Whenever a natural disaster occurs, there seems to be this unanimous idea that the President of the United States should tour the disaster site. Whether it be the site of a horrific hurricane or a terrible tornado, the chief executive of the country is expected by the media and political pundits to make a visit. If the President visits too soon or takes too long, the decision is then thoroughly criticized.
Why does it matter? The problem here is two fold.
First, it feeds the notion that localities are dependent upon the federal government. Does Texas need the federal government in order to recover from its most recent disaster? Even if this were true, what is President Donald Trump taking a publicity tour going to change? Substitute the most recent disaster and sitting President from any other moment in recent history, and the question remains the same.
Second, why are we even politicizing disasters? When a hurricane becomes more than just a routine storm of the season, it’s a serious issue for many people. Homes are destroyed, displacing families and leaving people empty-handed. Beyond this, businesses are leveled and entire communities crumble. This is a time for unity, not a time for cheap political posturing. Unfortunately, the chattering class didn’t get the memo.
If President Trump visits too soon, pundits and media talking heads will criticize the move for being disruptive. As volunteer aid organizations, law enforcement, and first responders attempt to restore order, a presidential visit distracts from the cause and makes the entire disaster about himself.
But what if the President waits too long to tour the damage site?
The entire response on a federal level is seen as being delayed, lacking initiative, and then ultimately labeled a failure.
Again, the question remains: why does the presidential visit matter so much?
The current example is the state of Texas being devastated at the hands of Hurricane Harvey. By many accounts from scientists and meteorologists, this is unprecedented. If examples such as Hurricane Katrina are any indication, the cleanup will be a long and drawn out process. Recovery will not be easy.
What matters most to the region at this point is the immediate response of those who can alleviate suffering. Organizations that will provide aid on the ground are good examples of required response. Included here as well are community leaders to help coordinate, law enforcement officers to maintain order, and eager volunteers to help put the pieces back together.
Not included here are politicians on a publicity tour or media pundits on the television exploiting the tragedy for talk show fodder.
We can pray for the affected areas, donate spare funds to the recovery, and hope for the best possible results in a difficult situation. All of these contribute to helping move things forward. But the presidential visit, which is arguably a mere publicity tour, and the subsequent cable news dissection, are not needed. These natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey are above and beyond politics. Leave the politics out of the heartbreak, and let the communities heal.