Seeking Relief, Unity from Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey remains with us.

The disastrous storm stayed, and it rained and rained. People took to boats and 17,000 were rescued in Texas and Houston, and all across landmark towns of Texas and Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Harvey remains and continues to wreak havoc and suffering with a rising death toll into the amount of 30 and more. Ever since it touched land Aug. 25, it created suffering and loss on an enormous scale—but also the vein of generosity of spirit and giving, of pulling together and unity that seems always to rise in times of extreme need, the kind that lifts people up from the raging water and pulls them together on the same rope.

On the other hand, Hurricane Trump, facing what many pundits and observers said was the critical task of appearing to take charge, inspire and lead, came and went on Tuesday,  without much of an impact. Along with first lady Melania Trump, the president arrived in Texas trailed by lingering controversy over the pardon of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and faced with high expectations.

“We want to do this better than we ever did before,” Trump told workers at a fire station as the waters rose, while he noted the size of the devastation. He said he wanted to set a standard for his administration’s response.

While there was some controversy— when is there is not when this president appears anywhere? —the response seemed both muted and not exactly a clarion call. When Trump departed, it was back to a different swamp, the one in Washington where urgent business was coming up, such as a tax reform plan.

These two worlds—storm-stricken, pummeled Texas with its urgent agony of Houston and the prickly pears of legislative politics — presented a dichotomy, visually and emotionally.

Touting a tax plan that was bereft of details, the president continued his stance that congress, which would have to come up with a detailed plan and legislation, better get busy or he wouldn’t be happy.  He called for the ouster of a Democratic senator from Missouri if she didn’t vote for the bill.

This was politics, Trump style, bluster, exaggeration and even a bald lie. During the week Trump said in the presence of Finnish president Sauli Niinisto that Finland would be buying fighter jets from the United States. This statement was denied later by Niinisto.

In Texas, Trump met with FEMA and local officials, elected officials and other persons in charge of rescue operations, praising rightfully their efforts. He said Texas could take anything.  On the other hand, Trump avoided close contact with the people on the ground, shelters or hospitals, which was another opportunity wasted on how to show leadership and a little humanity and empathy.

On the ground and in the water, it was the people of Texas and volunteers from all over the country who showed those qualities not the commander-in-chief. They dove into the water. They dropped ladders. They picked up their neighbors on their shoulders and carried them out. They wept. They counted their losses, which were manifold in the wreckage of the rising waters.

Houston—while it has lots of oil wealth and a big skyline—is also a city of uncommon diversity and neighborhoods. Amid this calamity, the city seemed to meet itself in the water, with balm and consolation, in shock, and with courage and acts of bravery that were supplemented by volunteers from down the street and across state lines.

No one checked IDs, as families, police, mothers and children and dogs waded through the water in toy trucks and real fire engines and commiserated among the hundreds of beds in the shelters, or while they shared their homes, food, grief or stories.

Visibly, as potential catastrophes of explosions, more rain, rising water mounted, the city came together inside itself and on national television.  The president, who often says he wants to unite the country and make it great again but persistently divides it, should have stuck around.

Houston under the rain of Harvey: This is what America looks like, united and great again.


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