Shadow Government

Trump Cares More About Ideology Than the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

The president’s nativism deprived Texas and Louisiana of help they need from Mexico.

US President Donald Trump holds the state flag of Texas outside of the Annaville Fire House after attending a briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017.
President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. 
 / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds the state flag of Texas outside of the Annaville Fire House after attending a briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Nativism and insecurity form the core of Donald Trump’s presidency.

These qualities are all that stand in the way of maximizing help for those in need in Texas and Louisiana as the full picture of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey comes into focus.

At this dark time, Mexico offered to help, as good neighbors do.

It did so despite the seemingly endless barrage of insults that Trump has directed toward the country, including this past week’s repetition of the claim that Mexico will pay for his delusional border wall (something it has made clear it will not do).

Mexico’s offer of aid is not empty or symbolic.

Bedeviled by seismic activity and in the path of many a hurricane, Mexico has developed some of the most effective search and rescue capabilities of any country in the world, and its military excels at domestic disaster recovery missions.

Having that kind of experience and expertise in Texas and Louisiana right now to supplement the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local governments, and volunteer first responders could radically improve the states’ abilities to aid their people.

Mexico has also been generous toward its northern neighbor in the past during times of crisis.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Mexican government offered, and the George W. Bush administration wisely accepted, assistance that saw Mexican troops on U.S. soil for the first time since the Mexican-American War. Mexican soldiers distributed more than 170,000 meals, delivered more than 184,000 tons of supplies, and provided more than 500 medical consultations to people across Louisiana and Mississippi.

Bush, a Texan who understood the importance of what he characterized as perhaps America’s most important relationship, personally thanked the Mexican soldiers providing assistance in Biloxi, Mississippi.

But the Trump administration has failed to take Mexico up on its offer to help with recovery efforts. This refusal increases the danger that the people of Texas and Louisiana face with each passing moment.

By blindly ignoring a neighborly offer of disaster assistance, Trump has put himself in league with some strange company. Ignoring offers of aid — U.S. aid usually — has been the exclusive purview of Fidel and Raul Castro.

In August and September 2008 and again in October 2016, Cuba turned down offers of assistance following devastation from hurricanes Ike, Gustav, and Matthew, trotting out tired, empty, anti-imperial rhetoric as justification for rejecting aid. In fact, Cuba rejected U.S. help because accepting it would have run counter to its long-standing narrative that the United States was evil. It also would have underscored a basic insecurity felt by the Castro brothers — that accepting aid was a sign of weakness.

These twin blinders, ideology and insecurity, also appear to be at the core of Trump’s post-Harvey paralysis regarding Mexico’s offer.

A central tenet of Trumpism has been the vilification of Mexico and Mexicans — a nativist narrative and philosophy that would be hard to square with accepting assistance from Mexico’s government.

It would also require the self-confidence necessary to admit a basic reality the president has long denied — that having Mexico as a neighbor, despite the many challenges the country undoubtedly faces, is an enormous net positive for the United States.

Setting aside nativism and insecurity would not only help the people of Texas and Louisiana — it could end up being an important down payment on rebuilding the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

For the sake of all, let us hope that Trump follows the example of Bush and not that of the Castro brothers.

Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Correction, Aug. 30, 2017: The Mexican government offered aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A previous version of this article misstated the year as 2012. 

Dan Restrepo is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was special assistant to the president and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council from 2009 to 2012.

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