There are already some in the media who are claiming that Donald Trump now has an “opportunity” to “unify” the country with his response to Hurricane Harvey. This narrative, which completely lacks context and substance, needs to be nipped in the bud immediately. Trump lost any such opportunity on Friday night. Per the New York Times today:
Hurricane Harvey was the rarest of disasters to strike during the Trump presidency — a maelstrom not of Mr. Trump’s making, and one that offers him an opportunity to recapture some of the unifying power of his office he has squandered in recent weeks.
Let’s forget for a moment that Trump actually hadn’t “squandered” the “unifying power” of his office “in recent weeks” ― he never had that unifying power, from even before he took that office, squandering it by attacking, among many others, protesters marching against him, a television comedy show and a Broadway play. Soon after he became president, he continued attacking the media, members of Congress, the FBI ― I could go on and on ― and has been underwater in the polls since his first few weeks of taking office.
But even if we look simply at his response to Hurricane Harvey itself, putting aside the past seven months, Trump exhibited how he’d recklessly use a natural disaster for his own purposes. The “opportunity” and “chance” to unify people is gone: Trump used the early hours of the hurricane, and the media coverage around it, to rampage on democracy and further divide rather than unite a nation.
“Trump exhibited how he’d recklessly use a natural disaster for his own purposes.”
He pardoned the racist former Sherif Arpaio, causing enormous backlash even among some Republicans and conservative pundits for this blatant contempt for the rule of law, and even later bragged that he did it at this time for “ratings.”
He signed the order to ban any transgender people from entering the military, again something many Republicans opposed, putting fear into the hearts of so many people serving and defending this country honorably.
The fear that the Arpaio pardon created, and the message it sent to the Latino community, is only going to grow exponentially if Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in coming days ― and the White House sent out the signals of his intention to do so during the hurricane ―putting 800,000 youth in danger of deportation.
Trump went to Camp David on Friday as the category 4 hurricane made landfall, leaving Mike Pence and others in the Situation Room at the White House to deal with the storm, while he sat alone at his desk and fumbled around on Twitter. He sent out tweets as if he was watching a great show about the “HISTORIC” storm, and seeming to thank the people of Houston for it ― while thousands were stranded and needing help.
He rambled on about his big election win in Missouri, and once again demanded his wall be built on the border and said that Mexico would pay for it.
He promoted the book of another divider, Sherif David Clarke, the Milwaukee lawman who, like Arpaio, has a long history of allegations of abuse. And he later retweeted a defense of his pardon of Arpaio (who hadn’t even been sentenced yet), which was false and claimed that President Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning when he actually commuted her sentence after she spent seven years in prison under conditions the United Nations called “inhumane.”
On Monday, in a joint press conference with the Finnish president, Trump expanded on these divisive topics (still repeating false information about Obama’s commutations of sentences) in response to reporters’ questions, even as Houston was set to get two more feet of rain on top of the two feet it had already sustained from Harvey.
Trump divided the country as perhaps the worst hurricane to hit the United States made landfall and spent the next several days continuing to do so. We must immediately put a stop to any media narrative that he now has a chance to “unify” the country in his response to Harvey.
The response of the federal government and FEMA (bolstered under President Obama, with cuts contemplated by Trump to build his wall), however that response is judged in the end, cannot be used as the sole judge of the president’s response. While the government itself responds with help, Trump himself responded without providing leadership or attempting to unify Americans. He only showed callous disregard, instilled fear and further divided this country as millions faced the wrath of a deadly storm.