During his first visit to Puerto Rico after it was rocked by two monster hurricanes, US president Donald Trump threw packages of paper towels into an eager crowd and waxed poetic about his administration’s efforts to help the island.
He also reminded Puerto Ricans how much the recovery has been costing the US—several times.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little bit out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money,” he told the island officials and federal emergency personnel during a televised briefing soon after landing. “That’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
Was it part of the president’s campaign to correct what he’s called the “fake news” accounts that his response to the island’s devastation was slow? Or an expression of presidential grudge at having to spend that money in Puerto Rico, instead of, say, on a border wall? Another slight to the people of Puerto Rico, whom he accused of wanting everything to be done for them, or a testament to how much he cares about them?
It’s impossible to tell. What was clear is that in customary fashion, Trump made the briefing all about Trump. “Our country’s really gone all out to help. It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive, it’s everything, but I consider it a great honor,” he said at another point.
Even when he was thanking Puerto Rican officials, it was for supporting and praising him. “He’s not even from my party and he started right at the beginning appreciating what we did,” he said of Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló. “He was giving us the highest grades, and on behalf of the country I want to thank you,” he said shaking his hand.
He later prompted Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, who doesn’t have a vote, to repeat for the cameras all the “nice things” she had already told Trump.
“It’s not about me,” he assured his audience. “It’s about these incredible people from the military, to FEMA, the first responders.” In other words, it was about his administration, whose members he paraded to rounds of applause.
He also took a moment to congratulate himself for the unrelated achievement of cutting the costs of the federal contracts of F-35 planes, “something that other administrations would never have done, that I can tell you,” he said.
But amid all that, he had few, if any, words of comfort for hurricane victims themselves—ostensibly the reason all these resources were deployed.