Nero fiddled while Rome burned – Trump tweeted promoting his friend’s book and touting his 2016 election victory while Texas drowned. In the case of the 64 A.D. fire that ravaged Rome, it’s still unknown if Nero, who like Trump was horribly unpopular at the time, truly played a musical instrument while Rome was engulfed in flames.
But there’s no denying Trump was joyfully tweeting during Hurricane Harvey about personal and political issues unrelated to this deadly storm while the people of Texas were fighting for their lives. And beyond Trump’s callous tweets that the media has for the most part ignored, Trump’s policies — both enacted and proposed — would make the next community in the crosshairs of a massive hurricane less safe. The media needs to start calling Trump out on this – especially when the president takes his expected trip to Texas on Tuesday to pat himself on the back.
First, with regard to Trump’s tweets, they are far worse than when George W. Bush gushed during Hurricane Katrina about his then FEMA director Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” This comment by Bush was widely ridiculed but at least in the midst of that hurricane Bush didn’t tout a friend’s book, brag about his election victory and raise unrelated political issues. But Trump did all of this.
On the morning of Sunday, August 27 as the sun came up on Texas, the media was engaged in wall to wall coverage of Hurricane Harvey, including Trump’s go to media outlet Fox News. At 6:39 A.M. E.T. that morning, Fox News’ Twitter feed tells us what the channel was covering: “Catastrophic flooding expected in parts of Texas in wake of #HurricaneHarvey.” That tweet was complete with images of streets flooded.
And at 6:48 A.M. Trump-supporting former General Jack Keane was on Fox News touting how Trump was focused on the storm: “@POTUS is doing what he should be doing. He drives government agencies that support state and local agencies.”
So was Trump’s first tweet the morning of August 27 about the people of Texas or the devastation that was now being covered extensively cable? Nope. Trump’s very first tweet that morning at 7:45 A.M. was stunningly: “A great book by a great guy, highly recommended!” And whose book was Trump hawking mid-hurricane? His buddy David Clarke’s. (Perhaps Trump thought people of Texas could use the book as a floatation device?!)
From there Fox News aired vivid details of the destruction that Hurricane Harvey had leveled upon Texas, such as this one at 8:06 A.M. that noted on the channel’s Twitter feed: “#HurricaneHarvey causes ‘catastrophic flooding’ in Houston, shuts down airport”.
Now Trump did offer some tweets after promoting Clarke’s book about the hurricane including one at 8:59 A.M. stating his intention to visit the state of Texas. That was the right thing to do. But with Fox News at 9:13 A.M. making it clear the life-threatening nature of the storm with its coverage and tweet: “1000+ rescued as catastrophic flash floods hammer #Houston — what did Trump tweet about minutes later?
At 9:15 A.M., Trump jaw-droppingly bragged about his 2016 election results: “I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!”
I’m sure the thousands of Texans watching their homes being devastated and desperately seeking a safe place for their families were consoled by Trump’s electoral success in Missouri. But Trump was not done with his selfish and despicable display. Minutes later at 9:44 A.M. Trump apparently grew bored of the extensive hurricane coverage and pivoted to his favorite issue: “With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.”
If Twitter was around when Nero was emperor you get an idea from Trump’s twitter feed what he would’ve tweeted.
But besides these tweets, the media needs to press Trump on his proposed budget cuts to FEMA and to HUD that both would undermine preparedness for storms in the future like Hurricane Harvey but hamper rebuilding efforts. Trump’s proposed budget released in May calls for nearly $700 million in cuts to FEMA’s budget next year for “Pre-Disaster Mitigation grants” designed to help communities implement long-term measures to reduce risks before disasters like a hurricane strike. Trump’s budget would also slash $190 million from National Flood Insurance program to update maps that identify flood prone areas.
Besides FEMA, when a major disaster like a hurricane occurs, the Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants help communities get back on their feet. These grants are a “vital source of funding to help low-income communities recover from disasters.” The current budget for these grants is $3 billion – Trump has proposed reducing the funding to zero! Trump is making it clear how little he cares about low income Americans with this proposed cut.
Add to that the media needs to press Trump on his decision two weeks ago to rescind Obama-era flood regulations that would require roads, buildings and other infrastructure to be constructed to withstand the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels. This, too, makes communities less safe when the next massive storm hits.
The media has done a great job covering Hurricane Harvey. It’s now time they began to press Trump on his Nero-esque tweets and his hypocrisy when it comes to hurricane related policies — especially as he takes a “victory lap” in Texas. The people of Texas deserve at least that much.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.