No city, state or country could be fully prepared for a disaster like Hurricane Harvey. Texas is trying hard. Thankfully, Trump appointed a person to lead FEMA who, nearly alone among other appointees, is experienced and competent, and Trump pressed Congress for billions in aid. (Will it come from border wall funds or from critical services? Either way, might people notice how unimportant that wall is, compared to this sort of need?)
Also nice, though parsimonious compared to his claimed wealth and to donations of billionaires like Michael Dell, millionaire athletes and “Hollywood liberals,” is Trump’s pledge of a $1 million of “personal money.” Much is going to reputable charities, though Franklin Graham, worth tens of millions, all-in Trumpist, blamer of gays and immigrants for nearly everything, gets a hundred grand.
One hates to dwell on Trump, but his initial trip to Texas showcased his predictable, narcissistic first instincts: comments on crowd size, a platform for selling hats, no mention of people hurting from the floods. “We’ll congratulate ourselves when it’s finished,” said he. Evidently stung by criticism, he returned to stage a simulacrum of empathy. Some people were impressed. (“Sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” — George Burns.)
Local governments know best, Republicans say. But after eliminating environmental rules statewide, Texas’ legislature moved to prevent cities and counties from enacting their own. Businesses need not say what toxins they harbor. When plants blow up in Texas, firefighters may be unaware of what they’re facing, even after they’ve finished.
Houston has minimal zoning laws. Neighborhoods have discovered they’re living next to stored poisons only after they leak. And if smarter development wouldn’t fully mitigate monster floods like Harvey, it’s a fact that land formerly capable of absorbing water was covered over with no requirements for redress. It adds up. Now, as the deluge recedes, pollution left behind will be monumental and, had there been wiser governance, largely preventable.
Before Harvey, Trump reversed Obama’s rules for building in flood zones, cut refinery regulations, supported nearly a $1 billion in cuts to FEMA and $350 million in federal money for fighting wildfires. Already shrinking, the EPA is led by a life-long panderer to the interests of fossil fuel producers; a man who, like Trump and most Republicans, asserts manmade climate change is a hoax. All of whom claim bringing it up right after a disaster is unseemly, and bringing it up any other time is worse.
Last week’s column ended with, “Trump is Hurricane Harvey. Houston is America.” In fairness, it’s not just him: it’s the entire Republican Party since Ronald Reagan’s simplistic idea that “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” Deficit-increasing tax cuts and dangerous deregulation have followed ever since. If Reagan didn’t know of man-made climate change, he didn’t mind a little pollution, and ridiculed conservation, saying, “You’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.” For years, Texas has been a laboratory of Reaganoid “business friendly” deregulation and tax breaks. Then came Harvey, blowing away the peeling veneer of credibility for post-Reagan Republicanism, washing off everything but the writing on the wall.
The measure of post-Harvey leadership won’t be photo-op mulligans, handing out food (ever tone-deaf, Trump called the tragedy “a beautiful thing” and told people to “have a good time.”) Leadership will mean replacing the “If Obama was for it I’m against it” mentality with willingness (and ability) to become analytical and responsible. It’ll be committing to years of recovery, with government solutions from many departments.
It’ll require acknowledging the magnitude of manmade climate change, having the humanity to recognize and admit former wrong-headedness, and providing a clear-eyed plan of action. Including ending Trumpic coal-fired lunacy. It’ll mean reversing the assault on regulating dangerous practices, and rethinking reductions in critical services to pay for millionaire tax cuts and symbolic walls.
Harvey’s lessons are unambiguous. Only fossil fuel producers and other polluters benefit from climate change denial and strangling the EPA. Around here we’ve broken records for rainless days. The Bay Area suffered record high temperatures, the West is on fire, another enormous hurricane is bearing down.
As climate science predicts, storms, floods, drought and wildfires are worsening globally. Manmade climate change is obvious, the consequences undeniable. People who still reject this reality are either impossibly ignorant or unimaginably evil.
Email Sid Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.