So now we know: Thousands of heedless Houstonians were out pleasure-boating during that fateful Hurricane Harvey weekend and had to be rescued by U.S. Coast Guard sailors.
How do we know?
President Donald J. Trump said so last week. During a conference call with state and federal leaders preparing for another hurricane season, he thanked the Coast Guard for helping save 16,000 people after hurricanes Harvey and Maria and other storms. The Coast Guard doesn’t “get enough credit,” he said.
Then he said this: “Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well.”
Anyone who can make sense of such absurdity is a better Trump exegete than we.
Venturing a guess, the president seems to believe that the Coast Guard only rescues people at sea and that those bobbing boats he might have seen on cable news last August were foolish Houstonians seeking a little late-summer recreation in the face of impending mortal danger. Like Civil War-era Washingtonians picnicking near the First Battle of Bull Run, we were irresponsible gawkers, perhaps even deserving of the consequences of our own making.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus was quick to respond. “The people who took their boats into the water during Harvey were not storm-watchers,” the San Antonio Republican said. “They were heroes who went toward danger to rescue friends, neighbors, strangers. Texans helping Texans in a time of desperate need.”
A sarcastic Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez also responded: “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches.”
Gonzalez — along with his deputies, and countless other first responders and volunteers from Southeast Texas and around the country — spent days rescuing people from rooftops, attics and submerged vehicles. They were heedless to danger, all right — heroically heedless in service to men, women and children they didn’t even know.
Unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to bizarre Trumpian bloviations. (No, Mr. President, Canada did not burn down the White House.) The ad hoc remarks are often best ignored. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz did just that, discretion being the better part of Republican valor in these peculiar times. And yet the president’s Hurricane Harvey inanity is too serious for Houstonians to let slide.
A region still recovering from catastrophic flooding doesn’t need its plight minimized or ridiculed. It needs help.
Help from the federal government, from the White House, from the Texas congressional delegation. If the man in charge is abysmally ignorant about what happened in the wake of a Category 4 storm and the epic deluge that followed, who’s to say that government agencies — Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Flood Insurance Program, among others — will understand the urgency of Houston’s needs? Who’s to say that Ben Carson and other Trump appointees will be any better informed?
Who’s to say we have a prayer of getting a third reservoir, new bayou infrastructure or a coastal storm surge barrier before the next big storm?
We need political leadership — from Washington to be sure, but also from Austin. Gov. Greg Abbott, whose mealy-mouthed response to the president’s remark was nearly as inane as the remark itself — “no information on that one way or the other” — ought to have called a special session of the Texas Legislature months ago to address relief, recovery and preparedness. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick needs to tend to local needs.
Those needs are urgent. We’re two weeks into another hurricane season, facing fresh risk of another disaster, and we’re still begging for assistance to recover from the last one. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett are doing what they can, but as local officials, their resources are limited.
The people of Puerto Rico, those who survived a hurricane that killed thousands, know something of the importance of political leadership. They remember a president who responded to biblical devastation by tossing rolls of paper towels at them. They know how arrogance and ineptitude at the top can magnify a dire situation.
Mr. President, those Texans in rescue boats weren’t out looking for trouble. They were looking for help. A year later, the Houston region is still looking.
Show some leadership. Make us your priority, not your punchline.