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The Forgotten Island

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.


When Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, Trump was upbeat: “We saw a lot of happiness. It’s been really nice. It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing, I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.”(1)

When Hurricane Irma tore Florida apart, Trump was supportive, tweeting: “FLORIDA- Just like TX, WE are w/you today, we are w/you tomorrow, & we will be w/you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to RESTORE, RECOVER, & REBUILD!”(2)

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, this was his response:

Trump Throws Paper Towels at People
Noblesse Oblige for the Puerto Rican Masses
(NY Daily News)

“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”(3)

“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but youíve thrown our budget a little out of whack.”(4)

“We cannot keep [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”(5)

But at least he was kind enough to toss paper towels at them.

So why should he be more generous? After all, according to Trump, Puerto Rico didnít suffer “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”(6)

The Presidentís incredible protestations notwithstanding, the Puerto Rican relief effort was botched from the beginning.(7) This month over one million Puerto Ricans still have no electric power, more than one quarter of a million lack clean water, and more than one thousand people have died.(8) Is that “real” enough?

The reality doesnít seem to matter. What does matter is that Trump’s insulting Puerto Ricans plays to his base. So calling Puerto Ricans names, insinuating that they are lazy and not worth the money spent on them, and referring to them as “politically motivated ingrates”(9) gives him an advantage with his voters. What better reason to engage in such self-degrading behavior?

There are two reasons that Trump and his craven Congressional colleagues have taken a wrecking ball to the American economy and social fabric: greed and fear. The greed is evident in the deceptive tax “reform” bill just passed, which will blow up the deficit, cause millions to lose their health care, and end by raising taxes on the middle class either now or after their temporary breaks expire, while giving a permanent and gigantic windfall to the very rich. The fear goes in two directions: towards wealthy Republican donors, and towards the core Republican voter base. The fear of both keeps Republicans voting in lockstep no matter how short-sighted and harmful their policies are. (Who in their right mind could think it was a good idea to shove a very complex tax bill down people’s throats at breakneck speed, with no hearing process, and before those who voted on it could even read it? But both the donors and the base had to be satisfied: the donors because they understood the implications of the bill, and the base because they didn’t.)

All generalizations have exceptions, about which we need to be careful. Nevertheless, it is time to stop the sympathy for the “disadvantaged” and angry voters who form the core of the Republican base. No one deserves sympathy for saddling this country with the most clearly unfit and unqualified President in its history. Trump engages in race-baiting and stereotyping because it pleases his constituency. So much so that many will even vote against their own economic interests because Trump “sounds like us” and makes their prejudice acceptable. The most salient factor motivating Trump’s core base is racial resentment.(10) This “trumps” even the economy. This resentful minority is now able (largely because of the anomaly of the Electoral College, which ceased long ago to function as the Founders intended) to dictate narrow-minded and destructive policies to the rest of the nation. While our system allows for that, it does not entitle them to sympathy.

Meanwhile the dismantling of Puerto Rico’s livelihood continues completely unchecked. Trump has been handing out “Christmas presents“ to the American people, and Puerto Rico gets a big one. The new tax bill treats Puerto Rico as a foreign country, levies a 12.5% tax on intellectual property income made by American corporations operating there, and a minimum 10% tax on all profits made in Puerto Rico. This could cause thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens even though we treat them like foreigners, to lose their jobs as corporations exit the island for more favorable tax rates elsewhere. With Puerto Rico’s economy already decimated, this may be the final blow. It also cannot be excused as an oversight: Puerto Rican leaders pleaded with the Republican Congress to exempt Puerto Rico from this provision. They were refused.(11)

Why risk antagonizing the Republican base by wasting their tax dollars on people who don’t even speak English, and as far as the base is concerned, are only “cutting in line”? In the words of Ted Cruz, Puerto Rico has reaped “the revenge of flyover country.”(12)

If we as a nation are to emerge from this moral crisis the Republican base must not just stop receiving our sympathy; it must be repudiated. Ethnic hatred must cease to be the fuel driving our public policy; otherwise the consequences could be catastrophic. Puerto Rico is more than just an island. It reflects our own values back at us, showing us what we are, what we have become. Do we like what we see? Are we even looking? We have colonized these people and used their resources for our benefit. When they are crying for our help, our response sends a message that will be heard far beyond San Juan, Bayamón, Carolina, and Ponce.

Notes

(1) Katehrine Skiba, “Trump Sees ‘A Lot of Happiness’ Among Houston Families Forced from Their Homes by Flooding ,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2017.

(2) https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/908494344008749056?lang=en.

(3) Chris Cillizza, “Trump Sent 18 Tweets on Puerto Rico on Saturday. And Made Things a Whole Lot Worse,” CNN.com, October 1, 2017.

(4) Reuters Staff, “Trump Says Puerto Rico Has Thrown Budget ‘Out of Whack’,” Reuters, October 3, 2017.

(5) Olivia Beavers, “Trump: FEMA Can’t Stay in Puerto Rico Forever,” TheHill.com, October 12, 2017.

(6) Kaitlan Collins, “Trump Contrasts Puerto Rico Death Toll to ‘A Real Catastrophe Like Katrina’,” CNN.com, October 3, 2017.

(7) Frances Robles, “Contractor for Puerto Rico Power Suspends Work, Citing Unpaid Bills,” New York Times, November 21, 2017.

(8) Jennifer Bendery, “The GOP’s Tax Bill Kicks Puerto Rico When Itís Down,” HuffingtonPost.com, December 19, 2017.

(9) Jill Colvin, “President Trump Scoffs at ’Politically Motivated Ingrates’ After Maria,” Boston Globe, October 1, 2017.

(10) German Lopez, “The Past Year of Research Has Made It Very Clear: Trump Won Because of Racial Resentment,” Vox.com, December 15, 2017.

(11) Jennifer Bendery, ”The GOP’s Tax Bill Kicks Puerto Rico When Itís Down” (see note 8).

(12) Colin McCullough, “Cruz: Election was revenge of ‘flyover country',’ CNN.com, November 18, 2016.


December 2017