Op-ed: Lessons learned

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017 9:31am
  • Opinion

Of all the terror experienced by the millions of residents in Houston and environs, imagine the agony felt by those from the Katrina diaspora. They are the ones who were among the quarter million or so New Orleans-area unfortunates who were rescued from that area’s overwhelming floodwaters in 2005 and brought to Houston to survive.

An estimated 12,000 decided to stay and reconstruct their lives, setting up permanent residence in the sprawling Houston metropolitan region. Of all the suffering millions of residents feel now that they managed to survive Harvey, they are only beginning to understand what lies ahead trying to rebuild what they and their loved ones had before. For the refugees from Katrina, that bitter experience is all too familiar. A feeling of futility or of being cursed must be prevalent.

What slivers of hope might be there come from the lessons learned in the 2005 tragedy. Donald Trump is obviously determined not to further soil his presidency by repeating the mistakes of George W. Bush and the “heck of a job” his people did. While Trump has made boastful self-congratulations a part of his very persona, this time he showed a flexibility and willingness to constructively lead that is totally out of character. His second visit to Houston was a display of his jovial side, offering congenial assurances, even hugging babies and posing for selfies. Even his telling some of the beleaguered to have “a good time” couldn’t distract from the fact that, so far, his disaster people have done a respectable job of coordinating with local officials who have worked with thousands of impromptu volunteers. The tough job lies ahead, as the Katrina survivors know all too well, but POTUS left an impression to many on the soggy ground that he has their back. The desperate will take that wherever they can find it.

When the Houston Astros decided that they could start playing again at Minute Maid Park, their home stadium, they provided large blocks of tickets to one of the city’s megashelters a couple of blocks away so that thousands of Houstonians could boisterously cheer and celebrate a brief moment of the normalcy that was so recently wrenched from them.

As for President Trump, he obviously didn’t want anyone to think he had gone all mellow. He did manage to retweet a bit of snark about Hillary Clinton. And he does face a swarm of problems in the D.C. swamp. A grim reminder of the danger the planet faces exploded, literally, when North Korea tested a more powerful hydrogen bomb and claimed that it could be mounted on missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Back home, the frenzy resumes on Tuesday. He left it to his attorney general Jeff Sessions to announce that he’d be killing the “Dreamer” program in six months if Congress doesn’t intervene. “Dreamers” are the thousands of children who were raised in the United States after they entered the county illegally with their parents. President Barack Obama had ordered special protections for them; candidate Trump had promised his anti-everyone supporters that he would end the program. It’s a tough decision, because Trump insists “I love the Dreamers,” but he had a strange way of showing it, particularly since some of them were among the hero rescuers in Houston. Still, Trump’s base would have been upset if he had shown any compassion to them. On the positive side, at least he didn’t make his decision known in one of those Friday-night dumps we’ve all come to know and despise.

Oh yeah, raising the debt ceiling is also on the immediate agenda as an alternative to throwing the financial world into chaos. Then there’s passing a budget and keeping the federal government open. Add to that the GOP promises to deliver tax reform — in this case, figuring out ways to cut what their rich buddies pay. Also added to this stew now is a need for Congress to pass billions of dollars needed immediately as a down payment for Harvey relief. Those in Houston who have suffered calamity before know how Washington is fully capable of taking good intentions and making their lives worse.

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

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