Trump's Puerto Rico drop-in was a monumental insult

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE visited an island completely devastated by the fury of Hurricane Maria and in full Trump fashion, used the opportunity as a self-aggrandizing political photo op to pat himself on the back for the “great work” he and his administration have done in Puerto Rico.

It was an exercise in shoring up Trump’s massive, fragile ego that had been bruised by critics who know what an afterthought in planning and preparation Puerto Rico actually was for this administration.

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I actually had a smidgen of hope that the president would step up during his visit and show he cared about the plight of 3.5 million American citizens on the island. Trump had an opportunity to show that he can put his petty vindictive gestures aside and think of somebody other than himself. He had a chance to be a true "consoler-in-chief." 

 

That hope was dashed as soon as Trump started talking.

First, he went around the room, praised himself and asked others to repeat the praise they had given him and the federal government for the recovery. He shook the hand of the San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, the target of his recent digital ire as she dared to call the administration out for not doing enough for Puerto Rico. Then, in person, he shut her out of the conversation about recovery efforts.

Before departing for the island “tour,” he slammed Puerto Rico’s debt problems, yet again, by saying that Puerto Rico had thrown the federal budget “out of whack” with what the recovery would cost. I don’t remember him throwing Texas or Florida’s debt in their face when he generously approved their recovery packages.

Trump also praised the low death toll in Puerto Rico, saying the island should be proud that only 16 people had died, as compared to the more than one thousand deaths stemming from Hurricane Katrina. Interestingly, when he left, it was announced the official death toll was now 34. Sadly, it will continue to rise.

Trump then visited a church and started throwing out rolls of paper towels like he was the star of a cheap halftime show shooting T-shirts at adoring fans. He also gave out flashlights but then yelled out, “But you all don’t need flashlights anymore do you!” in a clear attempt to highlight the “great work” he has done to bring the island back from disaster.

People DO need flashlights, however: Just 8.6 percent of the population has electricity. In addition, just 48 percent have access to drinking water. Trump was then taken to survey the affected areas and speak to disaster survivors about their needs — except he didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone suffered during the hurricane, but the residents of the upscale neighborhood Trump visited sustained minimal damage. The people in those areas were not the worst affected. They are not the ones cut off from life-saving aid.

In fact, after the visit, even the residents who were chosen to speak with Trump were baffled at why he would be there instead of in the most ravaged areas where people lived on coconut water for a week because they were cut off from the rest of the island.

The ironic part of this baffling, affront of a trip, is that Trump’s motorcade was 10-15 minutes away from a neighborhood that was in dire need of aid. The children’s hospital nearby was hours from running out of diesel fuel needed to run all of its life-saving systems. Costco was minutes away, where the lines were hours-long, and the shelves were nearly empty.

Trump could have gone to any of these places without having to venture too far inland. He could have spoken to storm victims still suffering. He could have assured them that he has their backs, that the U.S. government will take care of them.

But Trump failed. There was zero humility, empathy, humanity and not one iota of understanding of what his fellow Americans were going through.

Trump failed Puerto Rico, and he failed the United States. He failed the test of presidential leadership — as he has done so many times in the past. But this one will not soon be forgotten.

The people on the island are disgusted, disappointed and sad. Most don’t think his visit yielded anything other than a photo opportunity for Trump’s own political aggrandizement.

But they will always have hope and faith — not in the president, but in themselves. The Puerto Rican people are resilient, warm and always look out for each other, despite the president's constant jabs implying they are lazy and are only waiting for help as opposed to helping themselves or their communities.

Trump and the Republicans had better ensure that the Puerto Rico recovery happens quickly and normalcy returns to the island. If that doesn't occur, there will be a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who are immediately eligible to register and vote when they settle into states like Texas and Florida.

They come from an island where the voting participation rate is almost 100 percent. I don't think that will bode well for Trump or Republicans in 2018 or 2020.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.