Much like a pandemic, a hurricane is a public health emergency that demands decisive action, strategic planning, and strong federal leadership. Unfortunately, under President Trump, we’ve witnessed a complete abdication of responsibility when it comes to the dual crises Texans are now facing. Once again, Trump is leaving Texans in the crosshairs of disaster.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Laura battered Texas and Louisiana, plunging hundreds of thousands of people into darkness without power and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Despite this, Trump and Republicans ended the final night of their convention with a fireworks display — even as a storm of historic proportions made landfall and inflicted massive damage to communities across the Gulf Coast.
To make matters worse, Trump signed an executive order just a few weeks ago stripping $44 billion in disaster relief funding from FEMA, leaving it even more cash-strapped and under-resourced — right as Texas braces for the aftermath of Hurricane Laura and a record-setting storm season. The only good that will come from Trump’s visit this weekend is that he will be forced to answer for his chaotic leadership and confront the price of his failures firsthand.
In many ways, Trump’s catastrophic response to the pandemic mirrors his botched hurricane recovery efforts. Time and again, Donald Trump has proven himself incapable of meeting the moment and taking swift action to head off crisis. Year after year, the Trump administration has slashed budgets for the agencies responsible for responding to a potential pandemic — the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — while ignoring multiple briefings from the Obama administration on pandemic preparedness.
As a consequence, state and local leaders like us were left to confront the coronavirus with one arm tied behind our backs. The result was a failure of catastrophic proportions that has left Texas communities reeling.
We’ve been here before. In 2017, just weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit, Trump rolled back an Obama-era rule intended to flood-proof our infrastructure. After the storm unloaded a trillion gallons of water over Houston, key infrastructure was submerged and our beloved city sank under water. But thanks to Trump, when we began to build back in the aftermath of Harvey, developers weren’t required to plan ahead for the next big storm or elevate structures, leaving our communities uniquely vulnerable to severe flooding and storm surge.
Meanwhile, rather than consoling victims impacted by the hurricane as other presidents have done, Trump instead demonstrated a tragic lack of empathy by marvelling at the scale and size of Harvey’s devastation, which ultimately took more than 100 lives, unleashed the worst flooding in Houston’s history, and caused more than $125 billion in damage.
Today, Houston remains woefully unprepared for future disasters, in part because the Trump administration has repeatedly proposed cuts to critical programs and grants at FEMA that cities rely on, while hamstringing efforts to plan ahead for floods and water damage. From 2018 to 2019, the Trump administration cut FEMA’s budget by more than half.
Last year, as Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico, Trump diverted critical funding from FEMA toward a wasteful, ineffective wall that would inflict grave damage on border communities and businesses. To add insult to injury, Trump has repeatedly blocked efforts to address the climate crisis, which has exacerbated the impact of natural disasters and fueled the intensity of storms like Harvey and Laura.
Trump still hasn’t learned from his mistakes. Today, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, state and local officials are being tasked with rethinking how to evacuate and shelter thousands of people in the midst of a pandemic with no clear guidance from the federal government. And yet again, Trump’s failed leadership is needlessly costing Texans their health and their safety.
Any crisis, whether it’s a pandemic or a hurricane, is a test of presidential leadership, competence, and empathy. Sadly, the president is failing — and Texans are paying the price for his failures.
Gene Wu is the State Representative for House District 137 in Southwest Houston.
Photo Credit: Gene Wu, Facebook