Donald Trump’s bigotry and cruelty were on display again this week in his response to the devastation in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where he alternately chose to ignore and insult the survivors of hurricane Maria. As the crisis mounted, Trump took a brief respite from berating NFL players to tweet about Puerto Rico—not in support of the island’s suffering residents, but to callously focus on the commonwealth’s "broken infrastructure & massive debt."
Days later, he responded to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz’s pleas for aid with a series of hateful messages, whining that she’d been “nasty” to him and leaning into the racist trope of lazy brown people who “want everything to be done for them.” The vitriol continued Saturday afternoon, as Trump implied that Mayor Cruz—pictured here wading through flood-contaminated waters—wasn’t working hard enough, via tweets sent during Trump's 60th visit to one of his luxury golf clubs. Interspersed were Trump’s childlike proclamations that relief efforts were being hampered by “big water...ocean water,” a statement that might seem innocuously idiotic were millions of lives not hanging in the balance.
Trump’s indifference to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is par for the course. Racism and malice form the core of who he is; these traits are the essence of his presidency, and while his response is stunning, it’s also perfectly in line with every other action he’s taken in office. To change horses midstream—to govern with a semblance of the empathy, competency or integrity he has lacked throughout his life—would be out of character. In other words, Trump’s gonna Trump. The more disturbing fact is that 63 million people recognized Trump’s hatefulness and racism, liked what they saw enough to vote for him, and even now, continue to fervently support him. The tragic mess in Puerto Rico isn’t the latest unforeseen consequence of electing a bigoted narcissist; it’s exactly what Trump voters cast their ballots for. The details couldn’t have been predicted, but the general outline and shading were well established.
The suffering of “others”—nonwhites, Latinos, immigrants (which millions of confused Americans assume Puerto Ricans are)—was a cornerstone of Trump’s presidential campaign and a guiding principle of this White House. Trumpism promised to assuage the feelings of loss and demoralization of those who spent the Obama years feeling overlooked; Trump assured them they’d been unfairly robbed and promised someone would pay the price. Trump’s aggrieved voters saw themselves as victims of progressive policies that leaned toward equality, leveling a playing field they’ve always considered their rightful home base. The perceived precariousness of their status (which was never really in danger) drove their misplaced anger and their voting habits. When you’re accustomed to privilege, as the old saying goes, equality looks like oppression. Trump’s election was a demand from millions of white Americans to weaponize that nonexistent oppression and redirect it toward those who threaten their status, standing and power.
I’m not saying Trump supporters voted explicitly for black and brown folks to die, obviously. But their support for Trump was, and continues to be rooted in a desire to see this president enact policies designed to harm people of color and other historically marginalized groups. They chose a leader whose entire platform is to denigrate and disenfranchise, in both speech and policy, nonwhites at every opportunity. The catastrophe Puerto Rico is experiencing is the natural outcome of that kind of disdain for people of color and the devaluation of their lives. Trump's supporters voted for this.
Trump’s hostile tweets to an island in peril aren’t gaffes or mistakes. His seeming lack of caring toward the human beings who live there is not poor media skills. This is another example of this president maintaining the stance he’s held since day one, which his base continues to love him for. This won’t be the last time Trump causes unnecessary suffering. His voters and supporters deserve at least some of the credit.