As his response to the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico shows, Trump’s racism isn’t “just” words — it has very concrete effects:
Today, disaster recovery experts still express shock that FEMA kept Byrne in an already-stabilizing Texas and didn’t send him to Puerto Rico for three more weeks. But now, the decision strikes many as emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration. A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.
“We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world,” bemoaned retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led the military’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. “And [in Puerto Rico] we didn’t use those assets the way they should have been used.”
No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.
Behind the scenes, according to people with direct knowledge of his comments, Trump was focused less on the details of the relief effort than on public appearances, repeatedly using conference calls and meetings designed to update him on the relief effort to direct FEMA Administrator Brock Long to spend more time on television touting his agency’s progress.
In addition, Trump spent the first weekend after the Puerto Rico crisis tweeting repeatedly about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. Those messages, experts said, send a subtle, yet important signal to the federal bureaucracy.
“On Texas and Florida [during Hurricane Irma], the president was very vocal and engaged in the run-up to the storm. His messaging was frankly pretty good,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, the former top disaster response official at USAID under former President Barack Obama. “If you look at his public messaging on a comparable timeline around Puerto Rico, there’s virtually nothing. … That sends a signal to the whole federal bureaucracy about how they should prioritize.”
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