It is a luxury to be embarrassed by President Trump.
For someone who has bemoaned his behavior on the world stage time and again, it’s an odd sentiment to express. But upon observing his behavior during the roughly four and a half hours he was on the ground in Puerto Rico earlier this week can only lead to that conclusion.
It’s a luxury to be embarrassed because being embarrassed is easy.
It’s easy, for instance, to groan at the video of the President of the United States chucking paper towel rolls into a crowd like a cheerleader tossing T-shirts into the stands at a basketball game. The same can be said about him callously joking about the relief effort as a budget inconvenience, prematurely (and inappropriately) comparing the death toll to that of Hurricane Katrina, or obsessively tweeting self-congratulatory notes about his administration’s superb crisis response.
It’s easy to be embarrassed by these things because only a mere observer is embarrassed. For others, the administration’s failures are a matter of life and death.
It’s embarrassing, for instance, that major international relief organizations — including Oxfam, Save the Children, and International Mercy Corps —are taking unprecedented steps in deploying resources to one of the most advanced nations in the world for the kind of disaster relief they normally do far from our shores.
But someone receiving that aid — an American citizen, who is otherwise languishing without food, water, shelter, electricity, or medical care — cannot be embarrassed. They can only be thankful that the most powerful government in the world, crippled by a toxic blend of malice, apathy, and incompetence, is being compensated for by the kindness, generosity, and expertise of strangers.
There are civilians and members of the U.S. military from the mainland doing critical work on the ground, and to be very clear, they are not to blame. It will be they and the resilient people of Puerto Rico who rebuild
the island’s infrastructure, restoring its homes, businesses, hospitals, and governance. It is not their fault that they were mobilized at a slower speed and in smaller numbers than they should have been, nor that a relief package promised last week has yet to even be formally proposed.
These are the failures of the administration — embarrassing to the vast majority of us, but downright devastating to the 3.4 million people battered by the hurricane.
This notion — that what is cringeworthy to some could be fatal to others — should serve as a warning. No one can remain completely untouched by volume and the magnitude of the embarrassment coming from this president and his administration.
The president slashing our refugee admissions target was embarrassing - but cruel to those forced back into overcrowded and resource-taxed camps. The president boasting of classified intelligence to the Russian Ambassador was embarrassing - but dangerous to the individuals among our allies’ intelligence agencies who had given us that information in the first place. And the president childishly taunting and calling North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” is embarrassing — but could well be deadly to the millions of South Koreans, Japanese and Americans living within striking distance of the famously erratic and insecure dictator’s arsenal.
There will be always be gaffes from this president that essentially amount to victimless crimes: blush-inducing remarks, typo-ridden tweets, and press conferences run amok. But if we ignore the bigger embarrassments like Puerto Rico, we do so risking consequences for real people the world over.
Graham F. West is the communications director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.