that his priorities are a tad askew?