“I’m sorry for your loss.”
That’s all he should have said to the family and friends of the 2,975 people who lost their lives in Puerto Rico during and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It’s the normal thing to say, the decent thing, the human thing. The bare minimum.
But that’s never what President Donald Trump has said. It’s not what he said in the days after, or any of the days since. Instead, Trump has repeatedly insulted the survivors and the dead alike by ignoring their loss. On Thursday, he denied that thousands of people died at all, claiming Democrats had made up this staggering death toll.
But people did die in Puerto Rico. People like my father, who died alone, without power and without his medication. According to our president, though, it wasn’t the inaccessibility of lifesaving medicine that killed him. Democrats are to blame.
Our elected leader cannot even do the bare minimum. Nothing he does is normal, decent or human.
To be clear, I don’t blame anyone for my father’s death. Unfortunately, natural disasters have always been part of our lives, and with climate change warming the Earth to dangerous levels, they will only get more devastating and more common.
My anger is not at the possibility that he could have been saved, or that the island’s crippled infrastructure should have been fixed years ago (though it should have). I stand here enraged because the person we put in charge of our country is intentionally devaluing life, creating rifts and sowing disbelief in people’s suffering.
Our elected leader cannot even do the bare minimum. Nothing he does is normal, decent or human. In a time of crisis, when our country looks to our leadership, he is only concerned about how it might make him look. I’ve heard people call him sadistic, but that assumes he understands others’ pain. He doesn’t. It’s clear the only thing he cares about is his feeling of superiority, and he is willing to put us all through hell to retain that.
I want to ask the president: Have you ever lost a loved one?
Imagine if that loss were called into question, denied by the very people who were meant to help you. Imagine you weren’t able to give your loved one a traditional funeral, and were forced to cremate the body, because the power still hasn’t come back on and your loved one is decomposing.
We need leaders who will remind us what empathy looks like. Instead we have a president who cares more about himself than about facts.
Imagine not ever knowing your loved one’s real cause of death because their body was left alone for days while the funeral home employees fended for their own lives. Imagine driving from government office to government office to obtain a death certificate while the leader of the free world sits behind a folding table and throws paper towels at your fellow citizens, picks a fight with the mayor of a ravaged city and accuses an entire group of people of being “lazy” and wanting everything done for them.
Imagine being told it’s your fault your loved one is dead. Why was he living there? Didn’t he know the infrastructure was in shambles? Imagine knowing the crumbling infrastructure is not your fault, but trying to do something to fix it anyway. Imagine tarping roofs that were blown off months before, shimmying up water-warped wood, standing on rusted tin roofs, hammering in temporary relief that is coming way too late.
Trump can’t. Trump can’t imagine anything. Which is why he says such dumb shit.
We are losing the ability to empathize, to see our fellow Americans’ pain and help them through their grief. The onslaught of tragedy has put nearly all of us in a position of pain in recent years, but because our president has no compassion, we are devolving. We need to forge our own path and hold on tightly to humanity, because we won’t be getting it from our president.
We need leaders who will remind us what empathy looks like. Instead we have a president who cares more about himself than about facts. Our lives and our humanity are slowly slipping away.
I’m sorry for our collective loss.
Keith Hernandez is the founder and principal of Launch Angle, a digital consultancy.