Sunday, October 01, 2017
I have been fortunate - I have visited Puerto Rico several times. I am particularly fond of Culebra, a small island off the east coast of Fajardo (the main island of Puerto Rico). Culebra is a wonderful, sleepy place with marvelous beaches and very friendly people - a combination of long-time locals and gringos that have escaped the rat race in El Norte. I have hung out at the Dinghy Dock and Zaco's Tacos, strolled Flamenco Beach and snorkeled off the coast; I have danced on New Year's Eve in the town plaza with the locals and the tourists. So I have been personally dismayed by the disaster of Hurricane Maria - not as bad as the 5.3 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S., of course, but I have a connection. I have heard via the internet that Culebra did not get hit as hard as Fajardo and Vieques (another small island, but not as small as Culebra), but everything on Culebra is tied to Fajardo - the fresh water is piped over via an undersea aquaduct. All of Puerto Rico is in a massive crisis - pobre Puerto Rico, este hermoso país despreció este desastre.
The U.S. Government's response to this has been, at best, lumbering and slow. It takes time for the Federal apparatus to start moving. Since Maria took out the local relief capabilities, there hasn't been much rapid response. And yes, the local infrastructure was not as strong as one might like (but I am not sure that any infrastructure could have stood up well to Maria's onslaught). The tone of discourse from President Trump has been awful, of course. He is an awful person and generally does not try to comfort anyone. But I suspect that the folks in FEMA and on the ground in Puerto Rico and working frantically to pull the territory out of the abyss.
And I am left with a question - why are we yelling at each other? There is a crisis; it is no one's fault. Of course the people who are in extreme distress are afraid that they have been abandoned and legitimate logistical challenges feel like deliberate delays. It is reprehensible for anyone to blame the people and government of Puerto Rico for this disaster - that is like blaming a carjacking on the victim because they were driving in a bad neighborhood. And the racial overtones of Trump's tweets can't be ignored. The folks in Houston and Florida did not get accused of laziness.
And I, too, have been guilty of self-indulgent anger and righteous rage. I have degenerated into name-calling and vilification. How does this help? Of course, it doesn't.
The United States is in a cultural crisis that is at least as bad as the one that was raging during the Vietnam War when I was a teenager. We have a president that is not a kind and calm human being, which adds to our difficulty. Legitimate issues across the political spectrum can't be rationally discussed in the current environment. Our nation has always struggled with the tension between individual freedoms and group interests. With calm deliberation, folks that disagree can find ways to accommodate each other. We are far, far away from calm deliberation.
The core principles of the United States of America are honorable, and the country has yet to live up to them. From the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. From the Constitution: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and for our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. If any government or president seeks to upend these core principles, that government or president must be defeated. I do think that the current Trump administration is violating our nation's core principles. I am an optimist, so I think this situation will be corrected in time. But regardless of "who is in charge," our country will still fall short of living up to its principles. The legitimate disagreements will continue. And that is the way it will always be.