News & Politics

Paul Krugman: Trump's Disgraceful Puerto Rico Response Can Be Explained in One Word

Would the president let the people of Iowa go weeks without water or electricity?

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall, as much as 90 percent of Puerto Rico remains without electricity, while food and gas are in short supply. The situation has grown so dire that islanders have taken to collecting drinking water from toxic Superfund sites. Yet on Thursday, Donald Trump was threatening to cut off federal aid to the United States commonwealth, claiming the government "can't keep FEMA, the military & First Responders...in P.R. forever."

For the New York Times' Paul Krugman, only one word can explain the president's staggering callousness: race.

In his Friday column, Krugman presents readers with a thought experiment of sorts. Would the Trump administration drag its feet for weeks before lobbying Congress for a federal relief package if a natural disaster befell the people of Iowa, a state with roughly the same population as Puerto Rico? Would the president attack the island's politicians and citizenry if they were of Nordic descent? The answer to both questions is almost assuredly no. For proof, one need look no further than the government's response to Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston and swaths of South Texas.

"The Trump administration seems increasingly to see this tragedy as a public relations issue, something to be spun—partly by blaming the victims—rather than as an urgent problem to be solved," Krugman writes.

A Trump tweet Friday morning would appear to bear out Krugman's theory. The president praised the "unmatched spirit" of the Puerto Rican people, vowing "I'll always be with them!"—a grotesque statement considering he has offered the debt-ravaged island a $5 billion loan to rebuild, rather than federal grant money. In effect, Puerto Rico must pay for its own survival.

While Trump is working diligently to gut health care for millions of Americans, eliminating subsidies that would dramatically lower the cost of deductibles, Krugman notes that the president "has a special animus toward minorities."

"Whatever the precise mix of motives, what’s happening in Puerto Rico is utterly shameful," he concludes. "And everyone who enables the regime perpetuating this shame shares part of the guilt."

Read Paul Krugman's column at the New York Times.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

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