Trump tweets as hur­ri­cane vic­tims still suf­fer

Boston Herald - - OPINION - By LINDA CHAVEZ Linda Chavez is the au­thor of “An Un­likely Con­ser­va­tive: The Trans­for­ma­tion of an Ex-Lib­eral.” Talk back at let­ter­stoed­i­tor@ boston­her­ald.com.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands drowned while Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted. It is hard to con­clude oth­er­wise. On Sept. 20, Hur­ri­cane Maria — the sec­ond ma­jor hur­ri­cane in less than two weeks — hit the is­lands, which to­gether are home to some 3.5 mil­lion Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. Yet for a week fol­low­ing the dev­as­ta­tion, the pres­i­dent found it some­how more im­por­tant to fo­cus his per­sonal at­ten­tion on tweet­ing about foot­ball play­ers and the own­ers of their teams than he did on his job as com­man­der in chief.

The only pos­si­ble way to save lives and re­store or­der on the is­lands was to or­der a mas­sive de­ploy­ment of U.S. troops to help their fel­low Amer­i­cans im­me­di­ately af­ter the hur­ri­cane hit, but it took al­most a full week for that to hap­pen. Army Brig. Gen. Rich Kim did not ar­rive un­til Sept. 27 to take con­trol of some 5,000 ac­tive-duty forces op­er­at­ing on the ground and 2,500 Na­tional Guards­men, but far more troops are needed. Some ex­perts have sug­gested that 50,000 is a more re­al­is­tic num­ber.

The White House was proac­tive in both Texas and Florida when huge hur­ri­canes headed their way, earn­ing the pres­i­dent de­served credit for do­ing what he needed to help Amer­i­cans whose lives were up­ended and prop­erty was de­stroyed. But Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who live in U.S. ter­ri­tory in the Caribbean seemed to be an af­ter­thought in Trump world. When the pres­i­dent fi­nally ad­dressed the Amer­i­can peo­ple on the is­sue — a week af­ter Maria made land­fall — it was mostly to an­nounce he would head to the Caribbean for a pho­toop next week. And in­stead of re­mind­ing everyone that all Puerto Ri­cans are Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, he bragged about how many Puerto Ri­cans he knows as a na­tive of New York City — which was cringe-wor­thy, given his his­tory as a land­lord who de­clined to rent to Puerto Ri­cans (and blacks and Do­mini­cans) in the 1970s un­til forced to do so by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

This has been a bad week for the pres­i­dent and his White House — and not just on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s slow re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Maria. Trump per­son­ally man­aged to reignite a protest move­ment that had largely died down — namely, some play­ers kneel­ing rather than stand­ing for the na­tional an­them at foot­ball games — by call­ing pro­test­ers SOBs and urg­ing their em­ploy­ers to fire them. He failed to rally enough sup­port among Repub­li­cans for the Se­nate to vote on yet an­other health care re­form bill, killing re­form for this year. And Trump’s en­dorse­ment failed to sway vot­ers in Alabama, as Trump’s can­di­date lost to a for­mer judge who twice de­fied his duty to en­force the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion in his court­room.

On Wed­nes­day, the pres­i­dent tried to re­fo­cus — this time on tax re­form, which has been a long time com­ing. But given his short at­ten­tion span, he’s un­likely to keep the fo­cus there for long. I worked in Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan’s White House as di­rec­tor of pub­lic li­ai­son dur­ing the fight for tax re­form that started in 1985. I know what ra­zor fo­cus looks like; Pres­i­dent Rea­gan had it, as did every mem­ber of his team. It was every day, every week for months un­til the pres­i­dent signed the Tax Re­form Act of 1986. It in­volved hun­dreds of speeches by the pres­i­dent and mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and vis­its and calls be­tween mem­bers of Congress and the pres­i­dent, his Cabi­net and other of­fi­cials. I co­or­di­nated bring­ing groups into the White House for brief­ings with ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials — friendly groups, as well as those who were skep­ti­cal and needed con­vinc­ing. It was also a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort. I re­mem­ber fly­ing with the pres­i­dent on Ma­rine One into Rep. Dan Rostenkowski’s Chicago district (the Demo­cratic con­gress­man was chair­man of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and a spon­sor of the tax re­form bill) to mar­shal sup­port. If Pres­i­dent Trump wants tax re­form, he will need that kind of ef­fort and at­ten­tion. Par­don me for won­der­ing what the game plan is for this White House.

Amer­i­cans de­serve a pres­i­dent who can keep his mind fo­cused on im­por­tant things — such as sav­ing lives in nat­u­ral dis­as­ters by or­der­ing the num­ber of per­son­nel and ma­te­rial com­men­su­rate with the scope of the dis­as­ter, day one, not stok­ing cul­ture wars, and work­ing with Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion by get­ting on the phone, meet­ing, strate­giz­ing and com­pro­mis­ing, if nec­es­sary, not fig­ur­ing out whom to blame for fail­ing. Will Amer­ica ever get from Don­ald Trump the pres­i­dent it de­serves? He’s more than eight months into his term, and we haven’t yet.

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