In times of disaster, take comfort in our local seasoned leaders
No one welcomes a hurricane. But if we humans must endure calamity, it’s a nice change of pace to have one we didn’t create.
Certainly, news of the manmade disasters is still washing in. Under cover of a monster hurricane bearing down on Texas, President Donald Trump announced several controversial decisions Friday, including the pardon of Joe Arpaio, a tough-guy sheriff in Arizona who probably treated his toilet tissue with higher regard than the U.S. Constitution.
Arpaio, who had referred to his tent city jail in Maricopa County as a concentration camp, was convicted last month of criminal contempt for defying a court order to stop illegally profiling Latinos based on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally. Prominent Republicans condemned the decision, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, who noted that it undermined Trump’s “claim for the respect of rule of law.”
A hurricane doesn’t make us immune from the trouble in the world. But for a little while, it forces us to prioritize the basics we usually take for granted: survival, water supply, a dry floor.
For now, as we in the Houston region hunker down, say prayers and hope that the “major rain event” forecasted in the days ahead doesn’t send Harvey lapping anywhere close to our front doors, many of us have had a little time to reflect.
On the big things. And on the little things.
Time for board games with the kids. For movie nights with friends. For connecting with panicked out-of-town relatives who mean well with their incessant welfare checks perfectly calibrated with the latest apocalyptic cable news updates. (I’m OK, Mom!)
Many of us who have lived through hurricanes know the paradox of the natural disaster. Its power to destroy is only rivaled by its power to bring us together as people. After
Ike, neighbors helped neighbors clear debris and repair homes. We delivered water to those who needed it. We ran extension cords into the last house on the block waiting for the lights to come back on.
The other night, a friend was recounting how Ike forever changed the way she treats the folks who work at Walgreens. She used to get impatient sometimes waiting in line at the pharmacy. Not anymore. She remembers how employees showed up to work when few places were open. She learned to put her own need for a nonessential zit cream in perspective. Seeking comfort
In a disaster, we bond over our common experience, which, as I have learned this past week, includes a primal need for exotic junk food the likes of which my pantry has never seen. Somehow, gum drops and cherry pie made into my shopping cart alongside the pile of D batteries that fit no device in my house in particular.
When I vented about the impulse buys on Twitter, others commiserated on their weird purchases: candy corn, pizza-flavored Cheez-Its, pork rinds. Then there was the guy who said he bought cat litter even though he didn’t have a cat. He thought maybe it would suffice as a sand bag.
Comfort. We’re seeking comfort amid this panic and uncertainty, wherever we can find it.
In the past few days, I have found it in a source more unlikely than gum drops: politicians. At least, the local variety.
Like many, I was alarmed when Gov. Greg Abbott suggested at a press conference before Harvey’s landfall that people in Houston should consider evacuating, contradicting local officials’ pleas to stay put. Did Abbott not remember the disastrous lesson of Hurricane Rita, when thousands of people who didn’t need to evacuate, some with luxury boats in tow, were stuck on outbound freeways for sometimes 10 and 12 hours?
In this case, Abbott’s contempt for local control could have caused chaos more profound than the kind we’ve grown accustomed to in the Legislature. The governor could have endangered people’s lives.
Plenty of experience
Luckily, local leaders responded like the pros they are. They kept calm and reiterated that Harvey wasn’t a direct-impact storm, but likely a major rain event that did not retire mass evacuation.
Watching a press conference led by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, I found comfort in leaders who acted like leaders. Not partisans. Not politicians. Just people focused on one goal: keeping us safe.
Emmett, a Republican, introduced Turner, a Democrat, as “my good friend and colleague.”
Turner took the mic and praised Emmett, saying “there’s no one who’s more experienced and capable of dealing with incidents of this kind, major storm events” than the judge.
They weren’t just platitudes. Emmett is a storm veteran whose logistics expertise helped organize lagging supply lines and relief efforts after Ike. Turner is a longtime state representative whom I happened upon one day after Ike, personally delivering ice to the door steps of his constituents.
“Thank you for your leadership,” Turner told Emmett. “It makes it much easier to address these sorts of situations.”
Yes, it makes it easier to have a government that functions as it should — that functions at all.
In a speech to troops that surfaced recently, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with surprising candor about problems in our nation, telling the young people in uniform to “hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other.”
He suggested America had lost some of its influence, but promised, “we’ll get the power of inspiration back.”
I hope he’s right, with regard to Washington and Austin. But I believe the power of inspiration can still be found if we know where to look. In the case of Houston, a region of millions hunkering down against a powerful storm on the advice of a few trusted leaders, that inspiration is closer to home.