Trump’s Human-Rights Atrocity in Puerto Rico

If this were happening in a developing nation, it would be an international outrage. It’s happening in the United States, and not enough people seem to care.

Eight months after Hurricane Maria assaulted Puerto Rico, its residents continue to endure indignity after indignity. These indignities are the direct result of Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s malignant neglect of the terrority. Trump and the Republican Party do not view Puerto Ricans as fellow citizens of this country. They don’t think Puerto Ricans deserve clean water, reliable electricity or even basic respect. The only thing Trump and the GOP want to give the victims of Hurricane Maria is a backhand slap.

In the wake of former First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing, we were reminded of Bush’s untoward remarks about those who suffered the wrath of both Hurricane Katrina and the scorn of Bush’s offspring. Sadly, Bush’s intemperate remarks were terms of endearment compared to what Trump and the GOP must say and think behind closed doors when the topic of post-Maria Puerto Rico comes up. The level of raw hate that the right feels towards residents of Puerto Rico is unfathomable.

If Trump survives Russiagate and runs for re-election in 2020, it’s a guarantee that he will use Puerto Rico to raise the racial ire of his base. He will tell the MAGA-maniacs that Maria’s survivors were ungrateful for his “help,” that they just want to be dependent upon government largesse, that they will not do for themselves—and his supporters will lap up those lies like free candy. Will Democrats respond to those lies by highlighting the suffering of post-Maria Puerto Ricans at the 2020 Democratic National Convention? Will they allow survivors of Maria and Trump to call out the prejudiced President from the podium, denouncing his treatment of those who needed basic help? I fear that Democrats will ignore or downplay Puerto Rico at that convention, deeming discussion of Trump’s treatment “too controversial” and “too offensive” to the, ahem, “working-class folks in middle America” Democrats seem desperate to win back.

That would be a profound shame, and politically shortsighted to boot. Any voter indifferent to the moral squalor of Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico isn’t voting Democratic, ever.

As Ernest Canning observed last year, the Constitution should not be indifferent to the moral squalor of Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico, either:

Congress need not await the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s meticulous investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election before determining if President Donald J. Trump should be impeached.

The phrase “high crimes” that appears in the Impeachment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to the Constitution Society, “refers to those punishable offenses that only apply to high persons, that is, to public officials, those who, because of their official status, are under special obligations that ordinary persons are not under, and which could not be meaningfully applied or justly punished if committed by ordinary persons.”

It is an impeachment threshold that can be found in President Trump’s reckless and callous disregard of his special obligation to protect the lives and safety of the 3.6 million American citizens who reside in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico…

Issues concerning the dangers of climate science denial aside, this is not to remotely suggest that this President should be impeached solely by reason of the Puerto Rican deaths directly occasioned by the initial, devastating Hurricane Maria, itself. However, the scope of a President’s duty to protect American lives in the aftermath of the storm is informed by the extent of the devastation left behind by its parting winds and rain. The reality of the danger to health and safety defines the scope of the recovery efforts needed to minimize the loss of life.

Almost from the moment Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, Trump knew or should have known, based on available information, that the island’s residents faced a life-threatening catastrophe. “It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,” according to Jeff Weber, a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Of course, Trump is not likely to be impeached even if the House and Senate change hands in November, as Democrats, who let George W. Bush off the impeachment hook in 2007, just don’t want to touch that particular third rail. However, history will indeed impeach and convict Trump for crimes against humanity in Puerto Rico.

One only wishes that the plight of this US territory received as much media coverage as the contents of the James Comey memos. Forget about that infamous tape: the way Trump has treated Puerto Rico should have all of us pissed off.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.