The president sees the accepted death toll of nearly 3,000 as evidence of a political conspiracy against him.
By The Editorial Board– The New York Times
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
If you’ve stopped being surprised by the flagrancy of President Trump’s deceptions, you’re not alone. Yet the president’s effort on Thursday to deny the nearly 3,000 American lives lost in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last year — and to accuse Democrats of inflating the death toll for political gain — should amaze even the most jaundiced Trump-watcher.
Mr. Trump delivered his latest bit of mendacity with a one-two presidential Twitter punch:
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000 …”
“ … This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
For most presidents, thousands of dead Americans would be a cause for grief. For Mr. Trump, they are evidence only of his own victimhood.
On Wednesday, even as Hurricane Florence bore down on the Carolinas, there he was, whining on Twitter that his team had done “an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan.”
Unsurprisingly, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, took exception to the president’s boasting, tweeting: “This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr. Pres in the real world people died on your watch. YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING!”
This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch. YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING! pic.twitter.com/OJEDqT74Sr
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) September 13, 2018
Ms. Cruz was joined in her anguish by other Puerto Rican officials, Republicans in Florida and Democrats in Congress, none of whom share Mr. Trump’s rosy assessment of his disaster response. Nor, for that matter, do a majority of Puerto Ricans, more than half of whom recently rated Mr. Trump’s response “poor,” with a quarter more rating it only “fair.”
To be sure, the recovery effort, after a slow start, wound up being substantial, and Puerto Rico’s shoddy infrastructure was one of many extenuating challenges. Even so, there is little question that things could have been handled much better — Mr. Trump’s memorable chucking of paper towels at devastated islanders notwithstanding. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Government Accountability Office have found as much.
Certainly, it must have been vexing, perhaps even confusing, for Mr. Trump last month when the storm’s death toll was revised sharply upward, from 64 people to 2,975. This shift was not a result of partisan trickery, but of the preliminary findings of a study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. The study is continuing, meaning that the numbers could shift again.
Mr. Trump seems incapable of processing new information or learning from mistakes. Instead, he did what he always does: reject inconvenient data in favor of a story in which he is the hero. In the president’s view, increases in the official death toll cannot possibly stem from a more comprehensive analysis. They must stem from yet another conspiracy by his political enemies. The 3,000 lives lost, in other words, are all about him.
Democrats don’t need to lift a finger to make him look bad. He is managing that all on his own.
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 14, 2018, on Page A30 of the New York edition with the headline: For Mr. Trump, He’s the Victim in Puerto Rico. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe