With Puerto Rico in a worsening humanitarian crisis, President Donald Trump continues to hold the U.S. territory’s debt over its head.
It is difficult to fathom just how irresponsible and entirely beside the point Puerto Rico’s debt is when it comes to its current situation. Puerto Ricans are Americans, just like the people in parts of Texas and Florida that the government is helping after two other major hurricanes this season.
Yet on Friday, Trump doubled down on holding disaster aid hostage to the U.S. territory’s debts, which total about $70 billion..
“Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort, [which] will end up being the biggest ever, will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” Trump said in a speech on Friday.
The fact that Puerto Rico is an island is, in the eyes of Trump, Puerto Rico’s fault.
Trump also observed the Puerto Rico is an island and that this geography therefore makes recovery difficult. Trump’s comments have consistently painted Puerto Rico as a foreign place with foreign people, rather than a home to more Americans than about 20 fully-fledged states.
The president also seemed to be comfortable putting the shipping industry’s interests first. He was slow to suspend the Jones Act, which mandates that anything shipped to Puerto Rico be on U.S. owned and operated vessels. This makes shipping between the U.S. and Puerto Rico very expensive, which raises the costs of goods for island residents.
Trump wasn’t exactly secretive about this, saying on Wednesday: “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”
“This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” — President Trump, on Puerto Rico
— Matt Viser (@mviser) September 29, 2017
As Americans have begun to fully realize the depth of the devastation in Puerto Rico, the Trump administration has been coming under greater pressure to act. Comparisons have already been made to George W. Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
Trump, naturally, hasn’t taken that well. His response so far has bounced between criticizing Puerto Rico and blatantly lying about how his response has been perceived in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s governor has tried to set the record straight on that, but Trump supporters are likely only to have heard the president’s claims. The websites of Drudge Report, Breitbart, Infowars, and Fox News barely had a mention of Puerto Rico as of Friday midday.
Puerto Rico is devastated. Phone system, electric grid many roads, gone. FEMA and First Responders are amazing. Governor said “great job!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 29, 2017
Trump is correct in stating that Puerto Rico has a problem with its debt. It’s a problem that has been around for years and has only gotten worse. It’s electric utility company is in a particularly tough spot, having owed $9 billion before the storm hit.
The notion, however, that the island’s debt has anything to do with what the government should be doing to help Puerto Ricans in need is the kind of double standard that has added fuel to a growing fire — that Trump is a racist whose true colors are starting to show.
His handling of the recent NFL controversy has particularly stood out, most notably when he said that owners were afraid of their players.
Trump says the white owners of the NFL are “afraid” of its black players.
That’s not “racist dog-whistling.”
It’s a “racist public rant.”
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) September 28, 2017
This is classic Trump. Admitting that he and his administration have bungled the response to the Puerto Rico crises would be to show weakness. Instead, Trump is embracing his go to move of whataboutism. What about Puerto Rico’s debt? What about it’s infrastructure? What about the fact that it’s an island? What about the fact that it’s name isn’t even in English?
Meanwhile, aid to Puerto Rico is still stuck on docks, unable to get to the people who sorely need it. There’s no “big water” stopping it. Just a pitiful lack of effective disaster relief coordination.
That’s not the main issue for Trump, though. He wants Puerto Rico to show him the money.