I’ve never heard President Donald Trump sing, and that’s certainly a good thing. Day after day, he shows just how amazingly tone-deaf he is.
He frequently brags about how he is personally compelled to “punch back” whenever anyone takes him on. No matter how gentle the criticism, it spurs an all-out verbal assault from him. It also doesn’t matter how desperate the critic is, if those crying out, for instance, are in mortal danger; if they cross Donald Trump, they can expect a nuclear Twitter barrage.
So it is with the 3 million or so U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico who are struggling to survive the devastation of Hurricane Maria. They are coping with the elimination of their entire infrastructure — the infrastructure that sustains their lives, that provides basics like food, water, electricity, communication and medical care. All that has been pretty much wiped out, and the government response to its massive collapse has been, to put it charitably, insufficient.
Trump insists that it’s actually beyond sufficient, that his administration is doing an “amazing job.” His acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the federal response has been “good news.”
Her words set off the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who is fighting a losing battle with this calamity and its overwhelming aftermath: “Damn it, this is not a good news story,” she emotionally retorted, “This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a life or death story. … This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water.”
That was enough to push the buttons of the Trumpster Tweeter, who launched an all-out barrage aimed at “such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico.” After all, he continued, “They want everything to be done for them.”
As for the mayor, his tirade continued that she’s just a tool of the Democrats who are “ingrates” and ignore the difficulties of a rescue effort on “an ISLAND, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” I know I speak for all of us when I express my appreciation for that geography lesson, but it’s missing the big picture: Citizens of the United States have been crushed by another storm, like the citizens of Houston and much of Florida were.
In fairness, there are differences: The logistics do make an emergency response more difficult. Another is that the island’s facilities, particularly the electric utility, were already in pathetic shape because of years of corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement. All of that makes the obstacles to an effective rescue more formidable. But this is a catastrophe for our fellow Americans, even though the dominant language in Puerto Rico is Spanish, which his harshest critics say might have contributed to Trump’s lethargic response.
But there was nothing lethargic about his reaction to the complaints. There never is. When he was through unleashing his malicious maelstrom at people on the ground in Puerto Rico, he returned to the storm from last week, where he took more cybershots at NFL players and those from other sports who have protested his profane attacks on their protests as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. “Very important that NFL players STAND.” He found time for that tweet even as Americans are close to drowning in water and debris following a massive hurricane.
“Tone-deaf” doesn’t really cover his inability to comprehend anyone’s agony but his own, which happens the moment anyone dares to express dissent in any way that ruffles his fragile fantasy of self-worth. At the same time, he relishes the outrage. It’s another opportunity to express his victimhood, the feeling that he’s exploited in his base.
For the millions who aren’t so base, the expressions of scorn are getting more and more direct. His attack on the leaders on the ground in Puerto Rico caused a storm of counterattacks. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and original star of the Broadway show “Hamilton,” predicted that Trump will be going “straight to hell.” What more is there to say? I wonder if they have Twitter there.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.