Harvey: Texas Disaster, Trump Opportunity

We wrote last week about President Trump’s penchant for creating news to divert public attention from news he doesn’t like.

Last Friday we saw another version of Trump’s tactics: Using a big story to conceal news that he knows will draw strong criticism.

There’s nothing like an epic disaster like Hurricane Harvey to monopolize the attention of the nation, especially of the network and cable news stations which too often seem incapable to covering more than one story at a time.

Trump went up to Camp David to tweet up his own storm — “HISTORIC Rainfall!” “Floods are unprecedented” “WOW – now experts are calling #harvey a once in 500 year flood” — as if it were some kind of competition.

But there was not a word from the billionaire president about any personal or family donations to aid organizations helping people who lost their homes and livelihoods. Nor was there a word about his failure to fill leadership in FEMA and NOAA, which were struggling to help the victims.

He was well aware of how the Bush administration mishandled the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005. Trump was determined not to see a repeat, especially since Texas voted for him last year, a major qualification for his attention.

He was also looking for a way to deflect the avalanche of criticism generated by his disastrous response to Charlottesville and his backing of the “fine people” who marched with the Neo Nazis, Klansmen and white nationalists.

Along came Harvey. The Category 4 hurricane may have been a tragedy for millions of Texans but it was an opportunity for Donald Trump.

Harvey hit Texas full on at early Friday morning Washington time. And for Trump, Friday means another firing. This time Sebastian Gorka got the boot

But there was more to come. The big story was the pardon of the convicted felon and Trump’s fellow birther Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Most leading American Jewish organizations condemned the move.

Trump also issued his ban on transgender people in the military even though the leaders of the armed services had already quietly let it be known they didn’t want it. Trump said he acted on advice of his generals but so far none has come forward to endorse that.

Both his secretary of state and secretary of defense let it know that they think the president has lost his moral compass (assuming he ever had one).

Economic advisor Gary Cohn went public with his objections to the President’s response to Charlottesville, but he wasn’t upset enough to resign. He’s staying because he wants to lead the administration’s tax reform effort on behalf of his fellow multimillionaires; others suggest it is because he wants Trump to name him to replace Janet Yellen at the Fed when her term ends next year. If reports are accurate that Trump blew a fuse over Cohn’s criticism, chances for that promotion aren’t looking great, particularly since this president has a reputation as a grudge holder. Cohn is Jewish, so is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who staunchly defended the president’s Charlottesville response in a letter to his former Yale classmates who had urged him to speak out and resign.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to State Department interns about American decency and values, but when asked on Fox News Sunday whether Trump shared those values he replied, “the president speaks for himself.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis wasn’t quite as blunt but he and all the top US military commanders repudiated the racist violence in the kind of unequivocal terms that Trump couldn’t and didn’t. Mattis told the troops, “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”

It is not uncommon for any administration to bury unfavorable news by releasing it late on Friday. But it was particularly cynical for Trump to use a national tragedy as a diversion.

Not that it means anything to Trump, but he broke several campaign promises in the process. First, his vow to be a “law and order” president was broken to give a pardon to ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of the nation’s most prominent practitioners of racial profiling, abuse of power and xenophobia.

Second, in that same acceptance speech to the 2016 Republican Convention — and in tweets and elsewhere — he said “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens ”

Third, Sebastian Gorka, an anti-terrorism advisor with questionable credentials, was reportedly under investigation for allegedly lying about his ties to a far-right anti-Semitic Hungarian organization when he when he became a US citizen, according to three Senators. The lawmakers, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have repeatedly asked the White House and Justice Department to disclose Gorka’s status. Cardin and Blumenthal are Jews. They’ve been stonewalled.

Trump is going to Texas to survey Harvey’s damage. Look for him to brag about how he won the vote in Texas and, as if there’s linkage, much he’s doing for them now. Makes you wonder if he’d do the same for a blue state, say New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy in 2013. You may recall that both of Texas’s Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and 23 of its Republican representatives, including seven from the Houston area, voted against a $50.5 billion relief package for the victims of that disaster. Will Trump try to hold hostages the disaster relief legislation until Congress approves funding for his Mexican border wall?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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