Photo Courtesy of CNBC

Photo Courtesy of CNBC

Response to Presidential Action in Puerto Rico

The foundation of centralized government rests on the principle that a strong national administration can more effectively and efficiently accomplish expensive, large-scale projects, including natural disaster relief efforts, than local governments. This principle justifies national taxation and the election of officials who determine the fortunes of of vast swaths of a nation they may never have visited. Federalism in the United States involves compromises between this centralized system and local governance. Typically, the centralized system works: it enables countries to defend and improve themselves more effectively than localized bureaucracies can because they have larger workforces and financial resources. Many socially progressive goals have been accomplished under this system, although success depends primarily on the party and ideology in power. When callous and incompetent personnel direct the central administration, however, the weaknesses of such a system are revealed.

The presidential response to the crisis in the Caribbean would be laughable if its farcical nature did not affect homeless, tempest-tossed people who deserve better aid than the self-aggrandizing publicity stunts of Donald Trump. The American government has an ignominious history of inadequate and slothful responses to natural disasters. For example, the nearly 2,000 initial deaths and the 100 evacuation casualties that resulted from Hurricane Katrina and may not be solely the fault of the government, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s chaotic actions and logistical failures compounded an already dreadful situation.

Trump added insult to pernicious injury when he informed Puerto Rico that the federal government would eventually leave it. The continental United States often forgets the offshore territories it controls and to which it is responsible, yet there are few instances where the bitter hypocrisy of taking forcible possession of a territory and then neglecting it have never been more clearly demonstrated. The president has a responsibility for all who qualify for protection by the U.S. government, regardless of whether they may send representatives to Congress to hold him accountable for his actions on their behalf. The House of Representatives has no representation from Puerto Rico or her sister unincorporated territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, and unincorporated, unorganized American Samoa. Nevertheless, in approving the relief fund, it demonstrated more sympathy for the land its members do not represent than the president did.

As if to illustrate his own egocentric fecklessness, President Trump staged an infamous propaganda stunt when he visited Puerto Rico: he threw paper towel rolls into a crowd as casually and carelessly as a boy throwing peppermints from a Fourth of July parade float. Then he blamed Puerto Rican citizens for the logistical faults that exacerbated the storm damage to telecommunication, electrical, and plumbing systems. He has fully disgraced the office of the president.


- Sam St. John '18