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Are We All in This Together?
How Hurricane Ian and other natural disasters should remind us that we are the "United" States of America
The MAGA Republican crowd often uses the term “patriot” to describe themselves. Much like they’ve employed the American flag as a weapon—this is ours, not yours, we are the real Americans—patriot now describes who is and who is not included in their project.
This notion of being a patriot—traditionally referring to someone who loves and vigorously defends their country from outside enemies—has been on my mind in the last days as Hurricane Ian was approaching and then tore through South Florida. It didn’t take a lot of imagination beforehand to recognize that survival could depend on trusting what the experts were saying about the potent danger—and counting on government to provide guidance and safe haven before the storm, then offer financial support to rebuild after the likely devastation from the winds, floods and storm surges.
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, back in 2005, this came at extraordinary cost—in fact, $51.8 billion in relief from a Congress determined to help New Orleans remake itself, passing this support 410-11. By 2013, 179 Republican members of Congress were not so ready to help after Hurricane Sandy tore through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other parts of the East Coast. They, including then-Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida, voted against providing relief—an aid package similarly sized as the Katrina bill.
Now, of course, in the teeth of what the Florida governor called a 500-year storm (as if we won’t see another one like this before too long rather than centuries from now), DeSantis was quick to seek help from the federal government—help which the president was appropriately quick to promise. This is what the federal government should do—help our fellow Americans withstand the storms, literal and figurative, and put themselves back together after havoc strikes. Especially in times of crisis, including natural disasters, one hopes for an expansion of good will, a recognition that we are all in this together.
If we were to take the attitude of the aforementioned “patriots,” where the hostility toward government runs wild, it would be easy to envision a different scenario. “They” chose to live there. Why should we help them? They are not “one of us.” Let them fend for themselves. Remember how this attitude was exacerbated by the former White House occupant, always bent on politicizing and acting on his prejudices, determined to help his friends and punish his perceived enemies, even in the face of natural disaster?
In a world of limited resources, the competition for a slice of pie is a real thing. As the realities of climate change and extreme weather events disrupt and destroy homes and towns, shrink coastlines, and rip apart whole cities or even regions, hard choices will need to be made about who and what is saved—and who must be urged to move on, pull back or fend for themselves. With expanding need, not every place can be saved. Not every town or city will get a second chance like New Orleans did.
Suffice to say, we are far from a national consensus on how to handle these coming choices. If decision-making became cruelly partisan, as one could imagine with a Republican takeover of the House and Senate, each extreme storm could play out like an episode of the Hunger Games: Who will live and who will die?
That scenario, tragically not that hard to envision, would be particularly ironic given the way the nation’s revenues and resources are currently allotted. In fact, eight of the ten states most dependent on the federal government are red states. In turn, seven of the nine states that send the most revenue to the federal government are blue states.
What if “we’re all in this together” flies out the window in a category-five gust? What would happen if Democratic leaders decided to pull back on relief in the aftermath of natural disasters in states that receive more dollars from the federal government than they pay into the national coffers? How quickly, with what gale force, would the very idea of a united nation be torn apart? That version of the future would not be pretty; it’s enough to make me think we’d better start dragging back the concept of patriotism from those who believe it is a justification for pitting Americans against each other.
In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to hear how energetically Florida’s governor advocates on behalf of his state and then how quickly that same official begins decrying the role of the federal government in controlling his state’s fate—all in a nakedly self-interested exhibition of his opportunism and hypocrisy.
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