Politicizing disasters: it’s an old Republican tactic

The modern Republican Party can always be counted upon to inject its brand of racist politics into any natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, which has brought about a 1,000-year epic flood in northeast Texas, is no exception. No sooner had pictures emerged from the Houston area of flooded homes and stranded residents on rooftops, the GOP spin machine, egged on by conspiracy hate monger websites, the most prominent being located in Texas, began laying blame on elected and appointed Democratic officials.

Just as New Orleans Republican-turned-Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin became the target of hate merchants after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with Rush Limbaugh constantly “mispronouncing” his name as “Naggir,” the racist right and their GOP dog whistling allies began blaming Houston’s monumental rescue effort on the city’s African-American Democratic mayor Sylvester Turner. One thing the radical right can never be accused of is heeding the lessons of history.

Although Nagin was, in fact, a corrupt politician and is now Federal prison inmate 32571–034, he realized he could only become New Orleans mayor if he became a Democrat. Nevertheless, it was the ineffectiveness of the George W. Bush administration, Bush’s inept Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael Brown (“Heckuva job Brownie”), and the cold political calculation of Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove that saw Washington try to blame Louisiana’s Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco, as well as Nagin, for the hundreds of deaths in and around New Orleans after the levees broke. In the aftermath of Katrina, whistleblowers working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cited corruption within the agency that led, in part, to the levee failures and the massive post-hurricane death count in Louisiana.

Criticisms by Trump acolytes of Turner have fallen flat. Attempts to paint Turner as a bungling mayor for not ordering the evacuation of, in concert with Harris County, of 6.5 million people from the greater Houston area, the fourth largest urban area in the United States, were not successful. Houston, as pointed out by the mayor and several other Houston officials, learned its lesson from Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina by a few weeks and was the fourth most intense hurricane to strike the U.S. during modern meteorological record-keeping. When Texas’s bumbling GOP Governor Rick Perry, now Donald Trump’s energy secretary, pushed for the evacuation from Houston and Galveston of 3.7 million people, disaster struck on the highways. Among the 118 deaths caused by the mandatory evacuation order were 23 nursing home evacuees who perished when their bus caught fire on traffic-clogged Interstate 45. Many evacuees nearly drowned when their vehicles were swamped with flood waters while stuck in miles-long traffic jams. Other evacuees ran out of gas or saw their vehicles break down.

Turner did not want a repeat of Rita and decided that Houstonians were safer if they sheltered at home and be rescued by boat, high-water vehicles, or helicopter if the need arose. Turner’s decision proved to be the wiser option. Thousands of Houstonians were rescued from rooftops who might have drowned in their vehicles had they been subjected to a mandatory evacuation order. Turner coordinated his efforts with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican. Turner and Emmett rejected criticism of their decision not to order a mega-evacuation of the greater Houston area, rare cooperation between a Democrat and Republican during an era of childish name-calling from the White House.

Emmett also criticized Abbott for urging Harris County and Houston residents to evacuate north. Abbott said, “If I were living in the Houston region, as I once did, I would decide to head to areas north of there.” Emmett scolded Abbott, saying, “We don’t need people getting on the highways.” Many Houston area highways, including interstates, turned into raging rivers after all the region’s bayous overflowed their banks.

Many Trump observers expected the president to tweet criticisms of Turner as he did with London Mayor Sadiq Khan after a jihadist terrorist attack in that city. Trump’s constant refrain of “fake news” also resulted in initial state government lethargy over reports of over 20 stranded elderly residents of the La Bella Vita nursing home in Dickinson, in Galveston County. The nursing home operator was forced to transmit on social media a photo of her residents, some on oxygen and sitting in wheelchairs and on walkers in rising water, waiting on Texas National Guard air support for rescue. Even with the photo as dramatic proof of the in extremis situation of the residents, the Trump crowd, conditioned by their leader calling everything “fake news,” claimed the photo of the flooded nursing home was Photoshopped. This is yet another example of Trump’s irresponsibility almost costing two dozen senior citizens their lives. If Trump could be sued for presidential “malpractice,” he should be.

Trump was ensconced during the Houston disaster at Camp David, while Vice President Mike Pence chaired a Harvey response cabinet meeting in the White House Situation Room. There was no plausible reason given by White House press representatives for Trump’s absence from the White House. As the flood disaster in Houston unfolded, Trump busied himself by tweeting out comments about his winning Missouri by a large margin and, once again, threatening Mexico, which was providing hurricane relief assistance to Texas, with the “wall.”

George W. Bush was stung over his initial reaction with Katrina, choosing to conduct a flyover of flooded New Orleans from Air Force One after returning from vacation outings in California and Arizona. Bush later admitted his response to the disaster was lacking. Bush was not helped by his mother, Barbara Bush’s insensitive comments about New Orleans evacuees, many of them African-American, housed in Houston’s Astrodome being “underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” Trump, in reacting to Harvey and Texas, learned nothing from Bush’s ineffectual response to Katrina and the New Orleans disaster.

President Obama certainly put politics aside when he toured the ravaged New Jersey shoreline after Super Storm Sandy, accompanied by Republican Governor Chris Christie, who was effusive with praise for the president’s rapid response to the storm damage. In the aftermath of Harvey, Texas GOP Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are demanding the quick post-hurricane federal assistance they voted against for New Jersey and New York in the wake of Sandy. Nothing spells hypocrisy more than Cornyn and Cruz.

Mayor Turner was particularly incensed by social media rumors. He said, “False forecasts and irresponsible rumors on social media are interfering with efforts by the city of Houston, and its government and news media partners, to provide accurate information to the public about the expected effects of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Harvey.”

One of the reasons why Turner received knee-jerk criticism from the right is because of his international standing. In June of this year, Turner was appointed, along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the co-chair of Climate Mayors, a grouping of 372 mayors who endorsed the Paris Climate Accord after Trump withdrew the United States from the pact.

Although the radical right began blaming Turner for Houston’s flooding ills, they did not attack Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Tea Party Republican. Yet, if blame were to be doled out, Abbott would be a worthy recipient. There were no good reasons why Abbott initially sequestered state resources, including Texas National Guard helicopters, until situations like that of La Bella Vita arose.

The radical right vipers are now waiting with fangs bared in the event Harvey causes a major disaster in Louisiana. They already have Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and New Orleans Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu in their gun sights. And with Trump’s Twitter fingers at the ready, these disaster political parasites see an ally in the White House.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2017 WayneMadenReport.com

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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