Puerto Rico: Damned If You Do…

Puerto Rico: Damned If You Do…

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Image Source: Ernst (Reuters), Creative Commons 4.0

Opinion -- Just as with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria has been swift, effective, and compassionate. That is a fact. But of course, facts never got in the way of the mainstream media’s agenda.

Coming off the President’s rise in approval ratings following the first two hurricanes, the media has tried once again to portray his response to Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico as inadequate and poorly-handled. First, they tried to turn the focus away from the storm itself and the actual response by the government, and instead focused on President Trump’s tweets. The media had been peddling the notion that the President had not even tweeted about Puerto Rico until several days after the storm, instead focusing on such matters as health care, the Alabama Senate race, and the recent NFL protests.

There’s just one problem with that: The President did, in fact, tweet about Puerto Rico back on September 20. In said tweet, President Trump addressed the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, directly: “We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! #PRStrong”

The media has also tried to cherry-pick other statements from the President on Puerto Rico, only to bury the lead and focus on slight discrepancies while ignoring the facts that back up their own narrative. Politifact ran several so-called “fact checks” on various elements of the President’s response, in an article on September 26. Specifically, they dove head-first into a very precise game of numbers - criticizing the President for referring to Maria as a Category 5 hurricane when it was actually a 4, and also claiming that the hurricane never reached winds of 200 miles per hour as the President said. In the latter case, they “corrected” the record by pointing out the wind speeds of 155 MPH (apparently not familiar with the concept of “rounding off”), and even acknowledged that gusts reached speeds as high as 195 MPH...meaning that even just a measly 5-MPH difference was enough for them to run an entire “fact-check” just to spite the President.

The buried lead in this case was the fact that even Politifact’s own article admitted that the President has received praise for his response from Puerto Rican politicians. The article admits that Governor Rossello “sung Trump’s praises” in a CNN interview, when he described the President’s response as “phenomenal” and particularly noted that Trump “offered a pre-landfall emergency declaration” in anticipation of the devastation. It even acknowledges that the rather stubborn Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Cruz, admitted to receiving “a lot of logistics help.”

Governor Rossello went on to repeat his praise of the President in an interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto just two days later; in the interview, he said that “the president and the administration have done everything that they can, that we have asked them to do” and that “we have gotten those results.” Pointing out the FEMA response of delivering “over two million liters of water” and “over a million portions of food,” Governor Rossello said that “every time that we have spoken, I have had an ask. They have delivered.”

However, Mayor Cruz has been ramping up her criticism of FEMA in recent days. Apparently deciding to go for the more Katrina-esque approach of exploiting the disaster for political points, she has since repeatedly attacked the President, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, and FEMA as a whole, with her major gripe being that aid is not arriving fast enough. She stretched the hyperbole so far that she even declared the situation, in her eyes, to be “close to a genocide.” Despite her extremely exaggerated rhetoric, the government’s swiftness and efficiency were backed up by General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, when he stated that he has seen no evidence of deliberate hindering of the disaster relief efforts. Instead, the General rightly pointed out that any delay in the response - in comparison to the responses to Harvey and Irma - is solely a logistical issue as a result of the island territory’s geographical isolation, and the difficulty of flying or boating in additional resources and workers.

In the case of such a clear contrast - a single city’s mayor against the governor of the entire territory, as well as a high-ranking FEMA official - it should be clear which one has a better grasp on how the response is affecting the territory as a whole. It also doesn’t help Cruz’s case when reports are now emerging that she is, in fact, the one actively hindering relief efforts: It has been reported that she has failed to attend meetings with FEMA coordinators, with both Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez and FEMA Director Brock Long backing up these claims, and pointing out that her failure to cooperate with federal agents has greatly dampened the relief efforts in her city. As even outlets like Bloomberg begin admitting that there’s little ground for such claims of inefficiency on Trump’s part, the truth may soon emerge as to whether or not the mayor is truly to blame: Either unintentionally due to sheer incompetence, or perhaps even deliberately just to spite the President.

But perhaps one last aspect of the recent Hurricane Maria fallout that proves the hopelessness of President Trump’s situation is the media commentary surrounding the Merchant Marines Act of 1920 - or, as it is more well-known, the Jones Act. The Jones Act was originally enacted to ward off enemy U-boats during World War I, and thus outlawed any foreign vessel from traveling to Puerto Rico. This law has remained in effect, and thus complicates potential relief efforts. After just a few days of widespread calls to waive the law, the President did just that and eased up restrictions in order to fast-track the relief process. But of course, this didn’t stop outlets such as The Atlantic from openly questioning if the waiving of the law was “all politics.” At the same time, the New York Times did not hesitate to use the Jones Act as an excuse to attack the President’s policies, falsely declaring it to be “exposed” as an ineffective “protectionist policy” - obviously meant to criticize Trump’s support for economic protectionism - even though this is a blatant mischaracterization of what was actually a national security policy.

This, alongside the usual mainstream media chorus of repeating all the same critical talking points, is perhaps the most rock-solid proof yet that President Trump is truly in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. He has responded swiftly in all three hurricanes, on top of dealing with many other significant issues. And even as his policies yield clear results, from the recovery efforts to a booming economy that exceeds all expectations, his critics will continue playing the same tired drumbeat, even when all the other instruments are playing a very different tune.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.

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