President Donald Trump believes the reporting on the 2017 hurricane that hit Puerto Rico is another example of fake news. Last Tuesday, the commonwealth government decided to issue the official revised death toll of Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 following two studies from George Washington University and Harvard University. These numbers were also backed up by the U.S. government who commissioned their own study and found nearly the exact same results. To steal Trump’s own words: “this is a total and complete disaster.”
Instead of playing the mature representative, learning from these mistakes by preparing measures for Hurricane Florence, the president decided to weave together a disturbingly false narrative claiming these revised death toll numbers are a partisan attack by the Democrat party to “make him look bad” while presenting no evidence to back these claims up.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” the president tweeted in a series of posts just early last week. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000 . . . This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list.”
He doubled down on these tweets during a White House press visit:
“I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico,” Trump declared. “We’re still helping Puerto Rico. The governor is an excellent guy and he’s very happy with the job we’ve done. We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico. And it was a very tough one.
“Don’t forget, their electric plant was dead before the hurricane,” he continued to exaggerate. “If you look back on your records, you’ll see that plant was dead, it was shut, it was bankrupt, it was out of business. They owed tremendous amounts of money. They had it closed up. And then when the hurricane came, people said, ‘What do are we going to do about electricity?’ That wasn’t really the hurricane.”
Except it was. To give the president credit, he’s correct in saying Puerto Rico’s electric utility had declared bankruptcy. It was the Puerto Rico Energy Commission report that highlighted how the country experienced lowered levels of power standards throughout years prior. However, it’s also an outright lie to suggest the commonwealth had no electricity before being hit with their natural disasters.
According to The National Hurricane Center and the government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the hurricane effectively “knocked down 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s utility poles and all transmission lines, resulting in the loss of power to essentially all of the island’s 3.4 million residents,” lasting beyond the end of 2017.
This doesn’t mean everything in the country was smooth, sure. The best example the president could cite was when a power plant fire left around a million people without power for three days. We’re not exactly talking quick-fix industrialized paradises or third world standards of poverty here, but alas, the president has another agenda that goes beyond facts.
Trump has now turned facts, which prove governmental failures directly lead to the deaths of thousands, into an issue of partisan politics. Such blatant lying is quite a persuasive strategy for those convinced by dominating figures. Instead of conceding failure, which would force reflection of his supporters’ part, the man goes on the offense to deflect the blame onto his desired enemies. In this case, the truth, presented by non-partisan universities in rigorous studies, has an anti-Trump liberal bias — and the president just can’t handle that form of criticism.
Puerto Rico saw a disproportionate amount in both survival funds and federal attention compared to the events in Texas, Florida and other hurricanes of the past. From his response, there’s little Trump has learned in preparation for disasters to come, whether it’s FEMA’s delay in approving crucial disaster aid, his recent decision to divest that aid into ICE enforcement, and the failure to deliver millions in meals, water and medicine to survivors — all of which contributed to the rising death toll following the initial strike. As Vox points out, Trump’s puffing-of-the-chest could prove an effective, albeit amoral strategy with the 84 percent of Republicans who approve of the president, forcing GOP representatives to loyally back their leader over the truth.