WASHINGTON — The politics of natural disasters can be tricky for a president.
Long before President Donald Trump tossed paper towels to storm-stricken Puerto Ricans and denied Hurricane Maria’s official death toll, his predecessors struggled to steer the nation through life-and-death emergencies.
To project empathy without looking weak. To show both command and co-operation. To put the focus on victims — but provide leadership, too.
A look at how presidents have grappled with the challenges and opportunities of disaster politics:
Trump is not known for shows of empathy and relishes fights he thinks will resonate with his core supporters.
That includes a bitter and lasting brawl with Puerto Rico in the year since the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria. He also has grappled with getting it right in ruby-red Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey, which dumped nearly 50 inches of rain near Houston.
Trump’s first post-Harvey trip to Texas generated blowback for his failure to meet with victims of the storm. Four days later, he returned — and urged people at a Houston shelter to “have a good time.” He also cheered on volunteers and emergency workers and handed out hot dogs and potato chips to residents. Some critics said the president’s trip took on the tone of a victory lap for successful disaster management.
Trump has had trouble keeping facts right about the devastating storms under his watch.
In June, Trump said on a conference call that the Coast Guard had saved thousands of people while Houston was under water, including what he suggested were hurricane gawkers. “People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well,” the president said. There is no indication the Coast Guard rescued foolhardy storm watchers drifting off the Texas coast.
Then there’s Puerto Rico, flattened by Maria as a Category 4 storm nearly a year ago. Trump pumped two fists in the air when he landed in San Juan last October. The enduring image was of Trump at a San Juan church lobbing paper towels into the crowd as if shooting baskets. At the time, it seemed to reflect Trump’s brand of playfulness. Many people in the crowd smiled and raised their phones to record the moment. But critics quickly dubbed it inappropriate for the massive, grim crisis at hand.
A year later, the official death toll from the storm stands at 2,975. Even as Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas this week, Trump rejected that count and griped that it’s the product of Democrats trying to make him “look bad.” He also tweeted that San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent Trump critic, is “incompetent.”
“The victims of Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico in general do not deserve to be questioned about their pain,” said Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and became the costliest storm in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie invited Democratic President Barack Obama to view the storm damage, and when the president arrived, …read more
Source:: Nationalpost – News