“We Have Done a Great Job”: What Trump Tweeted as Thousands of Puerto Ricans Died

The president no longer says much about Hurricane Maria.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria.Evan Vucci/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

On Tuesday, researchers at Harvard published a new study showing that the death toll from Hurricane Maria was 75 times higher than what the government had previously reported. By that calculation, it was 290 times higher than the 16 fatalities President Donald Trump himself announced during a visit to the island last year, during a bizarre appearance in which he contrasted the devastation in front of him with “a real catastrophe, like Katrina.” (We now know that Maria was more than twice as deadly as Katrina.) With the exception of the 1900 hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas, Maria killed more Americans than any other disaster on record, including the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake. It killed more people than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Trump has not commented publicly on the study. In fact, he hasn’t tweeted about Puerto Rico in seven months. But his statements about the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm are worth revisiting in light of the new numbers.

His tweets generally fell into two categories: absolving himself of responsibility for rebuilding, and demanding credit for the response. In the former, Trump frequently referred to the island’s pre-existing economic problems, implying that any complications with the recovery effort wouldn’t be his fault.

“Big decisions will have to made” isn’t exactly subtle, and a subsequent investigation by Politico puts these tweets in a clearer context: In the aftermath of last summer’s storms, the administration treated Texas—which was hammered by Hurricane Harveyfar more favorably than it did Puerto Rico.

But Trump also heaped praise on his own disaster response, even as the death toll in Puerto Rico mounted:

And lastly:

Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina turned “heckuva job”—a stray comment from President George W. Bush about his FEMA director, Michael Brown—into a generation-defining gaffe. Trump said the same thing about himself, and we’ve hardly talked about it since.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate