As I write this post on August 31, 2017, Hurricane Harvey has overwhelmed southeastern Texas with more than ten trillion gallons of water. Now downgraded to a tropical storm, Harvey is barreling into Louisiana. This storm has already caused incomprehensible misery and destruction, with a quickly growing body count (more than twenty, the last time I checked), and preliminary damage estimates of at least $30 billion. Those numbers will certainly rise as the storm continues, and as rescue and recovery efforts continue, in the days to come.
One can only marvel at the dangerous, grueling work being done by local police, firefighters, FEMA, the National Guard, military service members, and many other government groups and personnel, bravely saving lives and keeping families together. One can only marvel at the heroism, courage, resilience, and endurance of voluntary rescuers and the suffering people of Texas. One can only marvel at the generosity and compassion of so many in the USA, Mexico, and other countries who have already poured support into Texas in the form of donations, prayers, and helping hands. Countless times during this catastrophe, the selfless, generous spirit of helpfulness and human kindness has shown up in every corner.
But Hurricane Harvey has also exposed the disastrous effects of policies furthered by Donald Trump and much of the Republican Party, along with their “Christian” supporters.
In fact, many aspects of the Harvey disaster could have been minimized, or even prevented entirely, were it not for the greed, myopia, cynicism and willful ignorance of (mainly Republican) government leaders, and the deplorable ignorance and gullibility of those who support them. Far worse disasters are certain to happen if we do not learn from this very teachable moment named Hurricane Harvey.
This blog post focuses on five “lessons from Harvey.”
1. Urban planning and regulation (or lack thereof). Texas has long prided itself on being a haven of conservative values such as deregulation to support business growth and a vibrant economy. Its mantra has apparently been “Build, baby, build.” According to a April 27, 2017 article in Bisnow (a digital news and media company focusing on real estate), lack of zoning and lax land-use regulations have fueled Houston’s “transformation” into a money-making bonanza for developers. https://www.bisnow.com/houston/news/land/as-houstonians-approach-to-urban-life-changes-lax-land-use-regulations-fuel-the-transformation-73249
Of course, this is good for the economy short-term. Long-term, not so much.
On June 16, 2017 the Guardian published an eerily prophetic article with the headline: “Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: ‘It’s not if, it’s when’” The article states: “Human activity is worsening the problem in an already rainy area, and there could be damage worthy of a disaster movie if a storm hits the industrial section.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster
(Note on August 31, 2017: Apparently all that has already happened. The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas is close to exploding due to flood damage, and the nearby town is being evacuated.)
On August 28, 2017, Atlantic magazine analyzed flooding issues in relation to city planning (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/08/why-cities-flood/538251/), and on August 29, 2017 the blog Quartz published a post entitled, “Houston’s flooding shows what happens when you ignore science and let developers run rampant.” (https://qz.com/1064364/hurricane-harvey-houstons-flooding-made-worse-by-unchecked-urban-development-and-wetland-destruction/).
The upshot of these and many other reports – published both before and during Harvey – is that many people saw this disaster coming, but the powers that be refused to listen.
2. Global warming. Climate scientists are nearly unanimous in stating that storms like Harvey are made worse and more frequent by climate change, and that human activity – the use of fossil fuels in particular – is the main cause of climate change. Trump and most Republicans call these assertions a hoax, and stubbornly resist efforts to fight climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels. Of course, the reason for this resistance is money. Fossil fuel companies and their investors have gotten rich destroying our planet’s ecosystem, and the Republican Party is for the most part the party of Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Polluters. Sadly, many Democrats have also been seduced by fossil fuel money, but in general they have been more supportive of sustainable alternatives such as solar and wind power.
Of particular concern right now is that Trump’s EPA leader, Scott Pruitt, is publicly dismissive of the established links between human activity and climate change, so there’s little chance that we can hope for corrective measures in the foreseeable future. Further, Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry seems to think coal is the best thing since sliced bread. Any environmental scientist with half a brain will tell you that burning coal is one of the fastest ways to pollute our air and accelerate climate change.
3. “Christians” A quick look at the New Testament — the Biblical foundation of Christianity — reveals many laudable spiritual themes such as forgiveness, charity towards the poor, and unselfish attitudes in general. Donald Trump would seem to be the antithesis of many Christian virtues; yet 80% of Evangelical Christians voted for Trump in 2016, and they constitute a significant portion of his base. Many of Trump’s “Christian” supporters consider all non-Christians (especially Muslims) and scientists to be the enemies of humankind. This shows up in Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies, in the anti-science bent of Trump’s leadership team, and in laughable statements made by Evangelical leaders such as convicted rapist Jim Bakker, who recently blamed the solar eclipse on Obama.
In the Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying that rich people might have a hard time making it into heaven, and that one cannot serve both God and “mammon” (an ancient Aramaic word meaning “wealth”). Never mind that. Meet Very Wealthy Televangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church (a megachurch in the Houston area that can seat more than 16,000). Osteen is an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump. He has a ten-million-dollar home.
At the outset of Hurricane Harvey, when thousands of Houstonians were forced from their homes and desperately seeking shelter, Osteen’s church claimed that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” and was therefore not open to accommodate flood victims. Videos and photos published online refuted the church’s claims of “severe flooding” at and around the church, which — apparently shamed — did finally (on August 28) open up and welcome people displaced by flooding.
In stark contrast, Houston-area Muslim groups and individuals, as well as Sikhs, had immediately started helping flood victims. Several mosques and Sikh temples were open for use as shelters by residents by the flood. More here: (http://www.liberalmountain.com/us-politics/osteens-megachurch-remained-closed-houston-mosques-open-assist-flood-victims-details)
4. Donald Trump’s narcissism. On Tuesday, August 29, our crowd-size-obsessed leader famously exclaimed, “What a crowd! What a turnout!” after a press conference in Texas. He has so far not mentioned once any concern for lives lost (including one police officer), nor has he personally met any first responders or hurricane victims. In the words of David Axelrod, “It’s not always about you, Mr. President.” http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/29/opinions/trump-fails-consoler-in-chief-moment-axelrod/
Trump is an embarrassment to our nation, and he brings shame upon all who support him. Unfortunately, he’s in good company with much of the Republican Party, which seems to mainly serve very wealthy people who don’t want to pay taxes, and who either out of willful ignorance or out of pure cynicism support policies that hurt the disadvantaged and threaten the future of our world.
5. Right-wing Republicans: “Government is the problem.” Every student of U.S. history knows that Franklin D. Roosevelt used government power to pull our nation out of a terrible depression, put millions back to work, and lead us and our allies to victory in the greatest war we have faced.
“When it rains, the government brings the umbrella.” Those words are from Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who in an August 30, 2017 press conference called for quick response from FEMA and other U.S. government agencies to the national emergency created by Hurricane Harvey.
During that press conference, Sen. Ted Cruz (who had voted against funding to help New York cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) sat elbow to elbow with Rep. Lee, smiling and nodding obsequiously, but I doubt his grins and nods signaled sincere agreement. After all, Sen. Cruz had tried to shut down the U.S. government over Obamacare in 2013, thereby becoming a hero for die-hard, anti-government conservatives (but a laughing-stock for many others, and a highly unlikable fool to more pragmatic Republicans).
Ronald Reagan would also probably not have agreed with Congresswoman Lee. He famously said, “…Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.” Following through with the “Reagan Revolution,” anti-tax godfather Grover Norquist, who has for many years exerted powerful influence on the Republican Party, got famous for saying things like, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
Perhaps Hurricane Harvey has provided a big enough bathtub to drown at least some public support for the Republican Party, especially for its more out-of-touch, extremist right-wing members.