Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Our leader, devoid of human sympathy


For days, President Trump has been publicly congratulating himself for his administration's response to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico.

"We have done an incredible job considering there's absolutely nothing to work with," he told us just yesterday. "We have done a really good job."

“The loss of life, it's always tragic," he said on another occasion. "But it's been incredible, the results that we've had with respect to loss of life. People can't believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.”

To Puerto Rico officials actually on the ground, dealing with the situation, things look decidedly more grim. They have been warning that their island has been totally devastated, that people are dying every day, that food and clean water is scarce, that hospitals still have no power and that roads to deliver aid to outlying areas are impassable. The official death toll is at 16, but that's only because officials stopped counting on Tuesday because they have more important things to do.

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do,” the mayor of San Juan said Friday. “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

So this morning, from his golf course in New Jersey, our president responded:

It is possible that there is truth in both perspectives.  Ten days after Hurricane Maria hit, the federal government may now be responding with everything it can, and the people in Puerto Rico may remain in desperate conditions anyway. Both things can be true.

However, it's also pretty clear that, given a week's warning from meteorologists, Washington did not use that time to fully prepare for Maria's aftermath, and did not immediately launch a rescue effort of sufficient scale.

“The Navy and Air Force could have been there Sunday,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the man who finally got our response to Hurricane Katrina back on track, said Thursday. “Could have opened the port, could have opened the air field. Why the hell has it taken this long to do that? That is what we do in the military.”

“There’s something missing in the decision-making process,” Honoré said. “[The cabinet should’ve] come up with a course of action and [called] the president off the damn golf course.”

The comparisons with our response to a disastrous earthquake in Haiti back in 2010 are also instructive.

Earthquakes, unlike hurricanes, give no warning. Yet within a week of the Haiti quake, we had 17 ships, including a supply-laden aircraft carrier, 48 helicopters and 10,000 military personnel on site. Within two weeks, the numbers had grown to 33 ships, 22,000 troops and more than 300 military helicopters to ferry supplies to areas cut off from the grid. We have not even approached those numbers in Puerto Rico.

However, if logistical issues are complicated and difficult to accurately assess in the midst of a disaster, other things are pretty damn simple. When 3.4 million of your own people are in desperate straits, begging for your help and warning that lives hang in the balance, what kind of person launches a racism-tinged public attack and accuses them of a petty political conspiracy?

I mean, who does that? What kind of blighted soul, devoid of human sympathy, could even conceive of responding in that cruel fashion? It's just unbelievable.

By the way, see the woman below with a bullhorn? She's the mayor of San Juan, whom Trump accuses of not working hard enough for her own people. She has been living in a shelter since her own home was destroyed in the storm:


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.