Yesterday, when the threat Hurricane Harvey posed for Houston became clear, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued this chilling message:
Then President Donald J. Trump stood up in front of the American people and issued this message of concern, unity, and reassurance:
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Five people have now been reported dead and more than 1,000 others have been rescued from rising waters in Texas, and the flooding is certain to get worse. A couple high-pressure systems to the north have Harvey pinned down over Houston, and as of yesterday the National Weather Service was calling for as much as 50 inches of rain in the area before this thing is over. That would be well over half the amount of rain the area sees in a whole year. According to meteorologist Michael Lowry, it would be the heaviest rainfall from a tropical cyclone in U.S. history.
As of Sunday night, Mr. Trump has tweeted 23 times about Hurricane Harvey. He sounds not resolute or empathic or reassuring, but excited for the chance to preside over such a dramatic tragedy. Thirteen of those tweets feature exclamation marks. He also dropped an exclamation mark into his recommendation that we buy Sheriff Joe Clarke's book, a tweet he slipped in between Harvey tweets. To read his feed, the President sounds about as sober as an eight-year-old reading about dinosaurs. “Wow! Winds of 125 miles an hour? That's like as fast as a Corvette, right?”
“Or a Mustang!”
“Everybody knows Corvettes are faster than Mustangs, Barron.”
To be clear, I'm not using this still-unfolding tragedy to take cheap shots Mr. Trump for making it painfully, painfully, painfully, exceptionally painfully obvious to us all that he's aware a terrible hurricane is happening. I stand beside him, and have no doubt that the agencies and teams and heroic individuals in my state of Texas, those both licensed and not, will rise above these waters. They've rescued over 1,000 people, and will save many more lives in the days to come. It will be a long week, an exhausting effort, and thankfully it won't be another Katrina.
But in reality, almost none of that has nor will have anything to do with Donald Trump, who is truly a sick person. He doesn't care about disasters. He doesn't know or care about what will be lost this week. He doesn't care enough about the victims to actually do anything besides tweet so his supporters can imagine he's a great guy doing the things they'd do if they were president. He rubs his phone screen with his thumbs and makes words that say hurricanes are dangerous and that he hopes everyone is safe. It's so weird that I have to even type this, but tweeting isn't leading. You want to get a real measure of this man? Then let's look at what he's done.
Just before Harvey hit, Mr. Trump tweeted what amounts to an advertisement that says, in part, “Preparedness is an investment in our future!”
Well, Trump didn’t plan ahead. At all. In fact, he seems to be trying to make “ahead” worse.
For one, Mr. Trump hasn’t nominated anyone to head up the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). An Obama holdover, Benjamin Friedman, is currently the acting head. Among other things, NOAA charts the seas and issues warnings ahead of dangerous weather. It also runs the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, and Trump has targeted all those budgets for massive cuts. But more on that in a bit.
Trump did appoint the head of FEMA, which handles emergency response and disaster relief. The guy he got in there, Brock Long, is by all accounts a badass, but he still hasn’t replaced Brock Long’s former boss, General John Kelly, who was moved from the Department of Homeland Security to Chief of Staff at the end of July. Trump also waited until July 19 to nominate the two other appointed FEMA positions, just before the Senate went to recess, so they haven’t been confirmed. That means besides Brock Long, Hurricane Harvey is being handled by Obama people. I’m sure they’re great, but the point is: Trump DOES NOT CARE.
On top of all of this, about ten days ago Donald Trump rolled back Obama regulations on flood standards for infrastructure construction, which were meant to anticipate the rising waters brought about by climate change. Ten days ago.
Remember that until October, we’re still living on Obama money. He owns this hurricane and the resources available to it. The upcoming Trump budget, then, will give us a good idea of how the new president plans to make his “investment in our future,” because that’s literally what it is.
Mr. Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint, literally titled “America First: A budget blueprint to make America great again,” thrashes disaster relief funding. He proposed cutting FEMA state and local funds by $667 million. That of course includes response and relief to weather-related disasters, but it also cuts state and local counterterrorism funds. In New York Fucking City, for instance, where the threat of terrorist attack is fairly high, I’d wager.
The proposal also cut NOAA’s office of research funding by over a quarter: A full 26%. This would crater much of our climate science research. It would also include cuts to forecasting science and tools such as our Global Forecasting System, which is already dropping in accuracy. Meteorologists worry that these cuts, along with the big hits on climate change research at NASA, will weaken our ability to accurately forecast storms. We’re already behind Europe in forecasting ability, thanks to a lack of funding: Computers; research budgets; employees; and man-hours. On top of that, the budget would also pull another $513 million (22%) from NOAA’s satellite division, which is critical to monitoring and modeling weather systems and patterns.
All in all, data collection, climate science, and weather forecasting models would all take huge hits at about the worst time in human history.
At the very least, Mr. President, you need that shit to track a hurricane.
You also need the National Weather Service (a division of NOAA) which provides critical weather data to hundreds of companies and other organizations, from agriculture to apps. This, obviously, could affect nearly everyone in America, from the military to airlines, shipping, and public transportation. The National Weather Service also runs the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which the budget also obviously targets, including its Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program. “It’s hanging on really by a thread in terms of funding,” said the head of the NHC, James Franklin. Trump also proposed cuts for NWS sub-programs that model storms and collect and share data. What kind of programs, you ask? Well, tsunami research and prediction, for one.
The proposed cuts to the National Weather Service total six percent, and the cuts to its parent organization, NOAA (which still has no head), come to a whopping 16 percent. The NWS cuts are literally unprecedented, going back to its inception in 1890. And you might have heard that the weather is changing.
I’m not done.
The Aftermath of Matthew
The truth is, Mr. Trump has already had a chance to respond to a massive natural disaster. And he did so at literally less than one percent capacity.
Hurricane Matthew hit the East Coast last October. It killed 28 people and caused a total of $1.5 billion in damages. This was on President Obama’s watch. In the wake of the storm, Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development granted hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster relief to the affected areas. North Carolina specifically received about $332 million for “immediate” relief, in addition to FEMA support. The Department of Housing and Urban Development gave North Carolina an additional $199 million “for long-term relief and rebuilding.”
But Matthew had hit hard, and this April, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper asked the federal government for another $929 million to cover the full extent of the damage. He got $6.1 million. That’s less than one percent of what the governor requested. Later, Congress passed an omnibus bill to fund HUD, but only gave the agency a total of $400 million. Of that, North Carolina got about $31 million.
This is what Mr. Trump has done, on record, to help disaster victims recover and rebuild their towns, homes, and lives. That is the action he has put into the world. That’s the good he wants to do for the decent, hard-working, unlucky people. Do his cautionary tweets about how big and bad a hurricane is make up for that? What if he flies down to Texas and makes a fist and purses his lips next to a fireman and a guy in camo pants? Does the evidence of his actions matter? The stunning neglect he has for using the office to do good? Or does the evidence of his words matter more to you, because it’s evidence there’s a possibility he’s actually doing the heroic thing behind the scenes?
The thing you dream of him doing is the thing you dream of yourself doing. But Trump supporters, you are better than your President.
Now, I live in central Texas. Dozens of people die here each year in the flash floods that hit in late spring and autumn. The storms that produce this flooding seem to have a new consistent severity to them. These are storms without names, without photo ops. There’s no grand entrance by air or sea, no fish-in-a-barrel PR opportunity to posture as a stoic, strong-jawed hero shedding a single tear. It’s about as easy to sound strong and righteous condemning a hurricane as it is to sound strong and righteous condemning Nazis.
Donald Trump, during maybe the worst flood in Texas history, after proposing nothing but massive cuts to the agencies responsible for responding to those floods, tweeted that he’d shut down the government if we don’t pay for a useless wall he accidentally promised at a campaign rally. So the next time you complain about all of Trump’s stupid, selfish, transparently cynical and self-serving #HurricaneHarvey tweets and someone tells you, “Nothing he does is good enough for you!”, know this: they’re 100% right.