Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on Friday and then stuck around. Instead of moving on or dissipating, it meandered about, flooding the Houston area throughout the weekend, leaving up to 50’’ of rain. Dozens of lives have been lost, and billions of dollars of economic harm has been inflicted. Uninsured homeowners suffered much of the latter.
The Chicago Tribune said that Houston has come to look like “more of an archipelago” than a city.
President Trump arrived in the area Tuesday, August 29. At one appearance, in Corpus Christi, the President stood between two fire trucks, looked at the people gathered near, grabbed a microphone, and said, “What a crowd, what a turnout!” It seemed to many observers the wrong note to strike – celebration rather than consolation.
The storm shut down the many refineries in the area, roughly a quarter of the nation’s refinery capacity. On Wednesday, August 30, gasoline futures hit a two year high.
Left Wing View
To the left of center, one of the great take-aways from the hurricane thus far has been, “this is what climate change looks like!” David Dayen, writing in The New Republic, said Tuesday that we (the United States as a country) “simply refuse to face the reality of increased flood risk, just as we refuse to radically alter our energy mix to reduce carbon pollution.”
Dayen cites the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the observation that increased atmospheric temperature means more volatile weather, that is, larger storms and greater precipitation. But, Dayen ads, the “National Flood Insurance Program is entirely geared to past performance,” now irrelevant.
In Vox, Eliza Barclay made much the same point. In her words, a “record-breaking event like this forces us to re-assess our assumptions about what is possible as the Earth warms [and] how often we’ll have to confront” storms on this scale in the future.
Paolo Bacigalupi, the author of Ship Breaker, a dystopian novel set in a period after the melting of the polar ice caps, tweeted Tuesday: “The thing that bothers me most about these unprecedented disasters is that even I imagined they wouldn’t happen for a long time yet.”
But there have been other conclusions the left has wanted us to draw. Jena Johnson, writing in The Washington Post, thinks there is a point to be learned by Trump’s visit to the area and his bearing there. She cites the “what a crowd” statement and continues, “[A]s of late Tuesday afternoon, the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations.” Al of this confirms the political opposition’s frame of President Trump as both clueless and narcissistic.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s offer to provide assistance to Texas is available to be milked for political irony.
Right Wing View
In the National Review, Jeffrey Tobin expressed an understanding that disasters are always political events – Katrina was, as was Sandy, so it is inevitable that Harvey must be.
The Trump White House, he said, carefully planned the boss’ trip to Texas with an eye to ”getting to the affected areas quickly without doing anything that would allow critics to accuse them of disrupting relief efforts.”
Tobin expresses especial interest in, even sympathy for, the dilemma facing Texas Senator Ted Cruz. After Storm Sandy hit the northeast, it was easy enough for Cruz to point out (correctly, in Tobin’s view) that the relief bill was “a Christmas tree of political pork.” But it is unlikely he will take the same market-purist attitude now that the storm damage has literally hit home. Others have also made that same point, with less sympathy.
Sometimes the conservative response to Harvey has taken odder turns. On Monday, pundit Ann Coulter tweeted, “I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than ‘climate change.’”
This allowed for a counter-blast from James Michael Nichols of the Huffington Post, who wrote that it “wouldn’t be a devastating storm without someone trying to blame the gays!”
Coulter’s statement on its face doesn’t blame the gays, it only says that would be “more credible” than an alternative hypothesis in order to suggest the extent of her incredulity toward the latter. But by bringing homosexuality intro the discussion, Coulter evoked memories (as she surely expected she would) of the reaction of the Westboro Baptist Church to Storm Sandy. The daughter of Westboro’s leader infamously tweeted, “We bow in humble thanks 2 God 4 Sandy! Thank God for a plain message delivered to a puddle of states that proudly flip Him off! #FagMarriage”