The exaggerated and unfair criticism of President George W. Bush in viewing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from the air now afflicts all presidents. Afraid of being labeled insensitive and not wanting to miss a chance for praise (Oh, thank you for coming, Mr. President!), President Trump heads today to Texas, where first responders are still searching for trapped residents, tens of thousands may be without homes for an extended basis, floodwaters are still waist-high in parts of Houston and 12,000 Texas National Guard troops have been deployed. Really, he’s going to pull resources and attention away from victims during this crisis?
Even though Trump reportedly will not be going to the Houston area itself, the extent of the crisis would suggest that now is not the time to go at all. The Post reports:
The Weather Service said Harvey’s rain is causing “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding over large portions of southeastern Texas,” and it warned of more agony to come. In an alert Monday, the service said Harvey could produce between 10 and 20 inches of additional rain along the upper Texas coast and part of Louisiana, along with as much as 50 inches of overall rainfall in some parts of Texas.
Meanwhile, other cities are trying to address the crisis by offering help. (“Austin city officials said they had been asked to shelter thousands of evacuees and were figuring out how many people they could take. … The Texas National Guard has deployed across the state, including engineers in Corpus Christi and an infantry search-and-rescue team in Rockport. Another search-and-rescue unit was staging in San Antonio and was likely to be deployed to affected areas shortly, officials said.”)
By visiting right now, before the rains have even ended, Trump necessarily imposes burdens on state officials. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Trump hopes to show himself as a leader of action and efficiency. But his visit poses its own potential problems. Law enforcement, medical and other emergency officials are often wary of diverting critical resources to presidential security and logistics while major relief operations are still underway.
Presidential visits require ordering hospitals on stand-by, closing air space and supplementing federal security detail with state and local officers.
Trump has been weirdly animated about the hurricane, exclaiming on Twitter about the unprecedented nature of the damage. Now, as he rushes to the scene (or close to the scene) to get his mug on TV, he might want to reconsider whether he will be blamed for diverting resources from those who need it. Trump loves seeing his own image (e.g. in big trucks, in the Oval Office), but his enthusiasm for the limelight and “looking the part” only emphasizes that he views the presidency as another reality show with him in the leading role.
His aversion to substance is well-known. (Why did he just eliminate an order to require infrastructure to meet higher flood-protection rules? Why did he propose an 11 percent cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Where is the new Department of Homeland Security secretary?) But when the post-crisis analysis happens, Trump will find that the president can rarely escape blame. So rather than rush to the cameras, maybe Trump should start filling empty slots at DHS, rule out the need for offsets (as Republicans did in prior natural disasters) and figure out how he’s going to keep the government open after the end of next month. (Hint: Drop the demand for funding the useless wall and rebuild Houston instead.) We promise not to criticize if he stays away, but that would require that he, for once, think of others first.