John Oliver

Is Trump's Racism the Cause of Puerto Rico's Suffering?

The answer here is no.


John Oliver
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A week removed from Hurricane Maria, only 41 percent of the island of Puerto Rico has potable water, 5 percent has power, and only 11 percent of cell towers are operational. Gas stations are experiencing fuel shortages and endless lines. Most schools have yet to reopen.

However difficult, the cause of all these problems is really quite simple: President Trump's racism.

"Trump's racism is costing lives," tweeted MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski on Saturday. "Trump's Puerto Rico potshots make his racism morally impossible to ignore," read the headline at Same for John Oliver, who called Trump's response to the hurricane "horribly racist."

For the liberal commentariat, Trump's skewering on Twitter of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz after she held a press conference criticizing the federal response is evidence enough of this president's racism.

"Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help," said Trump. "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."

For Oliver, this demonstrates that Trump thinks all Puerto Ricans are lazy and should be left to die.

But in the stampede to condemn Trump on the grounds of race, the liberal media have completely overlooked Cruz's actual complaint, and in doing so have given short shrift to actual causes of suffering on the island. Bureaucracy, not bigotry, is causing preventable deaths in her city.

"You are killing us with inefficiency and bureaucracy," said Cruz at that press conference that so irked Trump. To illustrate the point, the mayor held up huge binders of paperwork the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had requested in exchange for aid, saying, "You think that's enough paperwork for FEMA to get their ass moving?"

The burden of federal bureaucracy hangs over every disaster response effort. Federal aid and FEMA dispensation requires reams of documentation which, in turn, requires compliance and comparable paperwork from dozens of agencies and hundreds of labor, environmental, procurement, and anti-discrimination regulations.

As Reason has reported, the burden of regulatory compliance was an ever-present distraction after Hurricane Harvey. State officials were telling local communities after the disaster to "document, document, document." Private citizens were asked to submit pictures of their shattered homes to the state to expedite federal aid.

This also ignores the federal government's awful record as a first responder. One of the biggest issues facing Puerto Rico is its devastated highway system, which is preventing supplies and emergency responders from reaching people across the island.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has given Puerto Rico a $40 million grant for emergency road repair. The responsibility for the work rests primarily with the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works, and the island's various municipalities.

Or take FEMA, which has so far released about $20 million in public assistance. This money is primarily a form of reimbursement local government spending in response to Maria. But getting water, food, and gas to people will still be a primarily local effort, regardless of who is picking up the tab.

Whatever one thinks of the level of federal support for Puerto Rico, it is, by-and-large, not intended to bring immediate relief to storm victims, rather to help them pay the bills afterward. None of this is to say the federal response to the storm has been perfect (it hasn't) or that Trump's tweets about Cruz aren't petty and unhelpful (they are).

But to pin the cause of suffering in Puerto Rico on Donald Trump's purported racism willfully ignores the valid complaints local officials like Cruz are making about the limitations of federal disaster relief and misses much of what is actually happening on the ground there.