San Juan mayor takes Trump to task for poor lead­er­ship

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By Gene Lyons NEA Con­trib­u­tor

When the go­ing gets tough, the tough go golf­ing.

Doubt­less in years to come, ev­ery home in Puerto Rico will proudly dis­play repli­cas of the golf­ing t r ophy Pres­i­dent Trump ded­i­cated to the brave cit­i­zens of the be­lea­guered is­land to memo­ri­al­ize Hur­ri­cane Maria.

Un­less I miss my guess, don­ald­jtrump. com will soon be ped­dling them along with “Make Amer­ica Great Again” T-shirts, ball caps, cof­fee mugs and en­graved medals fea­tur­ing the great man’s like­ness.

The ball caps are $40, the medal­lions $45. So I’m guess­ing maybe $50 for the tro­phy.

OK, enough sar­casm. But can any­body point me to a more tonedeaf pres­i­den­tial ges­ture than Trump’s ded­i­cat­ing a golf­ing tro­phy to a des­per­ate pop­u­la­tion he’d de­scribed as lazy in­grates beg­ging for a govern­ment hand­out?

“Such poor lead­er­ship abil­ity by the Mayor of San Juan, and oth­ers in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their work­ers to help,” Trump tweeted. “They want ev­ery­thing to be done for them when it should be a community ef­fort.”

Com­ing from a guy who couldn’t change a flat tire with­out his chauf­fer, that’s pretty rich. But then it’s only when Trump evades his White House min­ders and holes up at one of his pri­vate coun­try clubs that Amer­i­cans get the full mea­sure of their thin­skinned, boast­ful chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Ba­si­cally that’s what hap­pened dur­ing the long week­end af­ter Cat­e­gory 5 Hur­ri­cane Maria tore across Puerto Rico and the Vir­gin Is­lands, leav­ing be­hind a path of unimag­in­able, al­most bi­b­li­cal de­struc­tion the pres­i­dent scarcely no­ticed. In­stead of be­ing on the job at the White House as the storm ap­proached, Trump was se­questered at his Bed­min­ster, New Jer­sey, golf­ing re­sort — too dis­tracted con­duct­ing a Twitter war with NFL foot­ball play­ers to grasp the enor­mity of what was tak­ing place.

Partly, too, the ca­ble TV news net­works where Trump gets most of his in­for­ma­tion were a bit slow off the mark. Blame hur­ri­cane fa­tigue in the wake of Harvey and Irma. But what­ever the rea­son, the pres­i­dent only got en­gaged af­ter the mayor of San Juan, Car­men Yulin Cruz, made an im­pas­sioned plea on be­half of her dev­as­tated is­land.

Re­act­ing to a com­ment by act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Elaine Duke that her agency’s ef­forts were a “good news story,” Mayor Cruz, who had been wad­ing through chest-deep water to reach stranded flood vic­tims, got emo­tional. “This is not a ‘good news’ story,” she told a CNN re­porter. “This is a ‘peo­ple are dy­ing’ story. It’s a life-or-death story.”

In­deed, the scope of the de­struc­tion in Puerto Rico was so vast as to beg­gar imagination. There was no elec­tri­cal power or clean water any­where on the is­land. Hospi­tals had been shut down; fuel for gen­er­a­tors was in short sup­ply. Ports and air­ports had been ren­dered in­op­er­a­ble, roads block­aded, and tele­phone net­works de­stroyed.

“The level of dev­as­ta­tion and the im­pact on the first re­spon­ders we closely work with was so great that those peo­ple were hav­ing to take care of their fam­i­lies and homes to an ex­tent we don’t nor­mally see,” an anony­mous FEMA ( Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency) of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Post. The Puerto Ri­can govern­ment’s in­abil­ity even to com­mu­ni­cate with its own emer­gency work­ers was crit­i­cal. The storm had es­sen­tially re­duced the is­land’s 3.5 mil­lion cit­i­zens to a state of na­ture.

Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, let’s re­call, ev­ery one.

“I am ask­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States to make sure some­body is in charge that is up to the task of sav­ing lives,” San Juan’s mayor said at a news con­fer­ence a week af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria made land­fall. “I am done be­ing po­lite, I am done be­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. I am mad as hell ... We are dy­ing here. If we don’t get the food and the water into the peo­ple’s hands, we are go­ing to see some­thing close to a geno­cide.”

Trump, of course, took it per­son­ally. Be­cause in his mind, ev­ery­thing in the world is about Don­ald J. Trump. “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very com­pli­men­tary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he wrote on Twitter.

Al­most need­less to say, there was no ev­i­dence of that, only Trump’s para­noia. Cruz hadn’t even men­tioned his name. She had begged the Pres­i­dent of the United States to un­der­stand the grav­ity of the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis Puerto Rico faced, and to re­spond.

Ul­ti­mately, de­spite the per­sonal abuse and ra­cial in­sin­u­a­tions Trump heaped upon Puerto Rico’s vic­tims, the mayor’s plea worked. The White House ap­pointed Army Lt. Gen. Jef­frey S. Buchanan to com­mand re­lief ef­forts, who told re­porters that fed­eral man­power on the is­land was in­suf­fi­cient to the cri­sis — not too sur­pris­ing given how badly FEMA has been over­stretched lately — and be­gan to un­ravel the lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare Mayor Cruz com­plained of.

Again need­less to say, the Golferin-Chief has be­gun tak­ing bows. But if there’s a hero in this sad tale, it’s Car­men Yulin Cruz.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award winner and co-au­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­[email protected]­

Gene Lyons

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