It seems inexplicable. What the hell is he thinking?
The situation in Puerto Rico is desperate and getting worse. Recent reports are amplified by even newer reports. Water is among the most basic of human needs. The need for water in that American island is harsh. The obstacle remains a relief effort that is hamstrung by red tape and Washington hesitation. Officials in our nation’s capital are not sure how energetic they are supposed to be. What level of empathy will get them in trouble with the boss?
There is plenty of water sitting, and sitting, and taking up place on the docks of Puerto Rican harbors, next to food and medical supplies. Distribution is held up from Washington. It is not getting inland to those who need it. Those fighting to remain alive are reportedly breaking into hazardous waste sites to get to contaminated water.
One contrast has not gone unnoticed by those who comment on the internet.
TEXAS: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover, and REBUILD! pic.twitter.com/p1Fh8jmmFA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 2, 2017
…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
The temptation for those of us who look for the best in others is to write too much off to the clumsy ineptitude of a child raised in a bubble of inherited wealth.
Empathy comes more easily to some who graduate from that bubble. John F. Kennedy was shocked and saddened by what he encountered among the working poor of West Virginia. Robert F. Kennedy was shocked and outraged by the poverty he saw in Mississippi.
But some never do graduate.
On a golf course in New Jersey:
On behalf of all of the people of Texas, and all of the people of — if you look today and see what is happening, how horrible it is but we have it under really great control — Puerto Rico and the people of Florida who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes, I want to just remember them.
And we’re going to dedicate this trophy to all of those people that went through so much that we love — a part of our great state, really part of our great nation.
– President Trump, October 1, 2017
A certain awkwardness is easy to understand when it is not endlessly repetitive. Still, the repetition is itself uneven. In Texas, the President wishes those who escaped drowning to have a good day. Americans in Puerto Rico are lectured about being a burden on the national budget.
It was jarring, but not especially surprising, to see our national leader throwing paper towels into a Puerto Rican crowd. The similarity to fish thrown to dolphins at Sea World had to have been unintentional. We do not expect our President to throw anything to weary survivors who lost everything but life itself to California fires. Some things are simply not done on the mainland.
It is implausible, but not entirely unthinkable, that lack of Presidential concern comes only from ignorance. The ignorance is documented. As children we used to joke about lack of basic knowledge. “Want to see a Hawaiian dollar?”
When President Kennedy was still Senator Kennedy, campaigning in 1960, he was targeted as a Catholic. “Everyone knew” that the Catholic church did not believe in religious freedom. So Kennedy emphasized his belief in church-state separation. When he heard that a bishop in Puerto Rico had ordered all Catholics to vote for Kennedy, he hoped it would not cost him the election. He speculated that most Americans might not realize Puerto Rico was part of the United States.
Today we see this variation from my President:
I will tell you I left Texas and I left Florida and I left Louisiana and I went to Puerto Rico and I met with the President of the Virgin Islands.
Presumably, some brave and daring aide later informed him that he met the President of the Virgin Islands every time he went to the restroom and washed his hands in front of the mirror. Does he even realize Puerto Rico is part of the United States? If he knows, does he think it ought to be?
We have seen other examples of mixed geography. The President of the United States has the international knowledge of a stereotypical loudmouth occupying a corner stool at a local bar. He stands before representatives of African nations and compliments a country that does not exist:
To be joined by the leaders of Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Nambia … Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.
If only Americans could visit Nambia and learn more about its medical self-sufficiency.
If he has the intelligence of which he boasts, then his ignorance is willful, borne of laziness.
Childhood insularity and ignorance are only the more innocent possibilities.
Those brought to this country as infants, who were raise in the United States as Americans, educated in America, knowing no other country, are now faced with removal, as if they do not belong here. That they do not belong seems to be at the core of my President’s regard for them.
You know what I want? I want dreamers to come from this country … I want dreamers to come from the United States … We’re always talking about dreamers for other people.
Donald Trump, February 15, 2016
Is this a sort of misplaced nationalism, unrelated to the pure evil of bigotry?
During the 2016 campaign, the Trump organization targeted one neighborhood for a very special rally. It was within sight of a famous attack by neighborhood tough guys against two immigrants walking home from work. One immigrant was knifed to death. Mr. Trump suggested neighborhood tough guys should get even tougher toward immigrants.
I can’t believe. I know some of the guys in this room. they’re so tough. Some of the tough guys I know.
I can’t believe you guys would allow that to happen. What the hell, are you getting soft?
They’re getting soft on me, I don’t believe this. Right?
They know what I’m talking about.
– Donald Trump, April 14, 2016
An American born in Indiana is not fit to be a judge in a fraud case against Donald Trump because his parents were born in Mexico.
The Indiana judge who was unfit because his parent had been born in Mexico had once been the head of the United Stated Drug Enforcement agency. At one time, he had gone into hiding, the target of a drug cartel he had targeted. He dodged assassins until the drug cartel died, its leadership and members in prison for life.
He’s an American hero.
I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage.
– Donald Trump, June 3, 2016
What explains the hostility toward Americans in Puerto Rico?
I imagine a Venn diagram of intersecting circles, representing overlapping possibilities.
Insularity, represented by blue, intersects with yellow, connoting ignorance. The area where the two join is green. Can a lazy sort of ignorance combined with an insular life, shielded from any regard for hardship, give us a believable reason for what we see in our President?
Red and blue overlap into a sort of Purple. Perhaps insularity simply combines with evil to explain what we observe.
Maybe insularity is not it at all. Does the Orange area, where ignorance overlaps with pure evil, represent all we need to know?
We are confronted, in our President, with proof that childish insularity (dedicate this trophy), willful ignorance (President of the Virgin Islands), and pure evil (Tough guys I know…they know what I’m talking about) are not mutually exclusive.
At the very center, where all three overlap, there are no primary or secondary colors. Only a gray sort of mixture represents an ugly possibility as life in an inherited bubble, intellectual laziness, and pure malevolence combine into an ugly, colorless core.
In the diagram called Donald Trump, other explanations fade, as that core grows. Primary colors merge into one round unity.
The relief effort in Puerto Rico has been overtaken by a Washington bureaucracy administered by one colorless, self-absorbed disc.
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