The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
It is scandalous that the President of the United States of America has given more time and attention to whether football players are standing or kneeling during the national anthem before a football game than to the citizens he is accountable for who are dying in Puerto Rico.
It is shameful that Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan has to beg the world in desperation for help, while our vacationing president insults Puerto Ricans on Twitter from his Golf Club in New Jersey.
It is sinful that in the richest and most prosperous country on earth delays in getting aid to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the worst the island has experienced in 90 years, has been intentional. In a critical time for organizing and assessing relief efforts Trump didn’t receive any briefings for four days.
President Trump even when so far as to claim “big water” as the problem because Puerto Rico is an island. The problem is not the “big water” around the island, Mr. President. It’s all the water on the island that along with the wind damage has devastated the island. You might notice this when you visit. Mayor Cruz has been wading waste deep in it showing real leadership as she struggles to help save her people.
As the elderly and infirm struggle to survive on this devastated island where power, clean water, food, and medicine are quickly running out, Trump is preoccupied with who is who is not “respecting the flag” as the national anthem is sung prior to football games across these United States.
Sadly and no less frustrating the “take a knee debate” from Trump’s Twitter Timeline to Facebook comments never seriously engages the systemic and structural racial injustices that are being protested by athletes who choose to take a knee as the national anthem is sung. The flag is a powerful symbol in our country that evokes at the same time and even possibly in the same person BOTH the highest ideals our country strives for: liberty and justice for all, AND the embedded injustices from our founding that still oppress people today like racism.
Taking a knee is not about disrespecting the flag. Though American consumerism has done that in spades with hundreds of products and all types of apparel stamped with the stars and stripes. Taking a knee cuts to the core because it exposes the ideals of our country that have yet to be met as there is not yet liberty and justice for all. One only needs to take a cursory glance at our criminal justice system to see this. Taking a knee is finally about demanding respect not for the stars and stripes, but for all the citizens who live in the land it represents, especially those experiencing racial prejudice and injustice. It’s a quiet way of saying Black Lives Matter. Imagine a whole stadium of fans taking a knee in solidarity with the players to affirm this truth.
The time and attention Trump has given on Twitter and at rallies to the NFL players who protest has not only been embarrassing and inappropriate, it has also been a missed opportunity for a more constructive framing of the issues at stake. More urgently, however, it may prove to be deadly.
Donald Trump’s intentional delay in responding to the critical needs of the people in Puerto Rico has magnified the humanitarian crisis to the degree that the loss of life could be on par with genocide if help doesn’t come soon.
Just how many lives lost is the concern over who is kneeling during the national anthem at a football game worth? Sadly, this is not even the right question. If it was not the NFL protesting players or the failed healthcare bill, it would have been something else.
Unlike the people of Texas and Florida in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the people of Puerto Rico were never President Trump’s priority. If they were Mayor Cruz would not be begging the world for help while Trump is on vacation playing golf.
One can almost hear the outcry from Republicans if former President Obama during his presidency went on a golfing trip and tweeted insults at victims while a U.S. Territory was in desperate need of humanitarian relief after the worst hurricane in 90 years. But it is crickets from Republican leaders in Congress on Trump’s failed and racist response to the people of Puerto Rico. The same who claim to have a lock on Christian family values.
When people are suffering Jesus calls us to be neighbors by showing mercy and compassion. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from for they all bear the face of God and in tending to their needs we do it also to Christ.
Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz embodies this compassion and mercy in her exemplarily leadership during this perilous time. She speaks not only for the people of San Juan but the 3.4 million people on the island in desperate need of presidential leadership and action. If only we had a president capable of such humility and action willing to bend a knee in service to his people. Not that long ago we did. He embodied the amazing grace that is needed in times of great suffering and distress, even singing into being.
As we hear the desperate cries from Puerto Rico may we rise up with the hope our previous president inspired and with generous hearts and spirits give as we are able to the need before us remembering that we the people chose the one who wrote It takes a village. Together we can be that village for the people of Puerto Rico.