U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico,...
JONATHAN ERNST

On disaster relief in Puerto Rico, Trump turns to gaslighting

Updated

It’s been a tough week for Donald Trump’s strained relationship with reality. It started with the president denying he referred to Meghan Markle as “nasty,” despite video evidence to the contrary.

In the days that followed, Trump peddled similar falsehoods about the environment, his domestic political support, his foreign political support, his ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, the Iran nuclear deal, his Brexit predictions, and international trade.

But it was this tweet from yesterday afternoon that I found especially irksome.

“Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA.

“Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!”

I realize there’s a debate in some journalistic circles about the propriety and utility of using the word “lie” when the president peddles brazen falsehoods. Many have argued that in order to accuse Trump of lying, one must necessarily know whether or not he understands what he’s saying is false. There’s an element of motive involved: if the Republican believes his own nonsense, maybe it’s not technically a literal “lie.”

But in this case, there’s no ambiguity. Trump is just straight up gaslighting the public. The Republican knows the truth and he’s choosing to tell people the opposite.

The federal disaster relief package was needlessly delayed for quite a while for one principal reason: the president didn’t want Puerto Rico to receive additional relief. As the Washington Post reported:

In fact, the areas of the country ravaged by natural disasters have had to wait months for the assistance because Trump pushed back against including more money for Puerto Rico.

Throughout negotiations, the president accused the Puerto Rican government of mismanaging the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and claimed that the island received more money from the government than it had.

The idea that Puerto Ricans “would have been shut out” of the disaster-relief package were it not for him is plainly bonkers. In this case, there’s no doubt that Trump knows this, but he lied anyway.

“Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” he told supporters last year. It’s increasingly become a guide to understanding the president’s approach to reality.