Natural disasters that hit some Americans automatically send out the Bat-Signal for help. The rest of the nation has always responded. That emergency response must remain available for all Americans.
Hot summers, cold winters, shifting jet streams and communities who find themselves in the way of the fires, rains and winds that have accompanied those changes have produced monster devastation in all parts of the country. Americans have been able to count on recovery help no matter how they voted or which party was in power—unless, that is, their president doesn’t see them as real Americans.
This week, disaster aid bills in the Senate crashed onto the rocks of Puerto Rico. President Trump made sure of it by telling fellow Republicans that he would not support additional aid for the island that Hurricane Maria flattened more than a year ago.
The president tweeted both a gross exaggeration and his disdain for Puerto Ricans, claiming they had received $91 billion already, “more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before.” Their leaders spend the money foolishly and want only to take from the U.S., he charged.
The tweet is wrong on two counts. The actual amount of federal aid sent to Puerto Rico so far is about $11 billion. More has been approved and not sent, but the total is nowhere near $91 billion. That amount is also less than what was provided following Hurricane Katrina.
More foul was the characterization. President Trump’s words implied that Puerto Rico is some foreign nation taking advantage of American generosity. In fact, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory 120 years ago, before Hawaii.
To add insult to injury, President Trump then tweeted that giving aid to Puerto Rico was hurting “our” farmers and states, and “with so little appreciation.”
Puerto Ricans are real American citizens, as real as the Floridians, Nebraskans and Californians who are also receiving help recovering from natural disasters. They are farmers, and they pay taxes. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory only means they pay those taxes without representation.
When catastrophes hit Americans, help from the rest of the nation should never require a “please” or “thank you.” It must not depend on a president deciding who is a real American. Help should be automatic, as it has always been.