Why Trump's Dismissal of the Death Toll From Hurricane Maria Makes No Sense Whatsoever

September 17, 2018

Last week, President Donald Trump made a move that was extremely unpredictable, even by his own standards. With Hurricane Florence insidiously drawing closer and closer to the American shoreline, Trump extolled his administration’s response to the earlier Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as an “incredible, unsung success” even though nearly 3,000 people died and full electrical power was only being restored to some Puerto Rican homes this past summer, almost one year after the storm itself occurred. In fact, regarding the aforementioned death toll, Trump derided the number 3,000 as an attempt by Democrats to “make him look as bad as possible.” Given the fact that the legitimacy of death toll is supported by unbiased, university-level research and enjoys bipartisan support, saying that Trump’s claims are absurd would be an understatement. Why would the President of the United States utter such a blatant untruth? Is he unaware of how the death toll was calculated? Or perhaps, even more unsettlingly, is he afraid of responsibility and accountability?


Photo: NASA on Unsplash 


On September 13th, Trump tweeted saying that when he left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria there were only about “6 to 18 deaths” and that those numbers “did not go up by much” later on. However, this statement indicated a fundamental misunderstanding of how natural disaster death tolls are calculated. By definition, the death toll measures the amount of deaths as a result of the storm, not just during it. While only a few dozen or so were killed directly by the storm, many more died because of the effects caused by the storm’s aftermath. For example, those who were on life support at the time may have died when the storm cut off power to millions of households and medical facilities. Also, if medical resources like ambulances cannot reach someone with a dire medical issue in time because traffic lights did not work after the hurricane, those people would also die. While these instances seem specific, there are many more circumstances to take into account and these problems are bound to happen on an island with over 3.5 million people living in it. While forgetting what the words “death toll” mean is certainly embarrassing, it may be what Trump did when he made such an ignorant claim about Puerto Rico’s death toll.

According to Trump biographer Mike d’Antonio, Trump is rejecting Puerto Rico’s death toll because he is “terrified by responsibility, failure, and blame.” From blunders like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) not having enough Spanish-speaking workers to properly help Puerto Ricans in need to the President failing to visit Puerto Rico until about two weeks after Hurricane Maria first struck, the Trump administration’s response was anything but successful. Is Donald Trump’s ridiculous denial of the death toll of Hurricane Maria an attempt to deflect criticism for his failure to properly address the disaster? If so, how can we as Americans rely on a President who is too scared to even admit his government’s shortcomings, let alone effectively lead America beyond them?


Tuhin Chakraborty is an 18 year old freshman at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. He is considering studying History and Political Science there. His favorite book is Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. Tuhin believes that success is gaining the respect of everyone who knows you. He steps up for Civic Engagement: getting young people involved in politics and community action.


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