Editorial: Trump plays victim as Hurricane Florence hits Carolinas


Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS

President Donald Trump listens as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House Oct. 19, 2017.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

While Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas these past few days, President Trump took to Twitter to praise the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders and to retweet North Carolina emergency phone numbers. He also tweeted about Hurricane Maria — which tore through Puerto Rico one year ago — claiming that the current official death toll of 3,000 victims is a fabrication by Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible.”

Trump is treating the death toll from the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s hurricanes like a personal attack and a disputable opinion, rather than indisputable fact. Both the timing and the contents of his tweets suggest that he is inept at handling natural disasters and isn’t open to learning from past mistakes.

The “3,000 people” statistic the president references comes from a George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health study that estimated nearly 3,000 excess deaths — deaths outside of the normal mortality rate — in Puerto Rico in the 6 months following Hurricane Maria. These deaths can largely be attributed to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and, in many people’s eyes, America’s inadequate response to the storm.

Contrary to the president’s claim, the study was not a political move. Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote in a guest column for The Washington Post Saturday that the “study was carried out with no interference whatsoever from any political party or institution.”

In fact, it was the government of Puerto Rico that reached out to George Washington University to request the study — not any representatives for the Democratic party.

Trump’s unfounded attempt to blame Democrats for a problem he failed to appropriately address is characteristic and especially ill-timed. To argue over a death toll as a political tool is disrespectful and useless, but to do so in the midst of another deadly hurricane shows that his priorities lie in defending himself and not the American people.

Instead of boasting about his administration’s response to Maria, Trump should work toward allocating funds to help Puerto Rico rebuild and he should do the same thing for areas damaged by Hurricane Florence. Unfortunately, he’s already worked against aid to victims of Florence.

A budget document released last Tuesday by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley showed that at the beginning of hurricane season — which lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30 this year — the Trump administration transferred $9.8 million from FEMA to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Even in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the administration failed to use hindsight to its advantage — Maria showed that this administration needs to have a bigger, better response to natural disasters, but it has already done the exact opposite.

Trump obviously hasn’t learned from the mistakes he made following Hurricane Maria. Democrats don’t need to commission hurricane studies to make the Trump administration look bad — it’s done that all on its own.