Friday, September 29, 2017

To Live and Die In the Divided States of America

Paul Krugman wonders what the death toll will be. Not from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria but from Donald Trump's malignant narcissism.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, a majority of Americans believe that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. That’s pretty remarkable. But you have to wonder how much higher the number would be if people really knew what’s going on.

For the trouble with Trump isn’t just what he’s doing, but what he isn’t. In his mind, it’s all about him — and while he’s stroking his fragile ego, basic functions of government are being neglected or worse.

Let’s talk about two stories that might seem separate: the deadly neglect of Puerto Rico, and the ongoing sabotage of American health care. What these stories have in common is that millions of Americans are going to suffer, and hundreds if not thousands die, because Trump and his officials are too self-centered to do their jobs.

Start with the disaster in Puerto Rico and the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Hurricane Maria struck, more than a week ago, it knocked out power to the whole of Puerto Rico, and it will be months before the electricity comes back. Lack of power can be deadly in itself, but what’s even worse is that, thanks largely to the blackout, much of the population still lacks access to drinkable water. How many will die because hospitals can’t function, or because of diseases spread by unsafe water? Nobody knows.

But the situation is terrible, and time is not on Puerto Rico’s side: The longer this goes on, the worse the humanitarian crisis will get. Surely, then, you’d expect bringing in and distributing aid to be the U.S. government’s top priority. After all, we’re talking about the lives of three and a half million of our fellow citizens — more than the population of Iowa or metro San Diego.

So have we seen the kind of full-court, all-out relief effort such a catastrophe demands? No.

Admittedly, it’s hard to quantify the federal response. But none of the extraordinary measures you’d expect to see have materialized.

The deployment of military resources seems to have been smaller and slower than it was in Texas after Harvey or Florida after Irma, even though Puerto Rico’s condition is far more dire. Until Thursday the Trump administration had refused to lift restrictions on foreign shipping to Puerto Rico, even though it had waived those rules for Texas and Florida.

Why? According to the president, “people who work in the shipping industry” don’t like the idea. 


There’s a reason we expect visible focus by the president on major national disasters, including a visit to the affected area as soon as possible (Trump doesn’t plan to visit Puerto Rico until next week). It’s not just theater; it’s a signal about urgent priorities to the rest of the government, and to some extent to the nation at large.

But Trump spent days after Maria’s strike tweeting about football players. When he finally got around to saying something about Puerto Rico, it was to blame the territory for its own problems.

The impression one gets is of a massively self-centered individual who can’t bring himself to focus on other people’s needs, even when that’s the core of his job.

On a lighter note, here's the Narcissist in Chief sending the crowd the best wishes of his wife who could not attend even though she's standing right beside him.


Anonymous said...

C'mon, Krugman, Trump will tell you that you've got this all backwards. Being Preznint means other people focus on your needs, like getting two scoops of ice cream when everyone else gets one.


Lorne said...

Jeez, Mound, how did the Yanks ever get themselves, and the rest of us, into this mess?

The Mound of Sound said...

I've been slowly digesting that old book of progressivist lectures from 1907, hoping there'll be some light shining the path out of this neoliberal nightmare.There's much wisdom in it, really inspiring stuff. However today as I worked on my daily reading budget, a discussion about the lethal effects on democracy if government strayed from the public interest in favour of special interests, I was struck with the worrisome thought, a doubt about whether we've already become so immersed in this rancid economic ideology that there's no practical way out.

For some reason this kindled a memory of times when I was out sportfishing on these cold Pacific waters when I would look to the shore and wonder if I had to swim could make it before I succumbed to hypothermia.

I just don't know if we, as a people, have the stamina for that sort of ordeal. I'm not even sure we have the stomach for something of that magnitude.