Trump's posture toward Puerto Rico becomes even more antagonistic

Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan
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,...

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Donald Trump was accused of passivity and disinterest in the Americans' plight. A year and a half later, we're well past the point at which the president appears to be indifferent toward Puerto Rico.

He's now openly hostile and antagonistic toward the island and its residents. It's worth asking why.

The controversy has slowly become more serious in recent months. Last fall, for example, Trump falsely accused Puerto Rico -- by way of a tweet, naturally -- of using disaster relief funds to reduce the island's debts. A few months later, the deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development resigned, reportedly over the White House's "attempt to block disaster-recovery money for Puerto Rico." (This is now the subject of an IG investigation.)

Also in January, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello sought a private meeting with the president to discuss the pace of disaster relief. Trump refused without explanation.

All of which helped set the stage for yesterday. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump complained in a private lunch Tuesday with Senate Republicans about the amount of disaster aid designated for Puerto Rico, as lawmakers prepare for a standoff over funds for the island that is still struggling to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to officials familiar with the meeting. [...]In the past, Trump has asked advisers how to reduce money for Puerto Rico and signaled that he won't support any more aid beyond food stamp funds. At the lunch Tuesday, Trump rattled off the amount of aid that had been designated for other disaster-hit states and compared it with the amount allocated for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, which he said was too high, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.

The number the president used was $91 billion -- a figure that appears to be wrong.

Nevertheless, a senior Trump administration official said of the president's position, "He doesn't want another single dollar going to the island."

I won't pretend to know what's behind the Republican's animosity. It appears that the mayor of San Juan once hurt Trump's feelings, and soon after, his attitudes toward the island took a rather ferocious turn.

That said, Eugene Scott considered what these developments tell us about Trump's perspective toward Latinos: "What the president prioritizes is subjective. Which problems he attempts to solve give the American public a message about which places and individuals are worth saving. The idea that he may not see Puerto Rico as a community of people worth rescuing from a crisis does little to change the perception that Trump's desire to make America great does not include all Americans."