Opinions on President Donald Trump's reaction to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey range from harsh criticism to hero worship, depending on who you ask. But Trump isn't the first president to go up against the worst that Mother Nature has to offer. And President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina shows that how the nation's leader handles a natural disaster can make or break a presidency. Many see 2005's Katrina as the beginning of the end for Bush, and some are wondering whether Trump will suffer the same fate.
Hurricane Katrina shook New Orleans and left profound destruction in its wake. President Bush's response to the storm has been criticized by many as being too little, too late. Though he did end his vacation a couple of days early to head to New Orleans, he did so by air that many felt was disconnected and distant from the crisis at hand.
Rather than be on the ground when the floods first swelled — as President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately did when Hurricane Betsy hit Louisiana in 1965, Bush seemed to take his time. There was no rousing speech from the POTUS that instilled courage in the hearts of Americans. Instead, he was relaxing in California, playing guitar with a country star apparently oblivious to the state of New Orleans, as HuffPost reported.
Shortly thereafter, a photo was released of Bush, sitting in a plane on his way to New Orleans, looking pensive and morose. This photo was intended to repair the damage of the guitar photo and give off the appearance of concern, but it seemed to only hurt Bush's cause even more. His critics used it as evidence that he was too far away from the issue — above it, if you will. Bush himself even stated after the fact that the photo was a "huge mistake."
His lacking response to the conditions in New Orleans was credited with the failed federal response from Aug. 29 to Sept 2. in 2005. Rather than utilize all of the resources at his disposal, many believed that Bush continued to view the issue from afar and waited for it to sort itself out.
Essentially, the perception from a decade ago was that while people were starving and dying, he was no where to be seen. Fittingly, the media went after Bush for his lack of involvement and it led to a dramatic drop in his approval rating.
As the public is only just beginning to comprehend the scope of the damage done by Hurricane Harvey, many are questioning Trump's response to the storm — even going so far as to question Melania Trump's choice of footwear. Fashion police aside, there are a number of parallels between Katrina and Harvey that call for comparison.
For one thing, despite his laissez-faire handling of post-Katrina New Orleans, Bush's famous uttering of praise to the ill-equipped FEMA director, Michael Brown, gave off the impression of a situation being handled. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job," has gone down in history as one of the biggest political punchlines of our lifetime, according to Fortune.
According to The Hill, Trump, in a recent statement to the press, made a similar comment about FEMA: "You're doing a great job," causing many to recall Bush's statement and subsequent failure at crisis management. Is this a mere coincidence or history repeating itself? Only time will tell.
Trump's comments are all the more ironic considering the GOP's proposed cuts to FEMA in the hopes of paying for the president's infamous wall between the Mexico and American border. While it is true that the United States is only in the beginning stages of repairing the damage done in Texas, Trump would do well to learn from Bush's many mistakes. Bush learned a hard lesson from Hurricane Katrina: When a city is in need, the people are watching.