U bum. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James spoke for a grateful nation Saturday morning, when he slapped down President Donald Trump on Twitter for essentially trying to start a race war with the country’s black athletes. James might have said the same thing Monday night, after the president took to Twitter and blamed the devastated territory of Puerto Rico for its tremendous suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Here’s how it went down, courtesy of the Politico Playbook:
@realDonaldTrump at 8:45 pm: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..” … at 8:50 pm: .”..It’s [sic] old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars….” … at 8:58 pm: .”..owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities—and doing well. #FEMA.”
“With billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks, which, sadly, must be dealt with.” The poster boy of profligacy, the man of six corporate bankruptcies—even a golf course he mismanaged in Puerto Rico wound up being forced into bankruptcy—the boy whose father made him, to begin with, and then secretly made him whole, funneling him money by purchasing $3.5 million in casino chips from one of his schlocky, mismanaged Atlantic City gambling resorts; this grifter is lecturing Puerto Rico about its troubles and insisting its debts “must be dealt with.” U bum.
Let’s review: One minute Trump is railing against the threat of black football players’ taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence, and the scourge of uppity black basketball players (in this case, the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry) who refused a customary visit to the White House as long as Trump’s in it. The next, he’s lecturing an island of brown people about their insufficient readiness for disaster, and their underwhelming claim on the resources of the United States—even though they are citizens. It’s just like Steph Curry said, discussing the fact that the players Trump has attacked all happen to be African American. “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals rather than others,” Curry told reporters on Saturday. “I have an idea of why.” Me too, Steph. Same with Puerto Rico.
Now Trump has turned his attention from black Americans to brown ones, trapped on an island devastated by centuries of colonization and exploitation. Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents may be without power for as long as six months. They lack adequate drinking water. The island’s farmland is devastated; green fields have turned a sickly brown. It’s true: The debt to Wall Street has made the commonwealth poorer, as did an agreement reached last year that cut public workers’ pay and hours, and precluded investment in the indeed decrepit infrastructure.
I wondered if Trump’s Puerto Rico rant had been inspired by another slight he suffered Monday night: The entire Dallas Cowboys team and staff, including owner and GOP donor Jerry Jones, took a knee before the national anthem during the Monday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, that Jerry Jones, the iconic old-school owner of America’s Team! Sure, Jones was driven by his wallet—he can’t afford to be on a different team, so to speak, from his overwhelmingly African-American players. But Jones had to be the very picture of the man Trump had in mind Friday night as he urged NFL owners, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump went on to muse: “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.” If he thought that owner might be Jerry Jones, who in the past criticized the anthem protests, he was very disappointed Monday night.
“It was real easy for everybody in our organization to see that the message of unity, the message of equality was getting, if you will, pushed aside or diminished by the controversy,” Jones said at a post-game news conference. It’s true the cagey owner managed to stage the show of unity before the anthem, so that his players were standing, not kneeling, while it was played. But the insult wasn’t lost on Trump, who tweeted Tuesday morning: “The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was the loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.”
So he’s back to bashing black football players—and now, the white team owners too—and taking a break from debt-shaming the unlucky citizens of Puerto Rico. On MSNBC Tuesday morning, FEMA director Brock Long brushed aside questions about Trump’s callous tweets to say the president had approved “100 percent” of his requests for aid to this forlorn American territory.
But even if Trump has belatedly authorized aid, the lack of care and attention, and the nasty tweets, reveal his entitled corporate worldview. Even though as a developer he’s been a grifter, pulling in government favors, stiffing small contractors, and ultimately stiffing large banks if he needed to, as a president he is first and foremost the president of American capitalism, and debts must be paid. That same mindset—rules apply to other people, not to us—can be seen in the news that at least six high-ranking members of the Trump administration, including daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, used private e-mail to do government business, after being part of a campaign that promised to imprison Hillary Clinton for the non-crime of doing the same. Rules apply to other people, not to us.
Thus the rule that debts “must be dealt with” applies to Puerto Rico, and not to Trump. It’s not irrelevant that the island’s residents are mostly citizens of color: In the New York of Trump’s formative years, the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, a Puerto Rican immigration surge made them a scapegoat to the white ethnics in places like Trump’s hometown of Queens. Disrespecting Puerto Ricans, along with black athletes, is just Trump revving up white grievance politics again, which is especially essential as his legislative agenda circles the drain.
There has been speculation on cable news and social media that Trump’s inattention to the suffering in Puerto Rico stemmed from his ignorance that the island’s residents are in fact citizens, that he is their president too (even though they didn’t get a vote). It’s the modern Republican paradox: Are they ignorant, or are they lying? Ignorant, or just evil? As readers answered resoundingly when I asked that question about the GOP’s many, many lies about the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal, the answer is often both. In this case, Trump has advisers who can, presumably, remind him that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and he is the territory’s president. And yet he sent those three cruel tweets anyway, because he is a bum.