On Tuesday, even before his plane took off to tour the extensive damage Hurricane Maria wrought on Puerto Rico, the president congratulated himself on his successful response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done,” he said, as millions of Americans entered their thirteenth day without power or water and elderly people struggled to find food and medicine.
Hours later, Trump landed in San Juan and sat before Puerto Rico’s leaders to congratulate himself further. “We’ve saved a lot of lives,” he said, and asserted the situation was much better than the “real catastrophe” of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which resulted in more than 1,400 deaths. “Nobody’s ever seen anything like this, and what is your death count as of this moment?... Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud of all our your people, all of our people working together.”
Comparing Katrina and Maria’s respective death tolls is premature. Most of the deaths attributed to Katrina were calculated weeks, even months, after the storm hit; it is almost certain that the death toll will rise in Puerto Rico. Such a comparison is also characteristically crass, suggesting Trump only cares about the loss of life to the extent that it reflects well, or poorly, on his leadership.
The only thing Trump seems truly concerned about, in fact, is Puerto Rico’s massive debt. “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. “Because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.” He did the same thing last week, bringing up the “billions of dollars” the territory owes Wall Street, saying the debt “must be dealt with.” If only Trump showed this much outrage about the slow pace of emergency response.