Op-ed: Humanity and inhumanity

  • By Bob Franken
  • Monday, September 4, 2017 9:27am
  • Opinion

Hurricane Harvey is such a tragic natural disaster that it’s been impervious to the vigorous attempts to steal the spotlight by that unnatural disaster Donald Trump. Even though our current president desperately craves the soothing of constant attention, his attempts at provocation — like the Joe Arpaio pardon and his usual Twitter outrages — were not enough to deflect our focus. The nation was concentrating instead on the thousands upon thousands of people suffering in the Gulf region, particularly Houston, as the historic deluge drove them from the safety of homes that had been turned into death traps by the rising water.

But as they struggled with their horror, the flooding could not sink the heroism of ordinary Americans banding together to assist their neighbors in trouble. Professionals from police forces, fire departments, the Coast Guard and National Guard, along with medical providers, social workers, etc., overcame monstrous conditions to do their jobs and put all their training exercises into real rescue operations. They were joined by a remarkable armada of private citizens; so many who had a boat and a boatload of compassion joined the frenzied effort to save their fellow citizens. Except for the local officials, who worked tirelessly, the politicians — the national ones who so tarnish this nation — were irrelevant for the moment. They were shunted aside by the likes of the “Cajun Navy,” dedicated owners of all kinds of floating devices who came from sometimes hundreds of miles away. Many had been bailed out themselves when they were overwhelmed by other catastrophes, and now simply viewed it as their obligation to risk their safety and do whatever they could to help their fellow citizens. Others were opening their homes to the families that had been driven from their own.

No one was the slightest bit concerned about who supported or opposed Donald Trump. There was no discussion about religion or skin color or immigration status. The widespread motivation was a primal urge to help out fellow human beings and, yes, their animals, in a time of dire need.

Their extreme selflessness could not even be marred by the appearance of the all-about-me chief executive who saw this only as an opportunity to wipe away the tarnish of his presidency, a man who viewed the victims of this tragedy as props. He showed little empathy. He wasn’t in the state long before he had finished his branding exercise and left behind those struggling to save their lives and to ponder a yearslong recovery.

All too soon, we’ll begin to see the political ugliness resurface. There will be pitched battles over funding as members of Congress jockey to please their constituencies. At the same time, the conservatives, who for the most part oppose efforts to blame climate change, will ignore the obvious signs that global heating contributed to this unprecedented weather. They also will battle any efforts to inhibit the willy-nilly development that has defined Houston, even though it’s clear that it has stifled the area’s natural ability to combat such attacks by Mother Nature. To put it simply, concrete eliminates the soil’s ability to soak up precipitation. It does, however, enrich the concrete manufacturers and all those others with deep pockets who benefit from an ever-widening building boom. They have succeeded with their influence-peddling in blocking zoning laws or any other attempts to establish even minimal controls over their lucrative urbanization. The politicians they have compromised are not about to stand in their way now, just because of some gargantuan disaster, even though it will inevitably happen again.

For the moment, as the clouds finally part and the saturation rains end, we can bask in the warm glow of ordinary people helping ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Their service to those who inhabit our extended community provides hope that the worst that nature has to offer cannot snuff out people’s good nature, no matter how cynical our politicians are.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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