Last month, the government of Puerto Rico officially confirmed that Hurricane Maria killed far more people than it originally estimated. Specifically, Puerto Rico now estimates 2,975 people died when Maria slammed into the island last summer. By comparison, initial estimates only suggested 64 people died in the storm. But even before then, anyone who watched San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz plead for more help from the mainland knew that estimate was far, far, far too low.
This significant revision came after Puerto Rico asked George Washington University to look into excess deaths on the island between September 2017 and January 2018. In other words, after being persuaded by a study conducted under rigorous academic standards, Puerto Rico admitted that Maria was an even bigger disaster than we thought.
And yet, even in the face of all of this, Donald Trump somehow thought this was just another witch hunt.
So in the era of Donald Trump, exhaustive studies conducted under rigorous standards are fake news. Lovely.
Needless to say, Trump has been kicked up, down and sideways for even suggesting that this study was politically motivated–even by members of his own party. But the most furious response by far has come from a quarter Trump should have expected–the mayor who became the face of Puerto Rico’s suffering.
When Cruz saw Trump’s blatant attempt at alternative facting crawl across her phone, she let Trump have it.
Cruz let Trump have it in Spanish as well. She asked Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate in the federal House of Representatives, if she felt Trump had actually bestowed as much as he claimed.
Translation: “I want to hear the Resident Commissioner say that Trump is generous to Puerto Rico. Denying our dead is unforgivable.”
She also urged Governor Ricardo Rossello to denounce this latest pigweed from Trump.
Translation: “Mr. Governor, no ‘help’ is worth compromising the dignity of Puerto Rico. Tell your government to categorically repudiate this insult.”
Rossello obliged on MSNBC. Watch here.
Speaking with Chuck Todd, Rossello put it bluntly–“victims should not have their pain questioned.”
Later, the mayor continued her verbal assault on Trump, telling CBC Radio One’s “As It Happens” that Trump’s suggestion was “pathetic” and “shameful,” especially since Puerto Rico was “almost 100 percent” without power well into December–and thus could not get medical care.
As outraged as Cruz was, she might have been even more so if she knew that Trump was apparently echoing a meme that has been floating around far-right media for some time. In response to growing evidence that thousands of people died on Puerto Rico, outfits like Infowars have claimed that it’s nothing more than another liberal lie. But then again, Trump has made clear that any stories that are even remotely critical of him are fake news.
As I write this on Thursday night, we have yet to see any angry tweets from Trump in response to this daylong bombardment from Cruz and Rossello. This is somewhat out of character for Trump, considering that he goes on 280-character tirades at the tiniest perceived slight. One has to wonder if Trump knows Cruz has his number.
Or perhaps he remembers the last time he tangled with Cruz–and lost. If you’ll remember, when Cruz criticized the federal response to Maria, Trump suggested that her fellow Democrats told the mayor to turn “nasty” with him. Cruz, for those who don’t know, is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports retaining Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status. However, she is aligned federally with the mainland Democrats. So is Rossello, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
Cruz responded by giving an interview to Univision’s Jorge Ramos while wearing a T-shirt with the word “NASTY” printed on it–in English. Watch here.
Cruz was delivering a message to the mainland, especially the five million Puerto Ricans on the mainland–Trump was the nasty one because he seemed to have a problem with a simple request for basic necessities.
We got the message loud and clear last year, Señora Alcaldesa (madame mayor). Reality-based America stood with you then, and it stands with you now–even though it is clear that the White House doesn’t stand with you.
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