Hurricanes and Humbug

Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning and learn that a 5,000 square mile area of U.S. land, inhabited by about 3 1/2 million U.S. citizens, has been hit by the equivalent of a 10-megaton warhead. And now imagine that the area was hit not just once but once every 20 minutes – for weeks! Do you think such an event might immediately get the complete attention of our nation’s president and every member of our congress? – You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Well, over the past few weeks such a disaster has actually played out in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico. I admit that mixing a nuclear weapons reference into a discussion of Puerto Rico’s hurricanes may be a stretch, but I wanted to make the point that the power behind the devastation that just hit Puerto Rico was of a size almost beyond our comprehension.

According to my amateur scientific research, the amount of energy released by an “average” hurricane (category 3) is equal to the energy released by the detonation of a 10-megaton nuclear warhead, once every twenty minutes, for days. And, the two hurricanes that hit our Caribbean territory over the past few weeks were both dramatically stronger than category 3.

Category 5 Irma glanced by the island on September 6, and knocked out 70% of Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure. Then on September 20, Maria, — a category 4 storm when it hit – further flooded the land and further flattened everything, destroying virtually all of the remaining electrical power grid, thousands of homes and large swaths of vegetation across the island.

The mega-tonnage punch of these tandem disasters has left all Puerto Ricans – remember, they’re fellow American citizens – facing many months, if not years, of daunting hardship. It will be like a society recovering from a war. Millions of these human beings will be facing a future of rebuilding a chunk of American land the size of Connecticut from scratch.

So where was President Trump as the scope of this destruction became urgently clear? He was in Alabama, reveling in the applause of his voter base. The President was focusing his time and energy on campaigning for Luther Strange, the President’s choice to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate. (Luther lost.) Trump’s adoring fans were applauding him for his patriotic stand against all of those NFL player “S.O.B.’s” who have been kneeling in protest during pre-game U.S. flag presentations.

It seems the only time our President is completely confident is when he’s slinging the pugnacious rhetoric his voter base loves. And in Alabama, combining Trump’s bravado with any subject connected to football is a sure-fire winner. Especially when it also includes criticism of “uppity” black sports entertainers who should know better than to disrupt the pleasurable experience of NFL game viewers.

But don’t kid yourself. I’m convinced Donald Trump couldn’t care less about The Flag or the National Anthem or patriotism in general. If he possessed such passions it’s unlikely he’d have five very questionable draft deferments in his past. Trump’s first (and maybe only) passion is for Trump. But he does possess a natural instinct for “playing” his audiences, and that is all he was doing in Alabama. No more, no less.

So, now that the media and more of the public has begun to question President Trump’s priorities concerning the Puerto Rican disaster, will his attention span allow him to lead serious recovery efforts in the coming months, not just for Puerto Ricans but for the victims of hurricanes in Texas and Florida? Or, will his unquenchable need for attention and applause keep launching him in new irrelevant directions? Members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – can and should keep a spotlight on the need for this recovery work. Will they? We shall see.

At this point I’ve accepted the reality that our President is an insecure, incomplete man. He will never be what a great president should be. And unfortunately it looks like his personal needs will lead him to create new divisive issues (real or imagined), public anger and distrust, and distractions from the serious work at hand.

Ironically, Trump’s rant in Alabama has renewed discussion of exactly why NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and now a number of other black athletes, are “taking a knee” during pre-game flag ceremonies. Kaepernick’s actions were inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, a movement that was losing the general public’s attention. Now Trump’s Alabama bravado may have unintentionally reinvigorated a national discussion of the racist, and too often fatal, undercurrents that continue to exist between law enforcement and black Americans.

If that national discussion gains new energy, then this time for a change, our President’s loud mouth will have actually produced something positive.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973 

P.S. Last Monday night, a crowd of sociable Democrats gathered at the Tudor Wine Bar in Glencoe. The event was co-sponsored by the New Trier Dems and the Tenth Dems. A lot of interesting conversation took place. And with what we’ve been witnessing lately here at home and around the world, everyone agreed that a drink now and then isn’t a bad idea.

There are plans to continue having these events from time to time. Let the NTD0 office know if you like the idea or have any suggestions.