Puerto Rico And Power

And I’m not referring to electricity. Paul Krugman writes a very good column about Trump’s neglect of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico:

The situation in Iowa remains horrifying. More than a third of the population has been without clean water for three weeks, and waterborne diseases appear to be spreading. Only a sixth of the population has electricity. The health care system is a shambles, and sheer hunger may be a problem in some remote areas.

Fortunately, the federal government is going all out to aid its citizens in distress. The president is making disaster relief a top priority, while praising the often heroic efforts of Iowa residents to help themselves. And generous aid, he promises, will continue as long as it’s needed.

O.K., I lied. The dire situation I just described is in Puerto Rico, not Iowa (which happens to have just about the same number of U.S. citizens). And my upbeat portrayal of the federal response — which is how things might have played out if this nightmare were, in fact, in Iowa — is the opposite of the truth. What we’re actually witnessing, in effect, is the betrayal and abandonment of three and a half million of our own people.

And Krugman is right that part of this betrayal stems from Il Trumpe’s bigotry–many New Yorkers of a certain age blamed all sorts of problems on ‘Puerto Ricans’ (which was the catch-all term for anyone who spoke Spanish).

But Krugman neglects one key difference between Iowa and Puerto Rico–political power:

If Puerto Rico had two voting senators–who could do something like threaten to shut down the entire Senate until their state receives assistance–they would already be receiving help. Right now, Republicans are desperate to pass a destroy-healthcare bill, so they would just shovel money at them to make them go away.

This ends today’s lesson in the consequences of the absence of democracy.

Bigotry aside (though it shouldn’t be shunted aside), Puerto Rico would be getting a ton of assistance if it had two senators who could crater any legislation in the Senate (there are a variety of procedural moves a single senator can make–not just the filibuster–to bring Senate activity to a grinding halt. Two can be even more difficult).

This is nothing new: from 1998 to 2007, Congress prevented D.C.–which, like Puerto Rico, also has no meaningful Congressional representation–from implementing a needle exchange program, which resulted in over 1,000 preventable HIV cases–back when HIV often was a death sentence. If D.C. had two senators, that wouldn’t have happened either.

Political power can accomplish a lot, even in the face of bigotry. But bigotry in the absence of political power is lethal.

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