Over a million Puerto Ricans still lack electrical power a stunning four months after Hurricane Maria made landfall. But, ironically, the resulting Trump-driven exodus of hundreds of thousands to Florida and other swing states may give those angry and powerless islanders new political power for years to come.
This jaw-dropping chart from Reuters compares power relief efforts following Hurricanes Wilma and Irma to the Trump administration’s botched effort to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid — on which they have made no progress whatsoever in the past seven weeks.
The degree of incompetence on display is staggering. Remember an oblivious Trump visiting the island early on and literally saying, “Flashlights! You don’t need ’em anymore!” as he handed out flashlights to islanders who in fact very much needed them. Remember the tiny Trump-linked energy contractor that won a $300-million no-bid contract to rebuild the grid, and then had it revoked. And, just this month, there have actually been charges and counter-charges that both the Puerto Rican utility and the Army Corps of Engineers are hoarding grid rebuild supplies in their warehouses.
Remember, too, that Trump campaigned on his supposed prowess as a builder. In May 2015, he tweeted, “I am the BEST builder, just look at what I’ve built. Hillary can’t build. Republican candidates can’t build. They don’t have a clue!” In late October, Trump visited Texas to discuss Hurricane Harvey recovery with local officials, asserting “I’m the builder president. Remember that.”
No wonder Puerto Ricans are getting angrier and angrier at being treated by Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress like “second-class citizens,” as the island’s governor put it last month.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) channeled some of that anger Tuesday in a passionate speech on Trump’s racism and the complicity of Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, who testified she couldn’t remember Trump deriding Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” in that now-infamous Oval Office meeting.
Booker was in Puerto Rico when he heard about Trump’s derogatory remarks. “And here I was there trying to help a community dealing with savage challenges,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many Puerto Ricans brought up that conversation in the White House.”
Puerto Ricans have every right to be livid over the slow pace of the recovery, the fact that “politics screwed Puerto Rico out of billions in disaster aid,” as Politico put it, and even the GOP tax plan, which treats the island of 3.5 million American citizens as if it were a foreign country and could devastate the island’s economy.
“We are going to do an evaluation of all of the congressmen and congresswomen that pledged support to Puerto Rico, and in the time to take action, they have reneged on that word,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told MSNBC last month. “We don’t have representation, but we do have 5.3 million Puerto Ricans in the United States and we want to organize them to make sure that our voice is heard.”
In fact, thanks to Trump’s botched recovery, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida, where they are poised to transform the politics of this key swing state. On Friday, Rosselló traveled to Kissimmee to urge those who recently arrived to take their anger out on those politicians responsible for policies that have harmed the island.
“We have unfortunately a second-class citizenship in Puerto Rico,” he told the audience. “Those of us that live there don’t have the political power. But guess what?”
The Orlando Weekly reports that the Kissimmee crowd responded loudly, “We do!”
Powerless Puerto Ricans appear to be showing there is more than one way to restore power.