Donald Trump, the Leader of the Free World, is having yet another spectacular week. And it’s only Thursday.
Having awarded himself an A+ for his administration’s responses to the hurricanes that devastated Texas, Florida and the Virgin Islands, he announced during a speech in the Rose Garden last Tuesday that “We did a great job in Texas, a great job in Florida, a great job in Louisiana”. He hit full stride when he said “We hit pieces of Georgia and Alabama”. But Puerto Rico, which had received no attention from him since the onset of the fury of Hurricane Maria over a week ago, gave him pause and even more opportunity to gild the lily.
He said that Puerto Rico posed a few special problems. He got into full Geography teacher mode when he explained, “Puerto Rico is an island in the middle of the ocean. It is surrounded, you know, by water, big water, big salty ocean water. It was not possible, as we did in Texas and Florida, to drive trucks with supplies across this big water”. Truly magnificent rhetoric.
In spite of this “water” problem, he was lavish in his praise for his own performance and the efforts of his administration. However, he criticized local Puerto Rican government officials, who expected Americans to do everything for them, when it “should be a community effort”. He included in his criticism the “poor leadership” of Ms. Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of San Juan. He made these comments from the luxurious surroundings of his golf club in New Jersey, and the television picture included a simultaneous inset of Ms. Cruz, displaying her “poor leadership” skills, wading chest deep in water, handing over supplies to victims of the hurricane! He also said that Puerto Rico, which is a United States territory with 3.5 million tax-paying American citizens, had put “his budget out of whack”; and their economy was also in crisis, owing US$ 74 billion to Wall Street.
Puerto Rico, being a US territory, doesn’t have the option, like another US entity, of using the escape mechanism of bankruptcy to restructure its debt. I doubt if Trump understands the delicious irony of criticizing the island’s debt, when he has called himself the “King of Debt” in the past; his companies have gone through bankruptcy six times. Trump now favours that Puerto Rico be allowed to declare bankruptcy, his standard personal “get out of jail” card, and restructure its debt, instead of forgiving the debt of an American territory in the throes of a terrible disaster. This would be the humanitarian thing to do, so it’s outside Trump’s ken. I wonder what Trump’s decision would have been if Puerto Rico was inhabited by white American citizens.
Of course, Trump has also conveniently forgotten that he has contributed US$ 33 million to Puerto Rico’s debt, when one of his companies bankrupted a golf course in the island a few years ago.
When Trump explained his difficulties of providing rescue aid to an island a mere 1,100 miles away, he was reminded that the United States had the capacity to put a man on the moon 50 years ago, and to conduct simultaneous wars all around the globe.
In his defence, Trump said that the presidents in those times did not have the additional problem, with which he was currently grappling, of restoring national pride and patriotism by insisting that the players of the National Football League stand when the pre-game National Anthem was being played. He encouraged the owners of the teams to “fire the sons of bitches” who “took a knee” to the National Anthem in protest against police brutality. These were American citizens who were expressing their right to peaceful free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This protest was initiated by Colin Kaepernick, a leading black quarterback from San Francisco. He protested law enforcement brutality against the black community in the United States, by kneeling when the National Anthem was being played at a preseason game about 13 months ago. Over the months, a few other athletes joined this movement, until Trump joined issue and made his now infamous “sons of bitches” comment. This speech has resulted in the number of NFL players “taking a knee” during the National Anthem to top over 250 players. The most memorable reaction to Trump’s words came from Colin Kaepernick’s mother, who tweeted that “this would make her one proud bitch”.
It is interesting to note that Francis Scott Key’s third verse of his original lyrics included the following words:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”.
The Star Spangled Banner, written as it was in 1813, when slavery was in full swing, certainly did not include blacks in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The African American athletes’ protest mechanism of “taking a knee” during the rendering of the National Anthem seems to indicate that such reservations remain in their minds even today.
Other athletes have joined issue. Stephen Curry, a basketball player of the Golden State Warriors, has refused to honor the traditional NBA Champion’s visit to the White House, because “we don’t stand for what basically our president …. has said and the things he hasn’t said at the right times ….we won’t stand for it. It’s just not the act of not going. ….We’re all trying to do what we can, using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that” (police brutality against the black community). When he heard that Stephen Curry and the rest of his team were planning to boycott the White House visit, Trump, in true Trumpian style of petulance, cancelled the invitation.
To which LeBron James, the most popular basketball player in the country, responded to Trump, in a tweet:
“U bum” (meaning Trump!) Stephen Curry already said he ain’t going. So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up”.
These are the world-shattering issues that Trump was dealing with, which prevented him from giving his full attention to the havoc caused to a United States territory and the suffering endured by 3.5 million American (mainly brown) citizens.
Despite these obstacles, Puerto Rico’s Republican lapdog governor, Ricardo Rossello, had congratulated Trump on the tremendous work his administration had done in Puerto Rico. At a news conference last Monday with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain, the words used by Trump to describe the competence of his administration’s relief efforts in the beleaguered island were “amazing”, “tremendous”, “incredible” ; the fact that he left out his favourite words, “bigly” and “uuuuuge” was evidence of his trademark restraint. At the time Trump made these self-congratulatory comments about the situation in Puerto Rico, the island was without electricity, water, fuel and food, and on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
Then came the horrendous mass murder in Las Vegas on Sunday night, when a 64-year old, white millionaire used an assault rifle to shoot at an audience of 30,000 at an open-air Country and Western concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing (at the latest count) 59 people and injuring, some critically, over 500. Amidst the chaos, first responders heroically tried to contain the damage. The shooter killed himself before the police could apprehend him. No motive has been given for this heinous crime yet, as the shooter did not seem to fit into any known terrorist category. The investigation is still in progress.
Although there have been, as there are after every mass shooting, demands for stricter gun control, nothing is likely to happen. The National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment enthusiasts who have most of the Republican (and a few Democrat) members of Congress firmly in their pockets , will yet again stop the enactment of any reasonable gun control measures. Trump himself expressed his “thoughts and prayers” for the families of the victims, and his spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said that “Now is not the time to talk about gun control”. He will never anger his base of white supremacist gun enthusiasts with restrictions to their wet dream. So the time for sensible gun control measures remains, in a country which has an ongoing love affair with guns to make up for other numerous shortcomings of some its citizens, in the distant future.
Trump visited Puerto Rico for a few hours on Tuesday, when he antagonized the entire native population by inappropriate comments and actions. He ended his visit with a disgraceful distribution of supplies, when he humiliated the people present by throwing paper towels and other supplies at the crowd like a basketball player. These antics only served to cement the growing consensus that this man/toddler was completely unfit to serve as the President of the United States.
We are on Friday. The week is not over yet. I wonder what awaits the world tomorrow.
The special investigation into Russia’s collusion in the 2016 election is still ongoing, and hangs ominously over our heads. .Trump continues to play with fire by taunting the “Rocket Man” in North Korea, seemingly oblivious to the dangers of a nuclear war.
A decision adverse to Trump will not be met with peaceful resignation. It will be fought tooth and nail by a heavily armed base of conservatives, backed by white supremacists, the KKK and neo Nazis. A decision to maintain the status quo will keep us staggering from one crisis to another, from one act of presidential stupidity to another, from one mass murder to another, from one climate disaster to the next, with one piece of pro-oligarchic legislation being succeeded by another even more iniquitous.
These are indeed the worst of times. The prospects for the best of times seem remote for the “greatest country on the planet”. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said: “There is only one prediction that is entirely safe about the upcoming term, and that is: IT WILL BE MOMENTOUS”.