Someone, Please Pinch Me.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Dorian hovered over the northern Bahamas for more than twenty four hours, its 185 mile per hour winds pulverizing everything in its path. The rains were relentless, the storm surge higher than most buildings on the islands.
Photos from the Bahamas are apocalyptic – mile on mile of twisted, splintered, wooden wreckage where homes once stood. Public buildings reduced to piles of concrete. Cars and boats atop each other like some hideous, broken, surreal jigsaw puzzle. Concrete foundation slabs all that remain of one building after the next after the next.
Reporters on the scene deliver their news backdropped by wastelands, with a ghastly absence both of people and of the noises that accompany human community. The images of what was, until recently, one of the most beautiful locales on earth, remind me of what I saw when I visited the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina. Despite years of recovery efforts, the Lower Ninth was still ghostly, the concrete slabs where once homes and schools and businesses stood overgrown with long grass and weeds. Some people had begun to trickle back, but many of the streets were still obliterated, and the vast bulk of the local economy was still shattered. The silence that dominated those streets is something I will never forget.
That is what Dorian has now delivered to the Bahamas. Where once there were thriving seaside villages, now there is death and silence. The official death toll as of this writing is about 30; unofficially, reports indicate that the Bahamian government expects that to rise into the hundreds, possibly the thousands. Seventy thousand people are homeless; the water, power, food distribution and other infrastructure systems of the islands have been destroyed.
Given the enormity of the moment, the scale of the tragedy unfolding just a handful of miles off of Florida’s coast, one would expect the U.S. president to be presiding over an all-hands-on-deck response. One would expect large amounts of money to be made available for emergency response teams. And, given the fact that Atlantic hurricanes are being turbocharged by the warmer waters that are the consequence of global warming, one would hope that even the most skeptical of Administrations would realize the imperative of treating climate change as a serious global threat.
Instead, Trump spent much of the week in a pissing match with the media about whether and why he had fabricated a map of the hurricane’s projected storm trajectory to justify his assertion that Alabama would be impacted by Dorian.
Yes, in one of those “pinch me, this can’t be happening moments,” the most powerful man on earth trotted out a map that he had, like a petulant elementary school child, clearly doctored with a sharpie pen, in order to make it look like he was backed up by science in claiming Alabama would take a hit from the storm. He tweeted far more about how the media reacted to his Alabama claim than he did about how the United States would help its Bahamian neighbors deal with the calamity that has befallen them. He spent more time trying to prove that he was right in his storm-path claim than in empathizing with the victims of the hurricane. For most people, faced with such a tragedy the automatic response would be to mourn with the families who lost loved ones and to promise whatever help was needed; for Trump, the response was an ongoing sulk, an orgy of whining about how he had been wronged by the “fake media” with their “fake news.”
This is tiring and it is boring. Trump’s all-about-me antics have long worn horribly thin. But it also turns out this wasn’t “the chosen one’s” only response to Dorian.
No, as the hurricane was starting to form, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security announced it would be shifting $155 million away from FEMA’s emergency response funds and into funding ICE detention beds, so that even more immigrants can be locked up in America’s shiny new network of camps.
And, as the remnants of the hurricane roared through the Carolinas, on America’s eastern seaboard, the government rolled back George Bush-era energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, thus encouraging the sale of needlessly inefficient lightbulbs that require far more energy to use. That was, it turned out, only the beginning of a concerted onslaught against efficiency standards in general that would culminate with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice launching a coordinated attack against fuel-efficiency standards in the United States: at week’s end reports started circulating that the EPA would soon seek to end the nearly half century old waiver that allows California to set its own tailgate pollution and vehicle fuel efficiency standards – standards that are higher than the nation’s as a whole, and to which thirteen states, representing roughly forty percent of the US population, currently adhere to. At the same time, the DoJ, in what must count as one of the most nakedly politicized DoJ actions of all time, launched an anti-trust investigation into the four car makers that had recently agreed to adhere to California’s higher standards for all the vehicles they sell in the United States.
There’s no sugar-coating any of this. It is a combination of callous and irrational, vindictive and staggeringly short-sighted. Day by day, American politics is sliding ever further down the rabbit hole. A year ago, an anonymous op-ed writer for the New York Timestold readers not to worry, because behind the scenes the adults were in charge. It was bunkum then and it’s even more so now. Those so-called adults have done nothing to stop the disintegration of American politics; nor have they done anything to rein in the cruelty and the banality, the self-absorption and the wrecking ball instincts of this most awful of presidents.
— Sasha Abramsky