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In actuality, any president is not truly responsible for the success or failure of any given emergency response. Yes, a president must make certain proclamations that accelerate response preparations and set in motion the legal mechanisms, and the federal response does start with the president initiating as he is part of the formal process. But usually a president doesn’t have a direct role to the point of directing resources personally. Of course the president remains the one person that receives all the situation reports and can issue certain direction orders to fit a given event or address concerns of the public. But largely even that is not without consultation with staff and those managing the response. So, why do presidents take the heat (or credit) in a federal disaster response?
It rather reminds me when I lived in Chicago. It’s a political postulate that there’s two things that will get any mayor NOT re-elected… allow sanitation workers to go on strike and leave uncollected trash in the streets and alleys for long periods of time (especially in the Summer), and, poor snow plowing of city streets for whatever reason… be it a strike, bad equipment, poor management planning, or a snow storm of the century. This is why I strongly suspect the federal response will be around to haunt Trump for quite a while.
Now, in Trump World he thinks he’s been the savior of Puerto Rico and the federal response has been yet another crowning achievement to add to the many already self-credited to his administration. Obviously the reality is that the response has been very underwhelming and critical. Is he at fault? As I’ve stated, nope. He had absolutely nothing to do with developing FEMA, had nothing to do with formulating the formal responses from all the associated agencies, he never devised any relief distribution plans, nor was he responsible for plan options for using the military. He IS responsible for selecting the head of FEMA. That in itself can be a bit problematic if you have the right “pretty” guy for babysitting an agency, but the wrong guy to take the lead in a real disaster. There’s a LOT of visual to the public when it comes to leading a disaster and it’s focused in two places… the victims of the disaster and those leading the response. The president’s role is trying to balance that, along with the most important role, cheerleader.
What our Dear Leader has failed in doing (consistently with everything) is he is NOT a cheerleader by any stretch of the imagination. The current Puerto Rican response is reflective of a very poorly planned coordination plan, with a huge under-use of the military. Again, not the President’s fault but the public needs someone to blame. Now.. send into the vortex of that poor plan a presidential visit by President Trump. The man is hardly a cheerleader; his entire persona presents a “negative” image. What’s worse, he has a very shallow perception of humanity and is unable to empathize or even sympathize.. and he is totally unable to present himself verbally without offending someone. He has an image of confrontation.. with outlandish tweets to follow.
He has set the bar so damn low. For example, his public remarks regarding the Vegas Massacre shooting a couple days ago. We all sat down to watch it not one bit expecting to be inspired but rather holding our breath to see if he would deviate from the prepared text and talk crap. What was interesting, the prepared words were very uninspiring on their own, but… amazingly he stayed the course, I’m sure his staff breathed a sigh of relief. The media even lauded his words. As I said.. the bar is set so low that he succeeds when he just stays to script.
But as one might expect, his visit to Puerto Rico did end up including his normal wild & whacky commentary.. managing to offend anyone and everyone. In the meantime, media reporters are still visiting places where no FEMA teams have dared to tread, finding people.. Americans… in dire need of food, water, and medical attention. This is appalling for our country.
The End Result?
The irony to all this for Puerto Rico… before the storm their economy was in shambles.. near bankruptcy. Infra-structure is aged, the population being a high number of seniors as the young people gravitate to the Mainland to pursue employment. The tragedy that the storm delivered will likely be the seed for an entire re-build of infra-structure and the economy. While Congress is reluctant to agree to grant statehood in spite of the last citizen vote in favor of it, the territory is still America.
Puerto Rico’s economic problems were pretty much being ignored by Congress and the public. The issue is much akin to that surrounding the current immigration debate. For decades and across many presidential administrations the government has failed to enforce certain immigration laws already on the books… preferring to allow political expediency in looking the other way. Now we are debating what to do with existing illegal immigrants and their grown children, that was our responsibility to enforce all along. WE the people are responsible for Puerto Rico’s economic condition.
What about FEMA? They need a new plan. They need a sincere person in charge who knows what they are doing.. not an agency babysitter in between disasters. In fact, they need regional plans to meet the local threat risks. They need to incorporate the active military to a greater extent. In fact… I think the military needs a domestic disaster “command”. We need to get serious about disasters.
In the meantime… Hurricane Marie has ended up making the suffering in Puerto Rico just another distraction in Trump’s golf game.