by Linda Chavez
“We will support you today, tomorrow and the day after,” President Donald Trump promised those devastated by Hurricane Harvey. “When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. When we see neighbors in need, we rush to their aid. We don’t ask their names or where they’re from. We help our fellow Americans every single time. This is the spirit of America,” he said way back on Sept. 1. But that was then, and the Americans in question were mostly from Texas — a state that had voted for Trump in the 2016 election.
On Thursday, he had a very different message to 3.4 million other Americans, more than 80 percent of whom have no electricity and many of whom have no access to potable water. Many of their homes and businesses were destroyed, and many can’t get to work because so many roads are still unpassable. “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted angrily, just three weeks after the worst disaster to hit Puerto Rico in history. Trump did what he’s best at doing — cast blame on others: “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend,” he tweeted as the House was preparing to vote on a $36.5 billion aid package.
Let’s be clear here. President Trump doesn’t really consider Puerto Ricans Americans. And judging from the more than 30,000 likes his tweet received (and that was just the initial number immediately after the president tweeted), there are many in his base who don’t consider them Americans, either. They are the same people, I’d bet, who don’t think children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants are Americans, despite the 14th Amendment, Supreme Court rulings and the fact that the right to citizenship by birth on American soil dates back to Colonial times.
The Constitution declares that all people are equal, but this president seems to believe what the pig Napoleon said in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We can have a healthy debate over the status of Puerto Rico. Should it become the 51st state, which has been the position of the GOP for many years? Should it remain a U.S. territory? Or should it be given its independence? The people of Puerto Rico periodically vote their preference, most recently in June, when 97 percent opted for statehood (though less than 1 in 4 registered voters participated in the largely symbolic vote). In plebiscites prior to 2012, pluralities voted to maintain their commonwealth status. But only Congress can decide. The Constitution gives Congress sole authority to decide the fate of U.S. territories, which Puerto Rico became when it was acquired after the Spanish-American War in 1898. “The Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States,” declares Article 4.
But for now, Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Puerto Ricans are Americans, whether born on the island or on the mainland or anywhere else in the world, provided at least one of their parents is Puerto Rican. They are U.S. citizens, period. And they deserve to be treated as such by their fellow Americans. But most of all, they deserve to be treated as such by the president of the United States.
Of all the despicable things Trump has done since he announced his campaign for the presidency and assumed office Jan. 20, the president’s words on Puerto Rico may be the worst. Trump has decided that he is not president of all the people and that he has no desire to be. In Trump world, you are for him or against him, no matter what he says or does, and if you fall in the latter camp, he’s not your president. Don’t expect him to care about what happens to you. It’s your fault. You should have been with him from the beginning. Then he’d be with you. Maybe. Unless he thinks there’s an advantage in abandoning you, as he has with some of his faithful aides.
Trump’s tweets and threats are un-American. We are better than this. A Texan is no more American than a Puerto Rican — and both equally deserve the help of their fellow citizens when they are in need, for as long as they need it.
Linda Chavez is the author of “An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal.” To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.