As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the East Coast, equal bluster and gale-force winds are coming out of Washington. President Donald Trump continues to focus on making the case for the success of the government's response to last year's devastation in Puerto Rico.
This has been debated and analyzed for months, even as the official death toll from Puerto Rico increased. The preparation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the nation's emergency response to the East Coast this week is evidence that some lessons from the storms that ravaged Houston and Puerto Rico have been learned; if the president has had a role in that, we commend him for it.
Here's what we have a problem with: The president called out the mayor of Puerto Rico as "totally incompetent."
This is neither helpful nor hopeful for those in the path of Hurricane Florence, particularly the mayors and local leaders called on to make important decisions. Now those mayors have something else to worry about: drawing the wrath of the president.
Dealing with disasters should not be a political exercise; it is a people exercise — and nothing should get in the way of that. If a mayor of storm-ravaged city needs resources, he or she should not have to calculate making a request against a potential tweet storm or unfounded public rebuke.
Government and elected officials will always play an important role in recovery efforts after a natural disaster. The brave men and women of fire, police, National Guard and search and rescue have specialized skills that save lives. Getting supplies to those who need them is a master class lesson in logistics.
We must never lose sight that for many, the real first responders will be a neighbor helping a neighbor in need, local church members checking on one another and community service organizations providing relief. Before any elected official gets to the impacted area, helping hands will be extended in countless ways. In Houston, sportsmen with flat boats formed a brigade that rescued many. A group of them have already self-deployed to the East Coast.
We all should do our part — because that is who we are and what we do in this country.
Government officials, including presidents and mayors, should be held accountable for how they deal with emergencies. But the time for that debate is not when the eye of the storm is headed your way.