President Donald Trump faced a major test on Tuesday as he traveled to storm-
ravaged Puerto Rico: Show the American citizens struggling for survival on the
island that he understood their plight, sympathized with them and was doing
everything in his power to make it better as quickly as he could.
He failed. Hugely.
Soon after touching down in Puerto Rico, Trump said the following to government
"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and
you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people
that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just
totally overpowering, nobody's ever seen anything like this. What is your death
count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the
thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people
working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very
proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very
proud of what's taken place in Puerto Rico."
Where to begin????
How about that suggesting that what happened in Puerto Rico -- an entire island
devastated, huge swaths without power, food and water in short supply -- wasn't
a "real" catastrophe because not that many people died?
Or, what about using death count as a talking point? Yes, it's true that far more
people died in Katrina (1,800+) than did in Maria (16). But, for the families of the
16 who died, that loss is no less heart-breaking. Loss of life is loss of life. And
we're not even dealing with the thousands of people whose lives have been
fundamentally altered, forever, as a result of this storm -- for whom things will
never be the same and may well be far, far worse.
(Nota bene: After Trump left Puerto Rico, the country's governor Ricardo Rosello
announced that the death toll had risen to 34.)
"Proud" is not the right word for how people should -- or do -- feel. It's not even
It's the opposite of empathy. Instead of mourning with and for those who lost their
lives, Trump is using those who lost their lives as a way to make a broader
argument that the media's criticism of him is unfair and biased.
See, I told you I was doing a great job, Trump was saying. Everyone here thinks
Me, me, me, me.
While Trump's comments about the relatively small number of deaths will draw
the most attention -- and rightly so -- there's so much else in Trump's relatively
brief comments that speaks to the fact that he lacks the empathy gene. Among
* "It's a great trip. Your weather is second to none but every once in a while you
get hit. And you really got hit."
Your weather is second to none? The country has literally been leveled by a
* "You've thrown our budget a little out of whack. We've spent a lot of money on
Trump was, ostensibly, joking about how much money the recovery efforts were
costing him. Listen to the audio and see how many people laughed. Also, this is
like buying the school textbooks your kid needs and then repeatedly reminding
him how much the books costs and how he kind of, sort of owes you.
* "He started right at the beginning appreciating what we did...He was giving us
the highest grades."
Trump is praising Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rosselló here -- but really he is
praising himself. This governor, who I didn't know before this storm, said nice
things about me. Which you should hear. Because people are saying some not
* "She was saying such nice things about all of the people who have worked so
hard. Jenniffer, do you think you can say a little bit about what you said about
Trump is referring here to Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who he
says he "watched' (on TV of course) say nice things about how Trump and his
administration handled the hurricane. After Gonzalez-Colon finished praising
Trump, the president added: "We saw those comments and everyone saw those
* "General Kelly is a four star. You don't get any better than a four star."
Trump is very keen on highlighting the accomplishments of the generals on his
staff -- most notably his chief of staff John Kelly. But, why is Kelly's military rank
relevant when it comes to Puerto Rico's recovery? Kelly seems wholly
uncomfortable being trotted out by Trump in this moment.
The whole 13+ minutes is surreal. Time and time again, Trump makes the whole
thing about him -- using the various officials, military and otherwise, around him
to reinforce the ideas that he is doing a great job. On display is someone wholly
wrapped up in himself, incapable of understanding that this moment -- on the
ground of a historic natural disaster for the Puerto Rican people --was not about
This is Trump off the telemprompter. Twitter Trump. Trump's real personality --
when words are not being carefully selected for him.
Trump knew -- because everyone wrote about it and TV talked about it
relentlessly -- that the big question today in Puerto Rico was whether he could
show some actual empathy, some human kindness to people he didn't know but
who were still his constituents.
And, even knowing that, Trump delivered a navel-gazing, self-championing,
victimhood-seeking speech that reeked of tone-deafness and out-of-touch-ism.
Even for this President, who has redefined presidential -- and not for the better --
this is a truly remarkable low.
But he wasn't done.
According to an on-the-ground report from CNN's Kevin Liptak, Trump seemed to
see himself in a sort of Santa Claus role while handing out supplies to disaster
victims. Here's a bit of Liptak's reporting:
Trump, along with the first lady and the governor, shook hands with the crowd.
Trump, still wearing a wind breaker, picked up a can of tinned chicken breast and
held it up for the crowd to see.
He handed a pack of batteries to a man, as many in the crowd held up their cell
Trump held up a flashlight and showed it to the crowd, while shaking hands.
The first lady followed close behind.
Trump kept picking up items from tables laden with supplies, showing them to the
crowd and handing them to people with outstretched hands.
"There's a lot of love in this room," the President said. "Great people."
Trump's Puerto Rico event was way
worse than his tweets
President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out
supplies at Calvary Chapel, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.