Editorial: Playing games with Puerto Rico

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In another morning burst of tweets with no clear purpose other than to fill Americans with palpable existential dread, President Donald Trump signaled Thursday he may just give up on this whole Puerto Rico thing.

“Electric and infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes,” Trump said in his tweets, “Congress to decide how much to spend…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

To put this in context, the self-proclaimed billionaire president of one of the richest countries in the world is threating to pull disaster relief funds from an American territory that just recently faced what some have called the most devastating storm in a century. It is no longer shocking coming from Trump, who has oozed ambivalence since the hurricane struck. The president seems to believe he can leave millions of individuals relying on the federal government’s assistance in limbo based solely on budgetary concerns.

Such action could have a ruthless impact on the citizens of the island. As of today, the official death toll in Puerto Rico stands at 45. The New York Times reports that hospitals are in disorder throughout Puerto Rico, running “low on medicine and high on patients.” Equally discouraging, the percentage of Puerto Ricans without electricity is rising rather than declining. According to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Tuesday nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico had no power, up from 84 percent on Monday. Because of the blackout, 40 percent of the island is without running water.

It’s clear that Puerto Rico is depending on the federal government’s help. While Trump’s administration isn’t doing nothing, it stands that what it may be doing isn’t enough. Robert P. Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response, told The New York Times the island’s situation is so dire that no amount of help would be too much.

“The devastation I saw, I thought was equivalent to a nuclear detonation,” Kadlec said. “Whatever you do, will be almost insufficient to the demand and need that is out there for these 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico. We are doing everything we can with what we have, and we have a lot.’’

Despite this, the president is doing the opposite of what needs to be done to make sure relief efforts measure up. He’s suggesting we give up. While outrageous, it’s expected coming from Trump, whose slow disaster response, lack of compassion and tweets tinged in racism have overshadowed the devastation Puerto Ricans are living with every day.

In a series of tweets two weeks ago, Trump suggested that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” reviving a racist stereotype concerning individuals of Hispanic descent.

Likewise, during the president’s visit to the island last week, Trump was presumably striving to create a political disaster of equal likeness to the natural disaster. The president told Puerto Ricans they should be “very proud” that their death toll, at the time, was only 16 compared to a “real catastrophe like Katrina.” He then appealed to fiscal concerns, stating that the island had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.” To cap off his unfortunate appearance, Trump lobbed paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Rican citizens, further degrading a group of individuals the president has yet to express any genuine humanity toward.

Having already established the budget as a potential scapegoat, it appears Trump is eager to pursue the excuse in order to wiggle out of a disaster made worse by his administration’s indifference. Predictably, it appears that Puerto Rico has become another pawn in Trump’s political game, and the president seems all too willing to sacrifice it for his own personal benefit.

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