On any given day, the president of the United States is liable to tweet nonsense. That isn’t an opinion; it’s a fair assessment of what the president tweets: a mix of hyperbole, self-congratulation, bullying and on more than one occasion, outright lies.
Today was one of those “outright lie” days. And it’s disgusting.
On Thursday morning, as Hurricane Florence continues her path toward the Carolinas—and his approval numbers continue to dip—Donald Trump tweeted about Hurricane María, the storm that devastated the island of Puerto Rico nearly a year ago. According to several studies, thousands of people died as a result of the hurricane—the most recent, commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, pegs the number at nearly 3,000.
Trump says this is a lie.
“When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much,” he tweeted. “Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3,000.”
That’s because that’s what collecting data after a natural disaster looks like; especially on an island where a lack of power and devastated infrastructure made it difficult to distribute supplies, register aid and check on vulnerable residents.
It would be disgusting enough for the president of the United States to dispute these numbers, which have been compiled with great care and diligence. But Trump then did a spectacular job (as he often does) of throwing shit grenades into an already raging dumpster fire, turning a tragedy into a conspiracy theory by blaming the high death toll on the Democrats.
“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them to the list,” Trump continued. “Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Yeah, I love to erase the deaths of people I love too. Preferably after breakfast.
First of all, what does Trump think natural disaster relief is? A big fundraiser where you get to hurl paper towels at people you don’t give a shit about?
Secondly, Earther’s Yessenia Funes does a great job of explaining the methodology of the George Washington University/University of Puerto Rico report, if you want to engross yourself in things like facts and reason after reading that tweet.
Finally, it’s clear what the president is attempting to do and why he’s attempting to do it: by erasing thousands of Puerto Rican deaths, Trump also erases his complicity. And with Hurricane Florence approaching landfall in the Carolinas and the anniversary of Hurricane María fast approaching, many have compared the two disasters and questioned the Trump administration’s readiness to coordinate the federal response. Earlier this week, Trump called the recovery in Puerto Rico a “success”—aggravating Puerto Rican officials and anyone with a mild understanding of what the word “success” means.
Three thousand deaths is a failure, no matter how you slice it. And while Trump isn’t squarely to blame for those deaths, the least anyone can do is acknowledge them, rather than use them to peddle some partisan conspiracy theory when your approval numbers are down.
But slinging conspiracy theories—particularly ones that denigrate black and brown people—is the horse Trump rode in on: whether we’re looking at his insistence that Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen or that almost all Mexicans immigrating to the States are rapists and murderers. Like a chronic rash, it’s not altogether surprising when it pops up, though its various manifestations—and the fact that it can, and actually is getting worse—still manage to horrify.