What Trump Doesn’t Get About Disasters

How we define a calamity determines how we plan for and respond to them. Or not.


Comments: 164

  1. The approach which focuses on a single event at a single moment in time is in a way cold. It also is the product of a short attention span. It is cold in that there is no time for human response, grief, memory, or trauma. The statement is, "ok, you had your hurricane (or fire, earthquake); it's over; here's some money; now move on."

    The short attention span (Mr. Trump, but also modern news cycles - and likely many of us) focuses on the disaster as crisis (maybe fascinating crisis with interesting pictures if viewed from a distance). It is a diversion for a while. The more caring will try to do something - give money, send supplies, pray. Yet, shortly most will be on to the next thing - crisis, tweet, sports event, personal life crisis or event. In the blink of an eye that disaster is in many people's rear view mirror.

    In 2005, some not-for-profits were excoriated for not immediately giving out all the donations they received after Katrina. People who gave to help the victims wanted the money to go directly to them. These charities, though, were in it for the long term. They knew that there would be years of rebuilding, which needed funding; that simply handing out money in the immediate aftermath, while emotionally satisfying to donors, would not serve victims as well as funding a long term recovery. Trump with his self-focus & short attention span will never get that. Thankfully someone does.

  2. @Anne-Marie Hislop
    You're so correct in your evaluation and how quickly we move on to other crises or events. We even move on with this pathological lier of a POTUS with each event or tweet getting the focus of media, burying previous horrors.

  3. @Anne-Marie Hislop Sorry, but I heard that argument with Haiti. Now years have passed and no major improvements have been made to their infrastructure. Millions upon millions of dollars were contributed. Where did it all go? I'm talking about the major charities, like the Red Cross. The Catholic Church which received major contributions for the disaster was still waiting last time I checked to decide where the funds should go. Haiti is still a mess.

  4. It is hardly accidental that Trump's only wishes to count the deaths during the actual hurricane.

    That's the only portion of the toll which does not reflect the competence and thoroughness of the disaster response.

  5. @Andrew Troup

    Column A is for those who died during the storm. Column B is for those whose deaths were the direct or the indirect results of the storm. Those who can't cope with two columns and consider column B to be nefarious also argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  6. After devastating events many succumb to despair and stress-related illnesses. Loss of the carefully constructed structures of a life - material and ephemeral break hearts and usher in untimely death.

  7. And the "event bias" in thinking and conceptualization is exactly why, despite human resilience, slow moving "disasters" like global climate change may do us in far more completely than an asteroid impact or even a nuclear exchange, because the slow boil nature of the progression means we likely won't notice until it's too late to reverse the process.

  8. @Glenn Ribotsky...that threshold has, unfortunately, already come, and is far behind us.

  9. The author makes a number of good points.

    However, I think there is another thing to add. Trump said a very small number of people died initially. This is very unlikely. The situation after the PR storm was chaotic for days or even weeks, and communications were cut off in many hard-hit localities. Any deaths in these places could not be reported. Furthermore, Trump and his underlings wanted to minimize the official death count.

  10. If indeed Trump is short-term focused in cases like these, I wonder whether his economic activities have always been that way. Or perhaps he recognizes that longer term effects are important, but only if they affect him directly, for good or ill. Are there cases from his past when he demonstrated a lot of concern about the longer term results of an event, because it was going to cost him dearly? (Or was going to give him a big win.) If so, the comparison would make it easier to identify and call out his hypocrisy in cases like this.

    Sometimes I wonder if he truly isn't smart enough to evaluate what he's doing. Sometimes I'm afraid he is simply cynically playing the politics of telling a false story repeatedly so that many listeners take his story as the truth. In that case, I wonder what he thinks is in it for him?

  11. @Mike

    "Sometimes I wonder if he truly isn't smart enough to evaluate what he's doing. Sometimes I'm afraid he is simply cynically playing the politics of telling a false story repeatedly so that many listeners take his story as the truth. "

    Sometimes??? This is the essence of the Emperor. The wonders and fears you depict should be omnipresent.

  12. Another unexpected, wide spread effect of Maria was the interrupted supply of drip-IV bags to hospitals nationwide: with the shortage of bags, most of which were being manufactured in Puerto Rico, hospitals were being compelled to give medications orally, challenging for patience experiencing nausea. So the ramifications of these 'events' can be difficult to tabulate in any number of scales.

  13. To illustrate the idiocy of our Idiot-In-Chief's 'event thinking', Donald Trump and millions of members of his cult of personality probably think he's the legitimate President of the United States because the slave-era Electoral College elected him.

    If one were clueless, one might say Trump was fairly elected President, when in reality, he's a pathetic imposter produced by decades of rigged Republican political cancer and election hijacking.

    When you look at the massive voter suppression and millions of Americans whose votes are rejected through registration hurdles, the black box machine vote counting, the limited poll hours, the long lines in minority neighborhoods in Republican-governed states, as well as Kremlin and FBI meddling and a potpourri of right-wing dirty tricks to rig elections, the fact is that Trump did not 'win' the Electoral College either; he stole his 'election'.

    His behavior before and after his inauguration is more evidence that he's not a President; he has no relationship with reality, cause and effect, humanity or common decency.

    The fact that there is a mental patient with zero sense of right and wrong in the Oval Office should remind all decent Americans that a new process needs to begin in America, which is massive voter registration and massive voter turnout on November 6 2018 to start to cure America of Republican political cancer.

    Register
    Donate
    Vote

    https://www.voterparticipation.org/support-our-work/donate-to-vpc/

    Trump is an imposter.

  14. @Socrates

    AMEN

  15. @Socrates

    He could be called a mental patient if he sought and accepted treatment. Mental patients generally volunteer and know they need help. In that they are brave and admirable. Trump is neither. And yet —- as you imply—- he clearly has mental health deficits as well as an absence of moral code. Not good for anyone.

  16. @ Socrates. No one ever said a truer word!

  17. "The president’s disaster logic tells us that firefighters who are now sick after responding to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks are not victims, and that soldiers suffering PTSD should not to be counted among the casualties of war. Nothing matters unless it happened in the event. If you didn’t die then and there, you don’t count."

    Your example above is on point.

    Such thinking on the part of 45 illustrates how he is devoid of any critical or abstract thinking. Many of his followers have similar cognitive deficits.

  18. Trump is such a disaster himself, there’s no way he could comprehend what they are,outside of the self involved world he exist in,let alone feel compassionate for their victims.

  19. A Trump disaster is defined as a lie he's told that no one believes. And he'd have thousands of them if there weren't some 37% of Americans who he think he's right.

  20. Trumps has a 2 year old's vision of life. It it isn't about ME and about RIGHT NOW, it doesn't count. Nope, take that back - I do know two years olds who are more mature than our POTUS and Commander in Chief. God help us all.

  21. @scott:
    I'm glad you took that back.
    When my granddaughter was about 11 months old and just able to stand upright with help of a coffee table, I dropped something from the table I was working at. She was playing at the coffee table when she heard and saw me trying to reach for the object on the floor. She immediately dropped to the floor, crawled over, took the object and handed it to me.
    Indeed, you do not expect such behaviour from your POTUS and Commander in Chief (I'm Dutch). I wish you the best of luck with DJT.

  22. The president is not responsible for the immediate deaths (the first 18) caused by a natural disaster. No person, not even the president, can stop the forces of nature.

    However, he is responsible for many of the delayed deaths (the next 2900) caused by the lack of basic services.

    While Puerto Ricans died, Trump played golf.

  23. @JAR

    Puerto Ricans lacked basic services across the island to begin with, so one should not be surprised that people died. This is not Trump or FEMA’s fault. It is the consequence of the US continuing to hold on to what pretty much part of the Third World as a territory.

  24. Trump doesn't "get" anything that doesn't enrich only him. If he could figure out how to make a buck on those 3,000 deaths he'd be bragging, "The most hurricane deaths ever!"

  25. Aside from the obvious paranoia these utterances betray,

    I wouldn’t call it paranoia on someone’s part when before they even finish their sentence the other side is already proclaiming it’s a lie, merely objective observation on that person’s part.

  26. @John Doe

    If he ever completes a sentence that isn't a lie, let us know.

  27. @John Doe

    you do know that it is Trump that is saying the report is a lie.
    Also, Do we really think at this stage, that Trump is capable of objective observation?

  28. "Social science disaster... evolved into a multidisciplinary endeavor that has told us a lot about human behavior in disasters"

    Next we'll be hearing from President Mindless, "I didn't know disasters could be so complicated"

    God help us all.

  29. @cherrylog754: Close but what he'll actually say is
    Who knew ...?

  30. Yes, this is spot on. Professor Knowles couldn't be more correct. Who counts and who doesn't is the thread connecting this administration with its cynical past in party politics.

  31. What Trump doesn't get about governing would fill more books and shelves than the Library of Congress could hold.

  32. President Trump makes a tragedy of lost lives in Puerto Rico all about him . "it a democratic hoax or lie" as a conspiracy theory to damage him. Almost 3000 people died. It is always about him. He lacks empathy, compassion for his fellow citizens, and all events and news are either making him a "winner" or everyone else has to lose. He is still bashing Hillary Clinton after almost 2 years after being elected. Remember him tossing paper towels to the Houston people flooded out of the hurricane last year? Everything is a photo op to make him "look good".
    No moral compass.

  33. Professor Knowles is a scholar and his analysis is certainly a wake up call on how a rational administration should prepare before and provide support after a natural disaster. However, Professor Knowles wisdom is no doubt wasted on this president. Mr. Trump cares nothing except that winning or the appearance of winning. He will cheat and lie and stop at nothing to win. What does the death three thousand people in Puerto Rico matter if he wins? For Mr. Trump, lives of people, especially brown people, are cheap.

  34. Can we not talk about the man as if he has a functioning brain capable of sympathy, empathy, or basic understanding. He has clearly proven to the world that he does not.

    His life is to bear misery from this point onwards. He deserves nothing better.

  35. Professor Knowles has it wrong on one point. It is not Trump's failure of imagination that has led to his disgusting behavior about Hurricane Maria. Rather, it is his failure of empathy, integrity, intelligence, and compassion.

    Quite simply, Trump doesn't care how many brown skinned American citizens are harmed. Professor Knowles is really over-thinking this. Trump's response to Hurricane Maria has nothing to do with his lack of understanding of natural disasters, or FEMA's role when they occur.

    There is really a much simpler, and more accurate reason why Trump acts as he does. And it is that he simply does not care about the lives and well-being of brown skinned citizens in this country. It is really that simple.

    Professor Knowles and others would do well not to spend their time straining for some sort of legitimate reason for Trump's behavior. There is none. He is simply a bigoted, hateful, ignorant man, who is supported by tens of millions of other bigoted, hateful ignorant Americans.

    And mark my words -- predominantly white communities in Red states will receive all the help they ask for with Hurricane Florence. There is no other reason than race. There never is any other reason, for Trump. He does not value the lives of brown-skinned Americans. In fact, had he treated the Puerto Ricans with dignity and respect, he might have lost the support of his racist base. It's all about race with Trump and his voters. And it always will be.

  36. @Henry Hurt

    Not disagreeing with your points, but to my reading the professor was intending to use Trump's galloping ignorance to suggest that we have collectively been ignorant of what "disaster" means. It is not one event, a hurricane passing over a city, but many events that impact the lives of those involved in a thousand different ways.

    Trump could be considered technically correct that 3,000 people did not die "in the hurricane", they died afterward due to the lack of electrical power, the inability to get to medical care and, surely, the lack of clean drinking water. A broken bone can be fatal if there is no way to get treatment.

    It would perhaps be more linguistically correct to say that 3,000 people died in P.R. FROM the hurricane or BECAUSE of the hurricane. Everyone in American government bears some responsibility for that fact, from the president on down. At the same time, it should be noted that thousands of American soldiers, relief workers both in and out of govt. agencies and volunteers tied to do their best to help.

  37. @Henry Hurt As far as I know he has not released disaster funding meant for the awful fires here in California either and a lot of whites live here and didn't vote for him. Myself being one. The majority of this entire state didn't vote for him and that's what galls him. He supports those states/people who voted for him.

  38. @Henry Hurt
    I think it's about revenge on people whom Trump believes didn't vote for him. That means those city slickers and the "elitists" who despise him and, yes, people of color are among the enemies.
    Having said that, Trump has not been especially loyal to his supporters. We'll see how they fare in the aftermath of disaster.

  39. "Drumpf" thinks that reality is made up of manufactured images that pointedly celebrate his "brilliant thinking" and that manufacture is his rhetoric. He is riding a wave of success because of those who sat in the Oval Office before he did. He is moving funds around so that he can create those manufactured images he so craves. It will crash down on all of us if we do not take away the reins, and then what will there be to celebrate?

  40. Thank you for writing this column. You convey important information, and I am reminded of Eric Klinenberg's early work in Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster. So many factors affect individual and community resilience and you are right that we need to be motivated by the values that will improve our human connectedness, upgrade access to public goods in times of crisis and beyond, and adjust to a society that is both increasingly diverse and in which more and more individuals live alone.

  41. As a society, we have no problem counting deaths from Katrina that included people staying in their homes because that had no way to escape, lack of power for Life Sustaining Equipment, and so on.

    Unfortunately, when our citizens have a different language, culture, race, and/or ethnicity, such as PR, then it seems we have a different standard for how we count hurricane-related deaths.

  42. The GOP and its oligarchic supporters refuse to recognize, much less accept, “the moral burdens of protecting the commons.” President Trump is not an anomaly, merely the culmination of decades of GOP refusal to “promote the general welfare.” The oath of fealty to Grover Norquist with a “no new taxes” pledge has always taken precedence.

  43. I was in Puerto Rico less than two weeks after Hurricane Maria last year. The collapse of the electrical power system was the most complete of any I have witnessed in the aftermath of any hurricane I have been involved in as a reporter, documentary maker and volunteer relief worker.

    In many cases, the power company used concrete poles rather than steel or other metal types. They fell by the thousands as the concrete cracked and the steel rods underneath could not hold up to the strain of high winds. In one town, I saw a family living in a second floor apartment with a utility pole through most of their roof.

    Puerto Rico needed an "all hands on deck" response, bigger by a factor of four or five of what was mounted. How could such an effort be brought forth? Who in the American govt. would listen? To be fair, the Army Corp of Engineers took on a massive task of trying to help restore power, something not in their normal playbook.

    Puerto Rico was a highly unusual situation because it could not recover quickly on its own. Even two weeks after the hurricane, I saw the American Red Cross giving out basic survival goods, water, food, candles for lighting, etc., something that normally takes place only for a few days.

    Some of this Red Cross relief activity is on this video taken in Humacoa,

    PR:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LziPdXy5_M&t=11s

    In most situations, people are able to take care of themselves within a few days. For many in P.R., the situation was far more severe.

  44. It is worth also noting that, in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration awarded an enormous contract for power restoration in PR to an abysmally unqualified outfit owned and operated by a pal of Interior Secretary Ryan Zincke.

    This was only the leading edge of the profound corruption that has ensued.

  45. Assuring timely maintenance and threat-projections regarding dams and levees makes sense. Building earthquake-resistant buildings and insisting that people carry insurance for natural calamities such as floods makes sense. Assuring that emergency roads that provide access to rural areas are fortified and maintained (which would have been central to saving more lives in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, assuming that PR could have afforded the efforts in the face of their decrepit infrastructure generally) makes sense. Providing extended and enlightened medical benefits to psychologically damaged veterans makes sense – and the need for such benefits suggests that we should be extremely careful about the wars we choose to fight.

    However, the tone of this op-ed suggests that government has an obligation to project every imaginable potential consequence of every imaginable type of “event”, and develop and administer mitigations. That’s certainly in line with a liberal’s conviction that government, not individuals, is the primary agency for guiding the conduct of our lives and actions; but that conviction stops with liberals. The reach and pervasiveness of government required to satisfy what the author suggests Trump doesn’t “get” would be all-embracive.

    What the author doesn’t get about how you build healthy societies and sustainable cultures that are not completely dependent on government is … a lot.

  46. @Richard Luettgen

    Your reply offers an example of the very point of the article. What is the history of Puerto Rico such that the infrastructure was in such bad shape? These people are by law American citizens, but the history of their country from 1898 onward has been one of exploitation and neglect.

    The question of this disaster -- long in the making and far from over -- is what is the responsibility of a country to a people whom the country calls its own?

    True to "event thinking," Richard Luettgen objects to the "tone" of the article which outrageously suggests that a government take responsibility for the safety of people it claims as citizens -- and thus responsibility for the conditions that multiplied the consequences of this disaster. No, just the event is the disaster, with no reference to what came before, and very limited responsibility for what follows after. "Dependence" is both 'their' fault and problem.

    However, dependence is also the result of past treatment; now Luettgen rejects responsibility for the history that led to present circumstances. Or is simply willfully ignorant of it.

    I guess that fits with trump's extremely short memory and Luettgen's libertarian proclivities, which leads him to so confidently sneer at what he derides as "liberal" thinking.

  47. @Richard Luettgen. I get little more from Mr. Luettgen’s clear ideological position (self-interested libertarianism—a vulgarized misunderstanding of Adam Smith) than I get from the old Walt Kelly Pogo cartoon: “I have met the enemy and he is us.” The government is “us.” At least the cartoon admits it’s a cartoon.

  48. @Richard Luettgen
    I asked for an example because I would Like to understand your point of view better. If you ask a lefty like me for an example of a country I like I would say the Scandinavian countries are pretty good, and many other western European countries are not bad. Republicans do not tend to see any good models in these countries, but often deride them as socialist countries. What country could you name as a desirable example which would help someone like me understand your point of view?

  49. Unfortunately the issue is not the response to the disaster but the complete failure of many administrations, both local and in the US, over the last 40 years to deal with the infrastructure issue on the ISLAND of Puerto Rico. There is not any level of response that can deal with a total failure of the water and electrical systems which impacted PR. There are not any oversea highways for trucks to bring relief supplies from the US. You have to fly it in or ship it via water. Without a power grid ports and airports do not function. It takes time folks. I have lived in Florida for over 15 years and have been through 6 hurricanes. Thanks to long term infrastructure investments and regulations recovery is much more optimal in Florida. The issue is not FEMA's or the military's response. That is a political narrative. Hurricane disasters are a failure of governments and local leaders to proactively maintain safe and modern infrastructures. ONLY when we hold politicians responsible beforehand will our responses be looked at as successful. The unfortunate deaths of over 3000 people is the result of the failure of the politicians from all recent administrations. Perhaps we should focus on the real problem before a disaster hits.

  50. @Just 4 Play You buried your most important points. Florida is more resilient because of long term infrastructure investments and regulations! When our infrastructure priority is building a $25 billion wall on the Mexican border and the EPA and other agencies are busy shredding regulations that address global warming and other safety measures in order to promote industry profits what are we to expect.

    As a victim of previous hurricane induced flooding, my heart aches for those now affected. I hope they get better treatment from their GOP politicians. And if they are looking for a bright spot in all this it is the timing -- right before probably the most important midterm election in the history of the US. Even though I live in a town that was established in 1857, in a house that was built in 1873, and a town that was selected by local politicians and the Army Corps in the 1990s as the "spill basin" for the river, one of our Pennsylvania congressional representatives said that people who choose to live along a river shouldn't expect help. Unfortunately he wasn't my congressman so I could't vote him out of office.
    Vote in November. Next time it could be you.

  51. Let's not be confused--there is no policy, ideology or even primary political motive driving Donald Trump. From many sources, both within & outside his administration, Trump's #1 motive has been revealed to be self-preservation and his image as a tough guy. This is mostly a fierce defensive posture-to avoid any appearance of ignorance, weakness or accountability. His 'sales pitch' is solely aimed at self-promotion.
    This might have served him as a reality TV boss or selling the Trump brand name to actual real estate developers. But most Americans understand that Obama wasn't born in Kenya, that 3million illegal immigrants did not create Hillary's popular vote margin, that incarcerating children doesn't prevent them fleeing from dangerous countries, that his team did not deserve praise for the response to Puerto Rico's storm damage---etc.
    These absolutely factual realities cannot be spun or twisted or covered up with a word like 'event' or any other tricky falsehoods.
    A hurricane is a vivid consensual reality.We see evidence.
    While his base may believe that any challenge to his competence is a personal political attack-- even GOP loyalists running for office cannot defend him.
    Unless the Russians find a way to poison the atmosphere (will anyone chase wild Hillary accusations now?)- the midterms should be a our 'have you no decency?' pivotal moment...at last. Trump's brand will be irreversibly tarnished.

  52. @Sara
    I do hope so

  53. He can't understand anything except with reference to how it affects him or whether there's something in it for him, first and foremost ATTENTION.

  54. "The president’s disaster logic tells us that firefighters who are now sick after responding to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks are not victims, and that soldiers suffering PTSD should not to be counted among the casualties of war. Nothing matters unless it happened in the event."

    Our national disaster 'event' was November 8, 2016; however the catastrophe continues today. The President does not need a "conspiracy of Democrats" to make him look "as bad as possible". He has accomplished that all on his own.

  55. What trump doesn’t know about disasters, he will soon learn.

  56. Trump should be an expert on disasters.

    Disastrous marriages
    Disastrous casino ventures
    Disastrous trump university outcome
    And much more

    His disastrous administration has passed a tax bill disastrous to all but the wealthy
    Hs actions to destroy the Affordable Care Act are disastrous for the participants
    His removal of regulations will be disastrous for the environment and for education

    Hopefully his corruption will be exposed to all and be disastrous to his presidency and he can be removed

  57. Trump can't do any more to look "as bad as possible." He arrived at that the day he took office.

  58. The worst man made disaster in our history currently occupies the Oval Office. When he’s not playing golf or holding loyalty rallies. And THAT therapy is NOT working.
    Seriously.

  59. It matters not that we've come to better understand disasters and their causes and effects Professor Knowles. The only salient question is: How do you propose to get someone as staunchly ignorant as Trump and the Republicans who are in charge to do anything about it? The answer is: You won't.

    As long as the Republicans are in control the majority of Americans are at risk, not just from natural disasters, but from policies that rob them of their wealth, health, and well-being, because these cut into the profits and wealth of the Republican donors and their masters.

    There is only one way to get the President and Congress to listen and respond: kick them out and replace them with those who will actually carry out the will of the People.

    Vote in November!

  60. I thought news people are supposed to be smart? Will you continue to respond to every little Trump Tweet while our democratic institutions are burned?

  61. @DavidPTrump's continual denial of that death toll in PR is important to address because another large hurricane is bearing down on the Carolinas. He has shifted money from FEMA to ICE, and we need our citizenry to feel like the government will help them when they suffer catastrophic losses, not have our President toss rolls of paper towels as if he's a tee shirt cannon at a ball game, go home, and pat himself on the back about what a great job he did, ignoring long-term fallout.

  62. After spending most of my life working with folks, let me say, Trump would never pass a drug test.

  63. It totally sickens me that the President of the USA is so selfish that he isn’t focused totally on the thousands of citizens, homes and businesses that are in worst danger ever from this natural disaster.

  64. So, to take this to its ridiculous conclusion, a nuclear catastrophe would only count the immediate victims, but not the millions (?) who would die from radiation poisoning?
    This is the thinking of a stable genius.
    Vote!

  65. Trump doesn’t get - that John Bolton is a disaster.

  66. I apologize; I only read the headline. . . You lost me at that.

    Trump doesn't get a thing about anything but his own, deranged self.

  67. A disaster in Trump's mind is something that has a negative impact on whatever he is hiding from the American people in his personal and family income tax returns and business records.

    A disaster in Trump's mind hurts Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster.

    A disaster in Trump's mind is losing the support of Netanyahu and Putin.

    A disaster in Trump's mind hurts white European Judeo-Christian Americans.

    What don't you get about Trump?

  68. @Blackmamba

    You nailed it.

  69. According to the Trumpian (il)logic, the death of Hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki months and years after the fact has absolutely nothing to do with our atomic bombing of those cities. Will he advance such preposterous claims? Hard to believe, but very easy to imagine!

  70. There is something, probably several things, that make bipeds uniquely human. Whatever it is or they are, President Trump never received any such attributes.

    Hurricane Florence is devastating the coastal southeast right now. This is no time to wallow in imagined victimhood about last year's death-dealing cyclone whose lethal scale the president now denies. 

    That mismanagement is now a sad history. Don't repeat it to feed some pathetically pathological need retroactively to look like Superman in spandex tights way too tight for the underlying corpulence.

  71. When the going gets tough, the tough (local officials, residents) get going. And their president whines, lies and blames. The nation deserves better than this disgrace to humanity.

  72. Every year in Phoenix, we are given statistics for heat- related deaths. When you look only at deaths where heat is the sole cause, the number is low. And it consists mostly of the elderly and the homeless. The background stories are of people who lost air conditioning and those who collapsed during the heat of the day. Then, there are those whose deaths were partially explained by heat. They include those who died of heat attacks and who blacked out and fell to their deaths.

    The distinction between sole cause and indirect cause is not complicated. And in a world where people were logical, the high number and the low number would comfortably exist side by side. If you say 120 and I say 2322, it is clear that we are using different measurement standards. Grown ups see no conflict between the two numbers. Unfortunately, the childish are in charge.

  73. "Nothing matters unless it happened in the event. If you didn’t die then and there, you don’t count".

    "Surely our thinking about disaster should be as complex as the societies they disrupt. We need to understand that disaster is slow."

    President Trump has no concept of time because his brain is perpetually hardwired to a small slice of reality inhabited only by himself.

    Hence, once he left, there were "only" 64 deaths but once long-term studies based on comparisons and factor analysis came rolling in, mortality was adjusted upwards based on wider knowledge.

    I've heard Donald Trump excoriate things he found awful from their effect on man, but I'll only say this: When you head for the fridge and feed yourself silly over the course of an evening, likely your binges may be affecting your health.

    In other words, ignorance isn't bliss when it comes to admitting to, and working on, your problems.

  74. Apropos of the lack of planning is the lack of quickly reacting. When Katrina struck, the unions used the Jones Act as their excuse for acting appropriately. President George W. Bush waived the act within 3-days of Katrina's landfall.

    Later during the Macondo disaster on April 20, 2010, the foreign media reported that Great Britain, the Netherlands and Norway had offered direct assistance by the end of that week. Much of this was reported by the New Orleans' Times-Picayune. However, many of their URLs became inoperative, sometimes within hours by some mysterious reason. President Obama did not actively react to the situation. Presently, Wikipedia talks about the acceptance of foreign vessels with dates beginning in June, 2010. By then the general media had coopted the truth, which we're supposed to respect and revere.

    Using Trump as the strawman is not an excuse for government's inaction and lack of serious planning, and yes, timely action.

  75. @Enarco
    Right. See my earlier remark about kitchen rol paper towels. Ido hope Potus will show he is ready again.

  76. Every president before these days of disconnect has been extraordinarily empathic and caring of those traumatized and stricken by natural catastrophes. This element is extremely important to our nation's emotional and psychological health.

    Every person counts because in the end we are all equal. We suffer one and all together.

    When the nation's leaders feel that some are disposable soley because of their color, culture, or lack of station and wealth we begin to unwind and break-down. Loss of self-worth is not just experienced by the individuals but our identity as nation.

    Our values erode and we move down a dark path. We are going that way today like it or not.

    Numbers aren't really important here. It is quite likely that Florence will kill people. Then we will try to find who to blame.

    Putting one's life on the line to save another's is what it's all about. Our rescue people whether professional or amateur deserve leaders who emulate our highest virtue of self-sacrifice.

    If our President is so totally self-absorbed, that he cannot share the pain because he simply doesn't care as long as he isn't a victim, he exposes himself to a personal disaster one might call "loss of face value".

    Trump's brand must crash and burn. The American public will see it done once and for. Simply put he has disgraced our country and it's peoples of many colors and cultures.

    Tonight our hearts and prayers are with people who are terrrified before killer storms on the planet.

  77. Defining, planning for, responding to, or preventing natural calamities is not something the Ruling Class ( Republican Party or Oligarchs) are interested in. This has been longstanding at the federal, state, and local level for a long time. Remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005?

    1. They deny climate change.
    2. They have no interest in allocating money, expertise, or resources to FEMA or studies that look at preventive measures for future disasters.
    3. They don't care how many people are killed or injured, or how financially devastated communities or people are by disasters - especially if they are poor.

    As long has the current Ruling Class is in power we can expect no change. This is a government that has no stake in the common good.

  78. A cliche response. A bad faith attack that the left and the right should disown. W. spent $20 billion on Katrina. If that’s your idea of indifference then you have lost credibility with all fair minded folks

  79. The President was doing a very good job preparing for the powerful hurricane. Some of the press always finds something negative to discuss.

    The press was still reliving the hurricane in Puerto Rico. It was not about Puerto Rico, Press; it was about the Category 4 hurricane aiming for the Carolinas.

  80. @sarah: that's revisionist history. Earlier this week, the president brought up Hurricane Maria all on his own, without any prompting from the press.
    (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/us/trump-puerto-rico-maria-response.h...

    No, it wasn't the press reliving the hurricane in Puerto Rico, it was Trump. And it wasn't in sorrow for the victims there but for the pain he himself has had to endure because everyone isn't vigorously complimenting him for a perfect string of A+ grades.

    And yes, he was the one who decided that it's more important to focus on defending himself than on dealing with Hurricane Florence.

  81. @sarah What preparation was he doing, exactly? All I saw was him warn that it was going to be tremendously wet. The press always finds something negative because Trump seems incapable of doing anything positive.

  82. The debate here reflects poorly on everyone involved. The total death figure is a critical figure but it does not measure the quality of the government's response. 3,000 deaths would be miraculous if were talking deaths by breast cancer. It would be disastrous number if we were talking deaths in the NFL from CTE. The numbers are not the bottom line. The bottom line is the quality of the rescue effort

    Neither side has gotten past the numbers. Apparently, they would rather argue about numbers than get the true picture of how FEMA did.

  83. @michjas The numbers of dead are a corollary of the rescue effort. They are a true picture of “how FEMA did.” It is not possible to get past that.

  84. While you were at it why didn’t you mention the traumatic impact of a military attack? I’m sure getting bombed in Yemen could yield some interesting data. Also, if we’re going to analyze and compare our perception and thinking along with Trump, then Western civilization is already lost! Trump’s definition is more like a rationalization than a statement of truth. There is no reality unless Trump dispenses it. Obviously, an event has its sequela. In that way 9/11 first responders who are presently dying of related Cancers push the death toll upwards years after the fact (or NOT, according to Trump). Whether 60 lives or 3000 lives were lost, compassionate, effective leadership is required. That was and is lacking in any of Trump’s utterances or actions. Puerto Rico is still recovering and being shoveled under with debt. It was a shocking and tragic occurrence when enough of the country perceived him as acceptable to elect. We cannot be corrupted by Trump’s infantile view of reality. After the storm people died. That much we know. Whatever the president is speaking about is irrelevant. And the next storm damaged region will know what to expect from him.

  85. The concept of disaster mitigation and recovery is taking hold in at least one area that I think holds a lot of promise: CERT. Community Emergency Response Teams is a program of Homeland Security which seeks to involve members of the community in inexpensive training to help them prepare for disaster, and perhaps be able to help not only themselves, but their neighbors, too, in the event of a disaster.

    Among the skills: learning to conduct search and rescue (and when NOT to), how to identify structurally safe/unsafe buildings after a disaster, triaging injuries so that first responders can use their time more effectively, how to use a fire extinguisher effectively, and a bunch of other skills.

    In some communities, once the CERT people have completed training, they are invited to participate in helping the community. A number of us have been trained to open the water reserve tower and get water distribution begun in a post-disaster when water supplies have been cut off. Others of us participate in training the fire and police academy cadets in training scenarios Others have trained to help when a major search and rescue comes up (a disoriented elder who has wandered off; or a minor child). Some have received training in forensic search and rescue.

    We need to develop responses to disasters, big and small. It is important; and it creates buy-in for the community.

    Pr Chris

  86. Professor Knowles points out that " the historical background and long-term aftereffects of disasters were just as important, if not more so, than the event itself, because a disaster is really an interconnected chain of occurrences."

    Multi-causality is sophisticated thinking. So, we start to teach it early in high school.

    I used to take it for granted that the President of the United States would understand the idea that multiple causes can contribute to an outcome. Sadly, it would appear that the concept of multi-causality stretches the abilities of the person currently occupying the Office.

  87. The most fragile among us are the hurricanes victims. Those that depend on oxygen, dialysis or insulin. Lack of electricity, refrigeration or access to medicine is why they die. They die from our governments apathy and from poor planning and from budget cuts. They die because it takes months to clear the roads and deliver clean potable water. They die because there is no infrastructure, no maintenance, no tax base. They die because we have a leadership problem and those that control the purse choose to give our tax dollars to the wealthy rather than plan a country of the future. The US is a third world country now because Fox News has taught the population that taxes are bad and government is the problem. Our problem is a lack of civics and leadership who believe in public service.

  88. In no way is the President's failure of imagination - ours, Professor Knowles.

    Societies constantly figure-out what they want to do; and current officials & administrators decide who/how to prioritize and execute. The People cast votes, pay taxes, maybe volunteer and contribute / hinder relief effort in a zillion ways.

    Good leaders do the best - with what they are given.
    Great leaders find ways - to find more resources and efficiency.

    The People suffer the most from bad leadership. Coupled with bad ideology, we see bad fixations which freeze EVEN THE IDEA of altering response.

    Here, we have our President fixated and frozen, like this nation has seldom seen. Notice, Governors are providing good / great leadership for today's disaster.

    Maybe, The People can somehow benefit from this lecture about disaster funding / thinking. But, eye on the ball, professor, there's no bigger disaster than a president who doesn't know up from down.

  89. Trump, our cowardly bully-in-chief, only ever thinks about himself. He discovered long ago that with no ethical principles, one can say whatever one pleases and get what one wants all too often. Most people of simple goodwill simple can't catch up with basic evil on this scale. His fragile ego needs to be stroked, and he wants to be godkingemperor. Just like other tyrants, he cannot bear to notice how small and stupid he is.

  90. If I could, I would confine him to a rural house in Puerto Rico with no functioning roads, running water, or power for a few months.

    I would also take away the profits that hedge funds and other profiteers (including Puerto Ricans in power) have made by degrading our and their infrastructure for short-term profit. John Oliver does a good job on who's responsible there, long before the hurricane last year:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt-mpuR_QHQ

  91. Deaths during a hurricane are largely not preventable, as when a tree or power pole falls on a car.

    Of course, its the aftermath where lives are saved by quick and effective actions. A lack of emergency generators, medical facilities, clean drinking water, food or shelter all cause fatalities to climb.

    As I recall, even those supplies that did make it to Puerto Rico ended up stuck in the ports because of a lack of trucks to transport them. A US Navy hospital ship with 250 beds sat largely unused. Meanwhile Interior Secretary Zinke was connected to an effort to award a $300 million utility repair contract to his hometown friend with only 2 employees, later withdrawn. And many other contractors, hastily awarded contracts, failed to deliver critical supplies.

    Most Americans know that Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was one disaster and the FEMA was the other. Now they are allocating part of their budget to lock up unaccompanied children.

    FEMA actually owned their failures. But not the guy who is supposed to be President.

  92. @Look Ahead

    and

    viable roads and bridges ...

    power supply

    etc.

  93. @Look Ahead - Look I do not believe most of the deaths that can be attributed to a hurricane result from "...when a tree or power pole falls on a car." That certainly was not true for Katrina.

    Since the rest of your comment is so good, I suggest a rewrite.

    Deaths resulting from hurricanes occur both during the time between approach of the hurricane, during the hurricane, and, as shown in Puerto Rico long after the weather has returned to normal. The distribution of the causes of death caused by drowning, accidents, and public health effects vary depending not only on the nature of the hurricane itself but on the nature of the society affected by that hurricane...etc

    Good comment but falling trees are a one off. I saw lots of trees fall in my yard in Rumford RI during the 1938 hurricane but we were in the house and they all fell onto an empty house lot! As for telephone poles, here in Sweden all wires are underground but of course there are poles holding street lights. Those on my street seem a lot more likely to survive than those I see when I visit New England and Albany each summer.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  94. How sick in the head is Trump that even hurricanes' devastation is all about him and how he's been wronged?

  95. Scott Knowles, your final sentences, get to the heart of the matter:

    "Surely our thinking about disaster should be as complex as the societies they disrupt. We need to understand that disaster is slow."

    I spent the first 15 years of my time at the University of Rochester teaching standard geology courses but after a year as Fulbright Lecturer in Geology in Finland I gradually transformed my teaching to exactly what you are concerned with, public policy concerning so-called "natural disasters" and environmental change.

    The reason was that by using my newly acquired Swedish to read Swedish and Finnish newspapers 1967-68 I learned about environmental change - acid rain, mercury in fish and much more - and how thinking about and dealing with such change required a complex interaction between people in the social and natural sciences.

    I became Professor emeritus in Earth and Environmental Science (University of Rochester) in 1996 and moved to Sweden where I have a window on efforts to deal with that slow disaster, climate change, efforts that are on display in my city, Linköping, where somehow or other large-scale conversion of energy systems from fossil-fuel dependency to renewable energy started long, long ago - late 1950s - and continues, always through the intelligent use of scientific - all kinds - findings.

    Not going to happen in the US until some time after 2020, if then.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Citizen US SE

  96. Excellent article. FEMA said much the same in their analysis but in a less direct fashion.

  97. Facts, evidence-based decisions, a respect for the commons. These are not qualities found in this president and that is a problem across nearly every department in this administration. Degrading by neglect or outright destruction a piece of our public lands won’t hurt anyone immediately, but it will over time. Relaxing pollution rules for coal companies will have fatal effects near and long term as projected by the very department that sets about to revise the rules. Yet, this administration shrugs just as they have with Hurricane Maria.

  98. The common law has given us a useful test of causation and I'm pretty sure this goes back centuries. If a death or a casualty would not have occurred but for Maria, then the hurricane was a "but for" cause. So if someone had a mild heart attack caused by picking up debris after the hurricane and died 5 years later because of a massive heart attack, then Maria was a "but for" cause.

    Then, there is proximate cause. Proximate cause requires a much more immediate relationship between the storm and the victim. It would limit casualties in the previous example to those who died of heart failure right away upon moving the debris.

    The issue raised here ignores centuries of legal reasoning. Sorry to say but both the President and the professor are more interested in muddying the waters than a common sense resolution of their dispute.

  99. In 1893, a hurricane caused deaths33 (perhaps 1,500) and suffering in the area around Beaufort, South Carolina. The state and federal governments declined to provide relief, so the American Red Cross, led by Clara Barton gathered private donations and distributed belated but valuable assistance.

    If Puerto Rico received inadequate attention from the federal government, perhaps so has Houston. I may be missing something, but I don't think I've noticed much interest by the state or federal governments in helping upgrade Houston's ability to deal with flooding from storm surge, rain, or both.

  100. Houston got way more money and help than Puerto Rico did, and had way fewer deaths.

  101. It’s funny. We never compute the economic toll of a disaster an hour after the event. That would clearly be ludicrous. A disaster’s cost at the moment it happens is close to zero, and then, as recovery commences, that price tag rises steeply and continues rising for years thereafter.

    Of course we must look at the human toll in the same way. I understand a subway stop near the Twin Towers was opened in the past week or so. The stop was sealed after it was severely damaged in the horror of 911, 17 years ago.

    Did those 17 years mean that the cost of rebuilding the stop was not part of the economic cost of 911? Does not the same logic apply to firefighters who may suffer long term effects, including death, even today from the events of September 11, 2001?

  102. “The president’s failure of imagination is ours if we continue to shortchange the Federal Emergency Management Agency and limit its activities mostly to disaster response. Or ignore the deterioration of important infrastructure like dams and levees. Or assume that everyone can cope with a disaster regardless of age or income. Research shows that in these cases, long-term thinking and planning can save lives and dollars.”
    This is where Trumps thinking is and always will be. It is why he doesn’t have to do the work to learn anything. And it’s why he’s unfit to be in the leader of this great country of learned people. The challenges we face today require a leader who understands that the solutions to complex problems are not simply created because you have a belief but by examining and studying and using hard data. Grumpy uncle joe needs to be removed and put back in is gold plated corner of the world.

  103. “But if one’s interest is in playing down the impact of disaster, then event thinking is the ticket.”

    As a management consultant I’ve been taught, and have counseled clients, to begin with the end in mind. That is, where do you want to be, and what should or could happen between now and then, good and bad. That’s consistent with disaster preparation, which calls for preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

    Trump’s myopic “event view” sets a tone for, and in his mind, justifies action only for the sake of saying you did something. He doesn’t have the capacity to think through, or listen to those who have tried to think through, risks and risk mitigation assessments.

    Among other things, this impedes holding responsible agencies, like FEMA, accountable for incomplete or suboptimal actions that don’t result in fully appropriate results. It’s easier to blame than to do, and that’s the story he’s sticking to.

    His ignorance and incompetence defy description.

  104. At least we know now that we can add statistics -- by which I don't mean complicated calculations, but the most elementary idea of what it represents -- to the list of Trump's empty spaces.

  105. Outstanding analysis. There’s no question that we as a society emphasize the immediate event and do not sufficiently consider the longer term impact of catastrophic events. The wind, rain, flood, fire and other disasters make for spellbinding TV. Professor Knowles has given us insight that this issue is not just about President Trump’s reaction. The aftermath of these events is more insidious and much greater than the degree of reconstruction which is most often the focus of followup stories.

  106. The whole reason we have emergency response, and FEMA, is that the bulk of the harm from a disaster happens as the causative event recedes.

    You don't have to save the dead, you have to help the living; you have to understand the secondary causes to save future lives.

    So we focus on getting food and water to people, and medical care. We focus on bring back on line communications, electricity, vital highways and bridges. We focus on evacuation, or digging the living out of rubble.

    And finally we look at the secondary causes, in an effort to prevent another disaster. We look at building codes flood plains, communications, disaster response, evacuation efforts and inefficiencies, infrastructure - from bridge design to where the generators are kept in a flood zone. We look at local zoning and development, and at insurance requirements which reflect the real cost of development in that location.

    Or, as I will keep repeating myself, we pat our selves on the back, and send out a whiny tweet about the paranoid notion that it is all about the President.

  107. Trump’s views on climate science tell us all we need to know about his utter lack of ability to process anything more complex than the poll numbers from his base. That’s the real disaster.

  108. So, if when, Prez Trump does apologize, it will be one of the greatest acts of apologeticals since a ManGod took upon himself -- without any legal representation -- faults for the aggregate totality of sins in entire world -- but then very very smaller world than today's sinning world. And, I can tell you this, the apologizing thing will be huge, probably greater than even that Lincoln thing after the Gettysburg situation. So, something in this area could happen, maybe in about two weeks.

  109. What Trump doesn't get about natural disasters is that disasters are politicized like they are caused by the president and no matter how he handles the aftermath it is never enough how much he allocates resources he becomes the subject of ridicule and lack of appreciation. How can a president plan on an unprecedented calamity of the scale of Maria in a distant US island territory miles away from the main land? It is unfortunate that fellow Americans in PR died in the aftermath of horrible Maria, hopefully we learned lessons that will prevent the impact of such calamities heading in our direction. God bless America.

  110. @Girish Kotwal
    The lesson learned was that it was more important to divert money to ICE to remove children from their parents as they sought asylum than to increase spending on FEMA in preparation for the next climate change induced disaster. These disasters are not "unprecedented" events that cannot be anticipated. They are now normal and will only increase as the air and water warms. Trump's actions on climate will only make things much worse and multiple disasters will be annual. As North Carolina is learning today, you cannot legislate nature away as they have tried to do for the past decade. Build on the shore; die on the shore.

  111. Mr. Trump has a very clear definition of disaster:

    "Something that hurts his polling numbers."

  112. The scale of the Trump disaster will only be measured decades from now. In the meantime, Americans ought to have learned everything they needed to know about the character and truthfulness of their president the day after his swearing in when began insisting, despite indisputable photographic evidence from The National Park Service to the contrary, that his inauguration was even better attended than Obama's. Nor was his effort to bolster that outrageous lie limited to insisting his official spokesman Keith Spicer make himself look ridiculous by repeating it in his daily press briefing, now we learn according to newly released documents ( and as reported by a reputable news source) "A government photographer told investigators that he intentionally cropped photos of President Donald Trump's inauguration to remove empty space and make the audience look larger."
    Donald J Trump - If a smaller minded individual ever reached a greater height there's no mention of it in recorded history. Probably out of embarrassment.

  113. This writing is a good example of the ideas of reflective, metacognitive and critical thinking. Of course, as a person with the mind of a "5th or 6th grader", Trump is not capable of understanding, and therefore acting. Any of his supporters, ie, people in the White House and Republicans in the House and Senate who sit idly by while Trump rampages our democracy, don't seem to be capable of it either.

  114. Trump does not get it about a lot of things, period. Compassion, honesty, ethical behaviour, let me count the ways.

  115. Well, maybe Trump is right that some disasters (his election?) are events that will be soon forgotten.

  116. This could be a recurring series:
    "What Trump Doesn't Get About..."
    The possibilities are endless.

  117. @Lorenzo

    You could write "What Trump gets" on a single grain of rice.

  118. How could FEMA walk away, shirking responsibility for not seeing that bottled water on thousands of pallets is distributed to the P.R. Americans isolated because of Maria. All of Maria's infrastructure was broken, transportation, communications, and basic needs, shelter, food, water.
    Now, a year later, that bottled water is still stacked on an airport runway and FEMA says they delivered the water, and walked away as though their job was successfully completed. What a disgrace!

  119. Trump doesn't need democrats to make him look bad.
    He does a bang up job of it himself.
    In his case it's more than a look.
    it's a reality: he IS bad.
    I was horrified when he got in but thought we
    would survive it: now I'm not so sure .
    I knew he would be terrible but I had not imagined
    how terrible.

  120. Interesting analysis and I am glad that hunkering down at my desk during drills preparing grade school children for the atomic bomb when I was a boy had some value !

    On the Trump factor, I personally have now decided to on two courses of action:
    1. I am no longer going to bother reading, listening or thinking about him and his GOP party of selfish destruction of our society and our environment. We know what it is all about.
    2. My family and I will do all we can to help the Democrats get back control of both the House and the Senate. They are not perfect but they are much better.

    It was a lot less frightening being a seven year old in an atomic bomb drill than today is to me. At least then Eisenhower was President and our elected officials and society had the courage to reject McCarthy.

  121. “What Trump doesn’t get about disasters?” You don’t need a column to answer that question—only one sentence: The man has zero empathy.

    It’s not about facts or funding or decision-making. He has shown in countless situations that he is constitutionally incapable of truly understanding the feelings of another person and placing himself in their shoes.

    Certainly his response to the Puerto Rico tragedy last year made this abundantly clear. He thought it more important to aggrandize himself and the great job he thought he was doing, insult Puerto Rican leaders and seek to minimize the horrific tragedy. And just yesterday he tweeted to challenge the official Puerto Rico death toll from the storm, further insulting the island and its people.

    Trump not only shows not a shred of empathy, but also no sense of decency.

  122. This piece does a great job describing how would think about disasters and their aftermaths but it gives Trump way too much credit. He doesn't really think about disasters as events one way or the other. If the disaster had occurred on Obama's watch he would be claiming that 3000 greatly undercounted the death toll because it didn't count the poor souls who died of fright knowing that they would need to depend on President Obama. Trump really only ever think of his own self-interest.

  123. Yes, how we respond to disasters does reveal who we are as a society and what we value. And it isn't a pretty picture. Those who have little lose it all and may never regain it. Those who have much as made whole.

    Long term thinking is the realm of the educated, of those capable of critical thinking, which is in short supply in our society. We specialize in short term thinking, 90 days at a time. It is a product of our product focused society. As long as commerce and the energy sector controls our government, that won't change.

    Besides, there is plenty of good money to be made from disasters. Just ask the corporations that rebuilt New Orleans with imported labor while the people of that city who badly needed work and the money to help them recover were relocated, never to return home.

  124. Natural disasters only appear to occur suddenly while their devastating after effects often last for lifetimes. They will also plague us all as long as the sun rises every morning. Ditto for man-made disasters, be they intentional or accidental.
    That's why countless and selfless organizations such as the Red Cross were created and have continued to exist by providing emergency, shorter term and preventative care for those in need.
    While none of the above should be considered to be 'Breaking News,' the fact that this subject has yet to be fully comprehended by knowledgeable and compassionate people is sadly still a part of human nature.

  125. A very meaningful column, aside from the fact that Trump doesn't "get" a lot of things about real life.

    The election of Donald Trump was an "event" that went far beyond sparse inauguration crowds. We didn't plan for it and are being faced with additional horrors as every day passes.

    Unlike catastrophic storms and earthquakes, we have the ability to ensure that this kind of disaster never occurs again.

    Let's do it.

  126. Thank you, Professor Knowles, for clarifying the implications of being unprepared for and mis-interpreting disasters.

    Speaking of disasters, the Trump administration is an ongoing example. He's nominated many unqualified cabinet members because they're wealthy or profess loyalty, not because they're experts in their fields. He's insulted individuals and countries on Twitter, but then was not brave enough to speak his untruths to them personally. His impromptu speeches have been a blustery flight of ideas that rehash conspiracy theories and inaccurate data.

    "The clear counterpoint is to acknowledge that a disaster is a process that reveals our values as a society." It's never been more crucial for every citizen to vote at the midterms.

  127. While your point is well taken, the main reason for the measly Trump response in Puerto Rico is that they don't vote. No consequences as far as his base. In contrast, you will see a monetary response to Florence comparable to what was done in Texas for Harvey.

  128. While it's implied, I think it would be useful to add that "Event thinking is cheaper" >>in the short term<<

    Thanks for this timely piece, and the reminder that in a disaster people's tendencies are to come together, to help others, and to rebuild.

  129. Our event-centered response is not limited to disasters. Our decisions to wage war are based on false beliefs--"they will greet us as liberators"--and not on an understanding of the long-term effects of war. Consider we still fight in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, while no one now has a clear idea of what we are fighting for.

    We treat Alzheimer's disease as an individual tragedy, diminishing the effect on the widening circle of caregivers who hurl themselves onto the funeral pyre of this condition.

    The only guarantee in a chaotic world is more chaos. True preparedness matters.

  130. One must admit that the discrepancy between the initial number of 64 deaths and almost 3000 more deaths reported now seems incredulous. Was it locals that provided the initial death count? How could that vary by thousands? Would not some local officials realize that many residents were missing and presumed dead? I am not comfortable with this variance. Something is amiss. It is just not credible. One would have to revisit Vietnam history to see our government covering up death totals of this magnitude. I cringe from writing it, but Trump has a good point.

  131. the island had no power, roads were destroyed or blocked, there was little communication throughout the island. There was no way there were any accurate figures available at the time of Trump's comments and I do believe that was the figure delivered by the governor of Puerto Rico as he was being badgered (yes badgered, rewatch the interviews, Trump was cowing him and pushing him. I also believe the governor was of the belief that if you flattered Trump you could get what you wanted. The mayor of Puerto Rico, a woman, was telling anyone who would listen that those facts were wrong and the island was in dire straights, Trump's response, silly woman). If I was hit by a tree during the storm and dies 1 week later due to injuries and/or lack of care, am I a hurricane victim (yes)
    Trump has no arguable point here, just his usual chest thumping

  132. Excellent assessment and well-said!! Just yesterday, I read in NY Times pages or perhaps "The Atlantic" about present and future thinking. As important as it is to live in the Zen "now" and appreciate each moment of our lives, we must focus on the future consequences of each of our decisions and actions. I have survived several major hurricanes in my 72 years and each had a lasting impact on my life. To reduce the impact of a major natural event to mere numbers (and in djt's case, inaccurate numbers for the sake of his ego) is just the tip of the iceberg when dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. Storms and fires change lives, often irreparably.

  133. Sometimes disasters happen for policy reasons.
    "In a nearly unprecedented move, the North Carolina Senate recently voted to prohibit agencies and towns from using the latest scientific data on sea-level rise in coastal management decisions. The state’s house of representatives dialed back the proposal, but the bill—now adopted by both chambers—still refuses to accept a peer-reviewed scientific report commissioned by the state and prevents enactment of building standards and other rules that incorporate protections against rising sea levels until 2016." (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012).
    This was a decision to allow developers to continue to build along the coasts so they can reap profits. What happens to the people who buy those houses when they are destroyed is none of their concern.
    Now we will see if they reap what they have sown.

  134. What does President Trump understand about anything at all, including his own interior motivations and fears? He is a walking embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

  135. A couple of days ago, I read about an official in FEMA, who said that Trump should have added compassion to his bragging about Puerto Rico. What could be more decent? But then this very official said that death attribution was actually quite tricky: He posited the case of a person who died of a heart attck not during the storm's tumult but because there was no electricity and therefore no treatment afterwards. Is this so tricky when it's the storm that knocked out the electricity? Trump is beyond belief, this I know. But disingenuousness is the norm up and down this administration. When will it end, where will it end?

  136. It's not just soldiers who suffer from PTSD. After I lost my house in a California wildfire, I suffered from a PTSD-type depression, which I was treated for.

    Of course, with Trump's dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, I worry that any depression I get will be considered a "pre-existing condition", and therefore not eligible for insurance.

  137. I am glad you used the example of the first responders at World Trade Center and that soldiers suffering PTSD. These people are victims of the disaster. The problems caused by the disaster last a very long time. It is event thinking that allows people to rebuild in areas that will get hit again and again.

  138. What Trump doesn't get about disasters is it's not about him -- but leave it to a world-class narcissist to think otherwise.
    The tragedy of Puerto Rico is that it happened after back-to-back hurricanes strained available resources, poor housing construction that was unable to withstand hurricane-force winds and a antiquated power grid that was at best, barely operational in some areas.
    And anyone looking at photos of the destruction on that island knew only one thing; the toll taken on human life was going to exceed the numbers first being reported.
    Had Mr. Trump viewed this catastrophe as something more than a photo-op where he could first insult the Mayor of San Juan, and then insult the people of Puerto Rico by tossing paper towels at them -- he'd realize the situation was more than just some kind of "conspiracy" by the Democrats to make him look bad.
    The truth of the matter is, he doesn't need a conspiracy to do that.

  139. As Rick Wilson so aptly pointed out on TV, a good president deals with a national disaster like a hurricane by underpromising and overperforming. Trump does the exact opposite. Wilson, by the way, is the Republican author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies."

  140. What Trump doesn't get about disasters is that he is one.

  141. Of course Trump downplays the death toll and the damage from Hurricane Maria. First, it happened to BROWN people living in a U.S. territory, not an actual state. So, in his racist thinking, it doesn't really "count" as a disaster. Second (and more to the point), it didn't happen to HIM, so it doesn't matter. Trump's narcissism is staggering.

    I'll be interested to see how he handles Hurricane Florence. Of course, he'll make sure FEMA gets spun up and ready for action, because "real" Americans (i.e., white people who voted for him) live in the Carolinas. But I'm willing to bet he'll visit the Carolinas after the storm is over, take a brief look around, say, "Gee, too bad," toss a few rolls of paper towels to the peasants, and then he'll go back to Washington and promptly forget about it all. Such is the monster currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

  142. What he doesn't get about hurricanes is the same thing he doesn't get about, well, everything. It's not about him.

  143. Before the internet I used to buy the Almanac which gave numbers to much of was going on. What stood out was the casualties of war. Over the years the numbers of dead of the two world wars varied by the tens of millions. Today Oliver Stone version of history put dead in the Vietnam war double the most reliable sources say.

    They compared who normally died during a normal time period and then the total during the hurricane. In other words they weren't all autopsied. So Trumps numbers ridiculous butt can numbers reflect a political agenda. Don't they always.

  144. I think we all understand Trump pretty well at this point. A disaster is when Cohen flips, when Stormy won't shut up, when Manafort spills the beans, when Rosenstein won't fire Mueller. Puerto Ricans live on an island somewhere, and they die all the time, which is not a disaster. Besides, 16 deaths is a very good number, and it would be even lower if not for all the people who died illegally.

  145. Your logic here doesn't apply because you base it on the actions of a man who has no logic nor the ability to think long term. He looks at everything by win or loose so in this case he wants to win so only the small count should be believed. If looking at the deaths over the past year would make him look good then that would be what he would want to do.

  146. Trump displays more empathy and compassion than anyone in public life.

    It's all for himself, of course...

  147. Trump views any reports/facts through the lens of “how does this threaten my fragile ego and my need to project infallibility”. This dysfunction renders him incapable of introspection, after-action learning, and future improvements. I have accepted the fact that we have a leader who is basically mentally ill and his statements no longer shock me. All we can do now is VOTE.

  148. Some people, especially narcissists, who have been mega-wealthy since birth and protected from the shocks our flesh is heir to may be incapable of comprehending these points. We have had wealthy presidents before, and some did have compassion, so that can't be a deal breaker. If only there were a way to insist on a minimum I.Q. and a minimum level of compassion in all candidates for president--and ideally, every office.

  149. We are in an Era of Willful Ignorance. Disaster planning or even obvious stuff like infrastructure repair are way beyond this crowd. Trump and his lemmings as well as the complacent Greed Over People (GOP) party "leadership" are happy to let things proceed as long as it lines their pocketbook.

    I used to think the movie "Idiocracy" was a cynical, comic dystopian film. Now, its looking more like a rather prescient documentary.

  150. Professor Knowles touches only on a small sliver of Trump's brain.
    The issue is much broader: What does he get, if anything at all, about all other issues? I would say, zero plus-or-minus lttle epsilon
    (0 +/- έ).

  151. Did anybody ever investigate why, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was being run by a wealthy idler with no background in handling disasters? Had he bribed somebody to give him the job? Did anybody go to jail for accepting the bribe. I haven't heard of any of those results. So why expect FEMA to react any better this time, or any future disaster?

  152. Professor Knowles is being entirely too kind in his analysis of Trump’s death Twitter remarks. It is not a “failure of imagination” that is on display here but rather a total lack of empathy and integrity. He is a very sick puppy - in my view, a sociopath. Consider Trump’s reaction to 9/11 in an interview immediately following the fall of the Twin Towers in which he commented that now he had the tallest building in New York. Not a word about the thousands of lives lost in the most horrific attack on our/his homeland, not a word about offering to help in its aftermath. The only thing on his mind was what a positive thing this was for his own twisted ego. Oh and by the way us past was just another lie. The fault, though, is ours, the American people who were willing to condone, if not embrace, his racist, sexist behavior, both before and during the election. Shame on us!

  153. @Concerned Citizen
    That 911 comment from Trump is seared into the hearts and minds of many New Yorkers and it's just one of the many reasons why he so resolutely lost votes here -- it's also why he hates coming back.

  154. There is very little more that can be said about the venality and stupidity of DJT.

    I think it is time for journalists to give it a rest and report on what his cabal is actually doing; you could start with the environment.

    What will happen to those many millions of tons of spent coal dust that are laden with heavy metals when the hurricane spreads them all over the soil and into the water of the several states affected?

    Duke energy says that they have a vigorous monitoring process in place. How re-assuring. What are they planning on doing? Taking pictures?

    How about the millions of gallons of pig and chicken manure in 'holding ponds', that will do the same?

    "What Trump Doesn't Get About Disasters"?

    Everything. And the point is - he doesn't care.

    He would only care if it affected him personally. If his Florida palace was swept away. If Trump Tower fell, if he didn't have any of his own restaurants to get chocolate cake from, then maybe he might care. He might burst into tears or have a temper tantrum and look for somebody to blame it on.

    If there was nobody left that he could rage at, or preach at, then he might care.

    Otherwise, "I don't really care, do U"?

    None of them 'care'.

  155. You can spill a lot of ink on what Trump doesn't understand about virtually everything.

  156. Here's an idea. Whenever Trump says or tweets something, don't report it.

  157. When you have a completely narcissistic president that has no empathy for anyone outside of his family it's no surprise that he would come out with statements that show his real contempt for the people of Puerto Rico and his lack of understanding or acceptance of the facts. This is Trump and he will not change. If this type of behavior is acceptable to his followers then I have the same contempt for them as I do for Trump.

  158. a pity trump can't count PR hurricane victims as well as he counts those who attended his inauguration...

  159. Stop trying to figure him out...he just doesn't care about anything except being told he's right - about everything...

  160. @Donna It's shocking that people still seem so unable to grasp this concept. Donald Trump doesn't care a whit for anyone on Earth other than himself, and possibly Ivanka. That statement completely explains 100% of his behavior, and yet we still see hundreds of these articles examining him, trying to figure out what makes him tick.

    "Doesn't care about anyone or anything" is a grossly inadequate description, but the NYTimes civility standards won't let me use more accurate words.

  161. "What Trump Doesn’t Get About Disasters..." literally everything.

  162. Thank you for this great opinion article!

  163. Well, at least Trump's finally getting around to dealing with Hurricane Maria... it just took him a little longer than the rest of us.