A year ago when I wrote about the problems in Houston, I wrote with great frustration about political expedience, poor planning, and supreme errors in judgment coupled with selfishness, but things have gotten so much worse.
In Houston, Trump knew that he should wait, the lesson was clear, and he pledged to stay away until he could visit without disrupting relief efforts. But he couldn’t wait to get his pictures and applaud himself, calling the response “a wonderful thing.” Then he did the same thing in Puerto Rico: 10 out of 10 he said. A year later, he still gives an “A plus” to the disaster, actually claiming that the Democrats jiggered the figures to make him look bad. He naturally continues to say his people kept the death toll to fewer than 20 when all the scientists put the tragic number at 2,975 people. Trump has shown significant racist hatred toward Hispanic and Latin populations, unfortunately it is difficult to determine if or when a poor response to a disaster is intentional or a result of incompetence since he shows incompetence in so many aspects of his presidency.
A year later, and like clockwork, “a disaster is at the doorstep.” Hurricane Florence has hit the Carolinas and the lessons are still being ignored. Expertise on disaster management is very clear. The four most important, and controllable, details are the availability and mobilization of resources, the robustness of system strength, the redundancy of alternatives, and the rapidity of responses. Failure in any of these areas can have significant consequences. Spoiler alert: The racist-in-chief has overseen $9.8 million diverted from FEMA to ICE detention centers, he has prioritized family detention and separation over Emergency Management, and he will give himself credit for a great job (again), but nothing in the response will be an improvement unless it’s pure innovation by an underfunded but highly skilled FEMA.
To call it shameful is to give too much credit and to ignore the willful wrongdoing of this disaster-in-chief. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both showcased the ability to delay trips, and learn from mistakes. Flyovers, for example, allow the President to visit without disrupting relief efforts. But, Trump will make sure he gets more feet-on-the-ground photo-ops, his undeniable narcissism and his awkward paper towel tossing photos are just too irresistible… Trump has shown an absolute unwillingness to be honest. His 7.6 lies a day are only increasing, and his inability to admit to mistakes presents him with no room for growth. So Americans are left in the position of having their lives placed in mortal risk in order for the President to protect his ego despite utter and abject failure.
To blame Trump as the sole problem is also a mistake. Despite his unprecedented and un-presidential thousands of lies, 32 percent of American voters believe Trump is honest and 84 percent of Republicans approve of the job he is doing. So it really isn’t a surprise that chances to address continued and increasing risks and threats from natural disasters and global climate change are avoided and ignored.
I do not wish hardship on anyone, but it is hard to ignore the irony in North Carolina’s intentional near-sightedness and climate change denial. In 2012, North Carolina legislators banned “the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise.” Stephen Colbert’s mockery back then was well deserved: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved…” But, in the coming days reminders of this willful ignorance will feel like salt in the wounds.
There are clear democratic solutions to the human-caused parts of these disasters. First, people need to vote. The 43 percent of Americans (about 100 million people) who didn’t vote in 2016, for example, could make huge differences. Those numbers could keep incompetence out of elected office and could force politicians to stop ignoring science. Currently big businesses are able to push forward climate denial agendas because it is good for their short-term profits, but the vote is a chance to put people ahead of dollar signs. Second, people can exercise their right to petition their leaders. You do not have to silently sit back and wait for change. If you are tired of the threat these elected officials pose to you, your families and communities, and the whole planet – say something: Tell Trump to resign! Third, recognize human caused global warming. There is virtually unanimous scientific consensus, and the conclusions are clear. The frequency and intensity of these weather events will continue to increase. There is no ambiguity in the science: An increase in temperature causes an increase in water in the atmosphere, an increase in the sea surface temperature combined with increased atmospheric water equals stronger tropical storms. We can all examine our footprints, work to be more conscientious in our daily living, and be prepared for future disasters.
Like I wrote last year, and will again next year: Hurricanes are as predictable as presidential photo ops, and they both have warnings. Trump knows that he should stay at home, and we know that we are causing climate change. If we don’t take responsibility, things will only get worse, and Trump has completely shoved his head in the sand, so it is up to everyone else now.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.