The problem is not that President Trump does not realize that Harvey is huge; a number of his tweets on the storm have contained the word “Wow,” and he called it “epic” and “historic,” adding that “Texas can handle anything!” But the enormity of the situation does not seem to have organized his thoughts beyond declarations of how it will be matched by the greatness of his Administration and its allies. On the flight to Texas, on Tuesday morning, he had retweeted a message from Brazoria County, which consisted of a red box containing the words “notice: The Levee at Columbia Lakes has been breached!! get out now!!” Get out to where? What are the practical consequences of a breach? Trump didn’t say. (Vox has a more technical breakdown of the levee situation.)
In Corpus Christi, speaking to Governor Abbott, Trump began by acknowledging that it wasn’t time for congratulations, but offered a prediction that Houston would soon be better than ever: “We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.” Later in the day, at a briefing at a control center in Austin, he said that his team’s coördination had been “incredible—everybody’s talking about it,” then offered this observation on the challenge that they faced: “Nobody has ever seen this much water. . . . The water has never been seen like this, to this, to the extent. And it’s, uh, maybe someday going to disappear. We keep waiting!”
Trump seems to think that once the water goes away, everything will just go back to normal.
What will be harder is persuading not only Trump but the Republican Party that Harvey has a reality that reaches beyond the borders of this storm, and involves major policy issues. Both Senators Cruz and Cornyn voted against a major emergency-relief bill allocating funds for rebuilding and recovery after Superstorm Sandy. Cruz, in particular, has misrepresented that bill’s contents and its purpose, saying that two-thirds of the money in it wasn’t really related to Sandy but was, rather, pork and other wasteful government spending. (Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, gave Cruz three Pinocchios for that.) Cruz and others, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, also complained that the bill wasn’t really for emergency spending because it covered things like improving forecasts and repairing damaged infrastructure in a way that protected it against the next storm. This time, for the congressional Republicans, as much as for Trump, the emergency can’t stop when the rain does.
Here’s Glenn Kessler’s fact check of Cruz’s claim.
I think most Americans are looking at Texas and thinking it’s going to take a ton of money to put things right. I have read that up to a million cars are ruined. I have read that 80 percent of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed have no flood insurance. We’re hearing about exploding chemical plants and who knows how much petroleum and other toxic things being released into the water. So far I haven’t heard an assessment of how many businesses have been shut down and how many jobs are lost. I haven’t heard an assessment of repairing roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
And most of the issues involved in all these things deal with policy matters that Republicans don’t like to deal with. They want the private sector to somehow take care of it all.
Speaking of the private sector, there’s a pernicious pattern of disasters being used as opportunities for all kinds of political patronage and profit. See Naomi Klein, “How Power Profits From Disaster.”
One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the city’s residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.
I don’t think we ever got an honest assessment of how much taxpayer “recovery” money was lost to waste and fraud after Katrina, and a lot of that money disappeared into the pockets of contractors, sub-contractors and various middlemen. People’s lives were put on hold for months and years waiting for help. The Bush Administration was colossally inept, but does anyone think the Trump Administration is going to do better?
On top of that — while everyone’s been focused on Hurricane Harvey, wildfires are raging through the Pacific Coast states. Home owners are getting evacuation orders. Yosemite National Park is threatened.
On top of that, there’s a category 3 hurricane out in the Atlantic named Irma that might strike the Atlantic coast next weekend. That’s not certain though.
On top of that, North Korea.
So, shit’s getting real, and Republicans plan on converging in Washington this month to cut taxes for rich people.
Back to Amy Sorkin:
If the tragedy of Harvey is not met properly and consistently, on a national level and with an eye toward a long-term commitment, it could mean the decline and fall of a great American city.
Today’s Republicans have absolutely no grasp of what “properly and consistently, on a national level and with an eye toward a long-term commitment” even means, and Trump is incapable of commitment except to himself. Twelve years ago, Republicans were perfectly content to leave New Orleans to rot. And they largely got away with it. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll get away with letting Houston rot.
And an old Mahablog post, What Is Evil?