Monday, August 28, 2017


Hi, I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky and Crank -- I've been leaning on you guys and Tom a lot lately, and I've really appreciated your help when I've been away.

I'm reading the Hurricane Harvey news, and while I agree with Yastreblyansky that The New York Times is giving Trump a lot more credit for engagement than he deserves, I think Trump could surprise us by responding to Harvey at least adequately.

Trump was completely overmatched when it was time to craft complex health care legislation because he lacks the ability to master details, which are the source of health care disputes. He couldn't participate in bill crafting because he couldn't be bothered to understand the consequences of supporting or opposing particular policy choices.

But competent disaster relief isn't really political. Republicans and Democrats don't have serious disagreements about how to do it well. So Trump doesn't have to understand what he's being told about how it's done. He just has to nod and agree with what the pros tell him they intend to do. From what Mark Landler of the Times is telling us, there are pros in place, and nodding in agreement with them is precisely what Trump is doing:
One thing that may help the Trump administration’s response is the hard-won history that some of its leaders have with Katrina. Mr. Trump’s homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, was working for FEMA when the hurricane struck, and later ran Mr. Bush’s emergency preparedness office. The agency’s current administrator, [Brock] Long, was head of FEMA’s hurricane program at the time of Katrina....

Mr. Bossert suggested that disaster relief, with its focus on rapid response and logistics, was well suited to Mr. Trump.

“This is right up President Trump’s alley,” he said. “His questions weren’t about geopolitical issues or about large political consequences. His questions were about, ‘Are you doing what it takes to help the people who are going to be affected by this storm?’”
Are you doing all the right things? Great.

Trump probably isn't obsessed, as he usually is, with trying to do the opposite of whatever President Obama did. He knows that he and his people have to be on top of the situation, which is what didn't happen during Katrina in the Bush administration. Trump doesn't like the Bush family very much, so I'm sure he thinks it's important to outdo George W. He probably has a vague memory that various crises were referred to as "Obama's Katrina," and the problem with the real Katrina seemed to be lack of interest on the part of the president, so Trump will be ... interested. I think that means he'll greenlight what needs to be greenlighted. Let's be grateful for that and not worry for now about the fact that he'll never understand the process.

He probably won't want to shaft Texas, which has a supportive Republican governor and two Republican senators who haven't recently criticized him. The storm is also doing damage to Louisiana, which has a Democratic governor, but it also has two Republican senators who aren't known as Trump critics. So Trump's vengeance instinct probably won't be on display. The fact that many of the victims on TV are white will probably curb any inclination on Trump's part to withhold aid.

I can't say how this will play out after the first week or two. There will be serious questions about funding -- The Washington Post has a good writeup on this -- but for now, Trump probably won't preside over an incompetent response, though that doesn't mean he's a generally competent president.

The most disturbing aspect of Trump's response will probably be his desire to make the Harvey story all about himself. It's hard not to think that Trump seems engaged (in his fashion) because he doesn't want the hurricane to draw attention from him. I'm predicting that in the future he'll brag (accurately or otherwise) that "We had the worst hurricane" -- as if just being president during a horrific natural disaster makes him a great leader. But if it means he's rubber-stamping decisions made by people who know what they're doing, well, be glad the response wasn't worse.

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