Natural Disasters

7 Things Donald Trump Shouldn't Do After Hurricane Harvey

The federal government is awful at handling disasters. Can we try not to screw it up this time?


Weather Underground

Hurricane Harvey is headed for the Texas coast, and residents are running out of time to minimize the damage from natural forces. But the bulk of the man-made damage hasn't yet been inflicted.

Politicians and bureaucrats are donning their hipwaders as we speak, ready to stage Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) photo-ops (oh look, they've already gotten started!), hand out taxpayer dollars, and—as often as not—expensively and time-consumingly muck things up for people who are suffering the most.

President Donald Trump has been tweeting up a storm about the storm and he's had a rough couple of weeks/months, so he's likely to do what he can to maximize his Harvey bump.

Here are a few things Trump and his pals absolutely shouldn't do in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but probably will:

1) Accuse people selling water or fuel in storm-hit areas of price gouging. Many of the folks who take on the risk of heading into an unstable area do so because they are driven by the twin motivations of fellow-feeling and greed. These people are often the fastest and most effective at getting supplies where they are most needed, because that's also where they can get the best price. This is just as true for Walmart as it is for the guy who fills his pickup with Poland Spring and batteries. Don't use the bully pulpit to vilify disaster entrepreneurs, small or large.

2) Establish a central command for volunteers. One of the tragic lessons of Hurricane Katrina was that by trying to control who gets into a storm zone to help, governments can wind up blockading good people who could do good while waiting for approval from Washington in a situation where communications are often bad. Ordinary people see and know things about what their friends and neighbors need and want that FEMA simply can't be expected to figure out.

3) Fearmonger about civic breakdown and looting. After storms, Americans are typically cooperative and law-abiding. Unfounded fear of looting makes people stay in their homes when they are in danger, return too quickly after the storm passes, and regard each other with distrust at a moment when solidarity is most needed. And there's corollary to this one:

3a) Confiscate guns. Emergency workers and law enforcement shouldn't waste post-storm effort rooting around in people's homes for firearms. Law-abiding gun owners do not, by and large, turn into characters from Grand Theft Auto when they get wet.

4) Throttle entry and exit from the storm zone by keeping immigration checkpoints open. Nothing is classier than having the Border Patrol asking people who have just lost everything—including their important papers—for their papers, please.

5) Insist on managing housing for the displaced. After storms, Americans look for ways to reach out and help. Many would open their homes to people who need a place to stay. Private charities can help broker these placements, as they do now for international refugees.

6) Let bureaucracy stand in the way of communities rebuilding on their own. After a storm, getting schools and hospitals up and running requires speed. That means waiving bureaucratic requirements. Requiring citizens to push paper in order to get their communities functioning again is wasteful even in non-crisis situations, but can be especially painful for cities whose infrastructure has washed away.

7) Increase funding for the federal flood insurance program. When it comes time to rebuild, everyone will studiously avoid discussing the fact that maybe we shouldn't be using a massive federal insurance program to incentivize building in areas that are repeatedly hit by storms. There's a reason private insurers don't offer policies to many coastal dwellers, and it ain't "market failure." (This seems ungenerous to say in the moment when people are facing the loss of their homes and businesses, but it'll be even harder to say or hear after the storm hits.)

Nearly all of these points are drawn from "After the Storm," a incredible roundup of responses to Hurricane Katrina that is brimming over with lessons. Go read the essays by Jacob Sullum, Jesse Walker, Ronald Bailey, Kerry Howley, Jeff A. Taylor & David B. Kopel.

In fact, Reason has been covering state screwups in the post-disaster window for decades. Here are some tidbits from our archive to read while nervously refreshing Weather Underground.

NEXT: Trump Pardons America's Worst Lawman, Sheriff Joe Arpaio

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  1. 8) Say Tweet anything like “Heck of a job, Brownie!”

    1. Well shit Trump ain’t gonna congratulate any brown-skinned person, even if it was one heckuva heroic swim across the border with his kid strapped to his back and a kid rapist right behind.

      1. He’s a racist after all. Probably a sexist too. He gets non-white people and women appointed to his cabinet, he’s married to a slavic woman, and has a Jewish son-in-law.

        One thing racists do is marry slavs and get non-white people in powerful government positions.

        But hey, securing the USA border with Mexico is only about racism and that schtick is working so well for lefties.

        1. He certainly didn’t shy away from his father’s policy of denying rental applications to blacks. Trump Management got sued for discrimination by the Justice Department in 1973 for this practice.

  2. Looking forward to Trump’s public dismay about the hurricane damage caused by many sides, many sides.

    1. Fuck you, commie.

  3. Lol!

    Welch on Maher just said “you can draw a clear line between Washington and Robert E. Lee. One was treason for slavery”

    1. I hate the Treason argument. Feels so hallow.

    2. I cannot believe you guys watched that garbage. Bill Maher is a hack.

  4. Also Trump is strongly considering pardoning the hurricane, depending on how many immigrant households it wipes out.

    1. It fits, Obama pardoned hundreds of criminals who were involved in drug selling conspiracies that wiped out whole American families.

      Jesus, you and your hyperbole.

      1. Oh, boo hoo, a few people died due to drugs. You drug warriors and your fascist laws sicken me.

      2. Hey, there, loveconstitution1789, show me where in your beloved document where it says that we the people a) have the authority/power to tell our neighbors what they may or may not ingest, and then b) where we the people delegated said authority/power to the federal government.

        Pretty please.

  5. Nice post

  6. I *like* twigging people over price gouging. They get indignant and outraged, sputtering like bad gasoline, and you say it’s wonderful, and they get all confused, and angry, and eventually get around to WHY? and you walk them through the steps — trees and power lines down, bridges washed out, flooded streets, and they agree that makes it more difficult to bring in supplies, and these people bring supplies in pickups because big rigs won’t fit, and they come from hundreds of miles away because that’s the only place still got supplies, and they agree, and you bridge the two thoughts with high prices are the only way to afford to bring in supplies, and they get all indignant and outraged again, and it’s fun watching them deny the cognitive dissonance.

    Sometimes they shift gears and demand government bring in supplies, and you point out how slow, inept, and corrupt FEMA is, and then they shift gears again, to government subsidies, and you ask why should I pay for people who can’t plan ahead, and they say that’s rubbish, that people are too stupid to plan ahead, and I point out that where I live, everyone knows to buy propane in August for the best prices, maybe a last minute small topup before the snows hit, maybe another small topup in the spring if it’s been a heavy winter, and everybody knows how smart the city slickers are compared to country bumpkins, so if we can do it, surely the city folk can buy batteries and toilet paper ahead of time?

    Lots and lots of payback fun.

    1. Pretty sure it was Jeb Bush who outlawed ‘price gouging’ on generators after that big ‘un hit FL years ago. Generators stayed in warehouses all over the south instead of moving to FL where they really could have been used.
      Sevo’s law: “When a third party sticks its nose in the free exchange between two competent agents, at least one of them gets screwed”

      1. Bullseye.

        Except for the “competent” part: even a voluntary exchange between two *incompetent* agents shouldn’t be interfered with, because A, they know more about their personal affairs than a smart person barging in on it from afar, and B, people who barge in on other people’s affairs from afar, tend not to be the smart ones.

        1. Depends on the definition of competent, doesn’t it? Senile elders, infants, accident victims in a daze, they are all incompetent. I suppose you could push the definition off by saying that wards of a guardian can’t make certain decisions. But that doesn’t mean government is a suitable alternative mediator, because by my experience, government is incompetent in everything it does.

          1. I was assuming “incompetent” meant “legal adult in good health with IQ lower than the national average”.

            I think the rights of decision-making and personal autonomy for the types of individual you mentioned can safely be considered the province of their legal guardians *in most instances*. Government cannot and ought not supplant the parent, grandchild or close friend in those situations; although it pretty much has to have a role in determining whether said legal guardian is actually acting in the incompetent individual’s best interest.

            My point was that, assuming someone is over 18 and can pass a drunk driving test at the time of the decision, government has no right to interfere on the assumption that the gov’s in-house experts and professors are smarter than the little people… *even if they actually ARE smarter*.

      2. Brian’s law: Most of the time, government is just one big externality.

    2. You and most here will think as “deny the cognitive dissonance” but others in their time of despair will think how THEY would not do the same. Perhaps it is a delusion, but that is the reason behind it.

      Glad you think it is “fun” to watch a human being, in a time of despair and turmoil, have a difficult time processing a concept that while clear in definition, gets muddled up in execution, depending of the greed of the individual.

      This is an interesting list, with all of the terrible things the governments will do, and how it will raise taxes for the rest of us. Maybe they should have taken some time to take a look at the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, when a 1/3 of all deaths came after the event, mostly due to lack of governmental intervention and “free market” forces at work, after all, humans being do not have a long history of doing the worst acts immediately after disasters, oh no.

  7. “Law-abiding gun owners do not, by and large, turn into characters from Grand Theft Auto when they get wet”

    Right, only getting bitten by a radioactive Lorcin does that.

  8. Immigration checkpoints for people fleeing a natural disaster?


    The crap we tolerate.

    1. Well at least you were on topic this time rather than posting what you did for the article about water lawsuits.

    2. I bet they caught all sorts of illegals.

      Cannot wait to hear about the parade of horribles when they get deported.

  9. SPEAKING OF kATRINA, We lost a big house in New Orleans, and I had stopped paying for insurance a few years before, thinking “I will just take the risk”, while my neighbors paid insurance premiums and were covered.
    Then, when the fed govt. announced they would BUY up un-insured properties that were ruined for 70% of their pre-Katrina value, I sold my wrecked house and empty lot to them for mucho$$$$. I felt guilty about it, but, everyone else was collecting this OPM$$$, so…
    Also, they announced “don’t start repairing your roofs etc. until a govt inspector can check it out” In other words, wait months doing nothing about rebuilding your life. I was shocked at the incompetence!.

    1. I understand this is a bit as I was from St. Bernard Parish, and waiting until Oct 2008 to get my Road Home settlement caused me to put my ultimate replacement housing situation on hold until then – actually still being homeless when the Saints won the Super Bowl, LOL; perhaps that was a blessing as I as able to buy at the bottom of the market. I did Option 2 (The Road Home buys the property for the full value, provided that the beneficiary purchases a replacement home in Louisiana), but since I was considered low-income, I got another $50K, which made me a permanent fan of means-tested redistribution – i.e., so long as I qualify, which since I have all my liquid assets in Roth IRA, makes it rather easy.

  10. If I were a small business, I’d get around the gouging laws by keeping 5 jugs of water on the shelf in the back of the store year round, and price them at $9 apiece. Then, after a hurricane, I’d restock to a couple hundred bottles. No price increase, no gouging.

  11. For comedic purposes he should appoint a Blue Ribbon task force charged with response. This task force should be headed by Harry Reid D-NV (ret.) with Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell as Congressional liaisons, They would be given free rein, but not a blank check, all funding would need approval from both houses. The other requirement would be weekly press updates requiring interviews with the peasants on the ground and others effected, and daily tweets on progress.


  12. In the defense of the government, following Katrina, it wasn’t the government fear-mongering over violence. That was the media. People seem to forget how terribly the media covered post-Katrina cleanup efforts.

  13. I would suggest replacing the phrase “keeping checkpoints open”. An open checkpoint would be, well, not much of a checkpoint.

  14. Price gouging laws are generally at the state level. Most states have them, I believe. I’m sure they have already been put into effect by now in Louisiana and Texas.

    And you can just note that price fixing creates shortages and cite the mountain of evidence. They will never care either way.

  15. I agree with some of the points of this article but have a major disagreement with two of them. Price gouging is not “entrepreneurship” it is taking advantage of a desperate situation for personal profit. Before the storm hit, the State AG reported two businesses had been charged with price gouging, which is against the law in Texas. One was charging $99 a case for water in an area where people were preparing for the storm. The other person was charging $45 a gallon for gasoline. Both deserve to go to jail. The other point is about guns. Local officials will not be searching for guns. This is Texas, not California or New York. Recently I was stopped by a police officer for speeding. When I was asked if I had a gun in my car, I told him no. When he saw my LTC, he asked why not and literally said ” Shame on you”. It was only when I told him where I work (guns are not permitted because it is a state supported care facility), did he say ” that is a good excuse.”. Police in Texas do not oppose private ownership of guns like blue states, so this point by the author is irrelevant.

  16. 1) Repeal federal water conservation act – idioms; on the Toilets and Showers. Watch out for the drought Texas!

  17. I’ve got no problems with bottled-water gouging just so long as the original store selling the item is sufficiently far away so that the resale doesn’t become a market-cornering. And that said, it seems that the National Guard should be able to supply stuff as well as any disaster capitalist.

  18. 8) Visit the area. He’ll be accused by the press and other critics of being disruptive to the rescue efforts.

    9) NOT visit the area. He’ll be accused by the press and other critics of being indifferent to the rescue efforts…

  19. “The federal government is awful at handling disasters.”

    The federal government is awful at handling everything–except wasting money.

  20. How about the truth. Weather can be geoengineered. It is no longer a natural occurrence. This process has already been patented & is being implemented today. Maybe a little research is necessary to see why California & Texas have been targeted. Read that again. Weather can be engineered to get a desired effect. Why would anyone want to impose a heavy financial loss on the Texan People through flooding? California was being burned to a crisp until very recently. Who controls the deep state? Who pays them to do these things? Use that Internet, America, before they censor it any further or completely shut it down. Trump may not even know.

    1. “I don’t always get my dire warnings of global conspiracy from 3 day old Reason threads… But when I do, I get them from Pat Enery.”

  21. At no time should he use the phrase “It’s a good day for ducks.”

  22. Very apropos, very cogent, and very well-written.

  23. Great well written… Love problem specialist

  24. Good article. These should be standard “rules” by now.

  25. Hey People !!!
    Can we put aside the Politics and back biting and focus on helping these people recover from this disaster?

    This is a lot more important than scoring some political jabs and points.

  26. Sure, let’s rip off people who just lost everything for a necessity like water because it’s theoretically more efficient! News flash, Libertarians: This type of batty heartlessness is why you don’t win elections. Well, that and you keep wasting all your money on sure-loser presidential candidates rather than making strong bids for winnable house seats.

    1. If it makes the system more efficient… *they’re not being ripped off*.

      And the LP would never win any influence with house seats either. Libertarians don’t win elections: they tell the truth, and then wait 50 years for one of the major parties to get a clue.

      1. I said “theoretically” more efficient; whether it’s actually more efficient is debatable. All the same, when you charge $100 for a case of water to a family that just lost everything, you’re not helping. You’re ripping people off.

        As for the House seats, a lot of controversial bills are passed by only a few votes to one side. If Libertarians won just 10 House seats, both of the major parties would be bargaining with them to get those votes, at which point the Libertarians could say “OK, I’ll vote with you if you get rid of these things and add these things.” That’s a LOT of power for 10 people, even if you don’t get everything you want.

        But I agree: Libertarians won’t win elections. Instead, they’ll continue to sit around and bitch, all the while losing hopeless presidential races instead of doing the intelligent thing and taking winnable seats elsewhere.

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