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Puerto Ricans are Americans & They Need Our Help

Let me be a little blunt. I’m not trying to be rude, but sometimes it helps to just be candid about things.

I don’t care if you like President Trump or not; that is not the point of this post, and nothing I say here will change anyone’s opinion one way or the other. There is a tracking poll on 538 that tells me pretty much all we really know; Trump is not popular, but he never has been. He was not elected by popular vote; he was elected by the electoral college. He was elected, and he is our President, whether you like it or not. He took the oath of office, in which he said:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

That has literally nothing to do with this post; I just thought there was something in there about protecting and defending the American people. I guess not. Moving on.

I also don’t care if you think Puerto Rico is getting enough aid or not, because you don’t really know any better than I do and arguing in the absence of facts is what politicians are for. I’m sure we all have better things to do with our time. At some point someone will do a study of reaction times and resource delivery comparing Katrina, Harvey, Irma and Maria. Democrats will celebrate. Republicans will cry foul. Whatever.

My question now is the same as this has been since Maria struck Puerto Rico, and that is, why don’t we seem to give a damn at any level that this tragedy has struck American citizens? At least, not to the same extent we did for Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida?

This, again, has nothing to do with Trump or whether aid is being effectively delivered or not. I’m just going to assume that FEMA, the US Navy, and other organizations within our government are doing their best with our without guidance from the Commander-in-Chief. There are some really great people in these departments, and I wish them all the best. Puerto Rico needs it.

My question is why we just don’t seem to care about PR the same way we did about Texas and Florida. I noticed this before the storm even struck. There wasn’t the same amount of coverage. There wasn’t the same media frenzy. There were these oddly calm news commentaries and then, well, I don’t know. What did I miss?

It turns out, not much, or rather, my perception was correct; there just wasn’t the same amount of coverage or interest. Here is a Google Trends comparison of searches for the three recent hurricanes by name:

And here is the same chart by where the hurricane struck:

Notice anything? Comparatively few people searched for information about Maria or Puerto Rico even after the political nonsense with Trump and Twitter and the PR Mayor. Why?

Were we just burned out on hurricanes? Was everyone focused on Kneel Gate? Or, did we just have no idea that PR was part of the United States? Turns out, the last answer may be among the best. As first reported by the New York Times, almost 50% of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

When poll respondents were asked about support for PR aid, they were twice as likely to be in favor if they were aware that Puerto Ricans are, in fact, Americans:

So, perhaps, our lack of interest is due to the fact that our educational system sucks. It’s possible, even likely. I’m going to assume, again, that this has not impacted government action or even Trump’s role in the response. It has, however, clearly impacted people’s inclination to help the people of Puerto Rico:

I hope that’s all it is. I hope it’s not that most Puerto Ricans are albedo challenged and we’re not just being racist jerks. It would even be better if we just cared about states more than protectorates. But if we assume that there is either racism nor statism involved, we’re left with a bit of mystery. Given the recent spat between Trump and the major of San Juan, it would seem unlikely that Americans who care to know still remain ignorant of PR citizenship. In fact, many of them have actively sought to answer this very question:

Notice that searches for information about the hurricane in Puerto Rico are almost the same as searches for “Are Puerto Ricans American?” Hopefully, when they realize they are just like us, the inclination to give will rise to Houston levels, because the need is far greater. But I doubt it.


Let’s get back to Trump and his argument with Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Even the National Review believes that this engagement has been counter-productive politically. Again, I don’t care what you think about Trump or the mayor or who’s right. What I do care about is whether the behavior of our President in this context has made it less likely for Americans to give financially in support or Puerto Rico.

I don’t know the answer, not with any certainty. If you look at the trend above, you’ll notice that interest in giving declines very roughly as the PR Mayor searches increase. But this is a weak correlation at best. What I suspect, based on what I’ve seen on the news and social media (anecdotally), is that the dispute has not helped. Some people will go without because the President is arguing with a Mayor on Twitter regardless of who started it or who is right.

This is at best a lost opportunity. What I would hope, what I would expect, is that a President of the United States would care more about the Americans in PR than the Mayor of San Juan, and would brush aside the dispute. That he would take a scan second few seconds this unique moment in history to explain to those who have missed it that Puerto Ricans are Americans and those Americans will need  our help long after the Navy and FEMA have left. But he has not. And he will not. So it’s up to us, Democrat or Republican, to fill the gap.

That is perhaps a long way to get to the point. It is not that I am disappointed in how Trump has handled his dispute with the mayor, although I am. The point is that no matter how you feel about this, you should still care about the people of Puerto Rico and want to help them. So, if you can, here are just a few places where you can make a contribution.

Every little bit helps. And goes a long way to proving that we don’t care about Puerto Rican skin color or language, that we do not play politics with American lives, and that the people of Puerto Rico can depend on the United States just like any other part of this great country.

Plus, it’s tax deductible.

Thank you.


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