Bul­letin from Abroad

Rachel Mor­ris in Wash­ing­ton DC

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - New Zealan­der Rachel Mor­ris is ex­ec­u­tive editor of Huff­in­g­ton Post High­line.

It’s of­ten said that the ­turn­ing point for Ge­orge W Bush, the mo­ment when his ­Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s feck­less­ness fi­nally caught up with him and pub­lic opin­ion truly be­gan to cur­dle, was after Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina hit.

By that point in 2005, his ­Ad­min­is­tra­tion had weath­ered plenty of con­tro­ver­sies and ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­man­age­ment, not least in Iraq. But the images of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens en­dur­ing ­ap­palling con­di­tions in the Louisiana ­Su­per­dome or paint­ing des­per­ate pleas for res­cue on their roofs shocked the coun­try. So did the botched emer­gency re­sponse and Bush’s de­ci­sion to view the dev­as­ta­tion in New Or­leans through the win­dow of Air Force One. He never ­re­cov­ered from it.

But that was in the quaint era when so-called po­lit­i­cal grav­ity meant ac­tions had con­se­quences: politi­cians who screwed up badly enough would even­tu­ally pay the price.

But Donald J Trump – the man who was caught on tape boast­ing of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women one month be­fore be­ing elected pres­i­dent – has nuked that as­sump­tion so many times that it’s be­come im­pos­si­ble to spec­u­late on the con­se­quences of any­thing.

By any standard, the un­fold­ing catas­tro­phe in Puerto Rico should be Trump’s Ka­t­rina. Since it was hit by Hur­ri­cane Maria on Septem­ber 20, the small US ter­ri­tory has been in a state of cri­sis, with­out safe drink­ing wa­ter or elec­tric­ity. Cholera is on the rise and thou­sands of res­i­dents are still un­ac­counted for.

Trump spent the first week­end after the storm rage-tweet­ing at foot­ball play­ers for kneel­ing dur­ing the pre-game na­tional an­them. He didn’t hold one meet­ing about the dis­as­ter re­sponse – in fact, it took him five days to pub­licly ac­knowl­edge the sit­u­a­tion.

Since then, he has al­ter­nated be­tween blam­ing Puerto Ri­cans for want­ing “ev­ery­thing to be done for them” and claim­ing that it is too dif­fi­cult for the most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary na­tion in his­tory to mount a res­cue ef­fort be­cause Puerto Rico is an is­land sur­rounded by “big wa­ter, ocean wa­ter”. It took him a week to waive a re­stric­tion that was pre­vent­ing boats from de­liv­er­ing aid to the is­land, ex­plain­ing that the waiver was op­posed by “a lot of peo­ple that work in the ship­ping in­dus­try”.

As con­di­tions on the is­land wors­ened, Trump spent the next week­end play­ing golf, though he did ded­i­cate the tro­phy to hur­ri­cane vic­tims.

In a sense, the 45th Pres­i­dent has cre­ated his own law of physics: if you make mul­ti­ple messes, they don’t mag­nify each other; they can­cel them­selves out. After Ka­t­rina hit New Or­leans, it was on tele­vi­sion 24/7. You couldn’t look away from scenes of suf­fer­ing so ex­treme that it was hard to be­lieve they were oc­cur­ring in the rich­est na­tion on Earth.

One rea­son Amer­i­cans are not more hor­ri­fied by Puerto Rico’s plight is that the news has been dom­i­nated by the wave of protests by foot­ball play­ers (fu­elled by Trump’s ­tweet­storms) and es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with North Korea (ditto). And that was be­fore a man named Stephen Pad­dock opened fire on hun­dreds of peo­ple in Las Vegas.

All of this ex­plains why it felt so strange when Trump’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary, Tom Price, re­signed last week. He had spent more than US$1 mil­lion in pub­lic money us­ing pri­vate and mil­i­tary jets for of­fi­cial busi­ness (most cab­i­net sec­re­taries fly ­com­mer­cial and sit in econ­omy).

A res­ig­na­tion was ex­pected. But Trump’s Trea­sury Sec­re­tary re­quested a $25,000-an-hour gov­ern­ment jet to use for his hon­ey­moon, and the Trumps have al­ready ex­hausted the Se­cret Ser­vice’s an­nual bud­get with trips to his var­i­ous ­prop­er­ties and other pri­vate busi­ness, so Price’s de­par­ture was hardly a given. Still, the idea – even if it was only mo­men­tary – that grav­ity might still ex­ist was ex­tremely com­fort­ing.

As con­di­tions on Puerto Rico wors­ened, Trump spent the week­end play­ing golf.

“Don’t feel guilty. Se­ri­ously, when was the

last time you bought a pair of shoes?”

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