National disasters are no place for acute rhetoric

Liam Verses

Before Hurricane Harvey fizzled out, political games were already underway. It seems that even in the most trying times, politicians and cartoonists just can’t contain themselves. If there’s one time when the back-and-forth bickering should cease, it’s during national tragedies. No matter the political affiliation of the victims, or the actions of their leaders, respect and civility must be upheld.

First, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a shot at Sen. Ted Cruz on CNN: “I see Senator Cruz and it’s disgusting to me that he stands in a recovery center with victims standing behind him as a backdrop and he’s still repeating the same reprehensible lies about what happened in Sandy, and it’s unacceptable to me.” Sen. Cruz railed against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill because “two-thirds” of it had nothing to do with Sandy. That two-thirds claim isn’t true. But 60 percent of money appropriated wasn’t to be spent until 2015-2022, fixing issues beyond the scope of Sandy. Regardless, Christie’s shot at Cruz is unwelcome and unacceptable given the sheer gravity of the damage in Houston and coastal Texas.

Then there’s Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. Rep. King said on Twitter that “Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another.” While the content of the message wasn’t necessarily fraying, the implicitly caustic tone and apparent desire for publicity distracts from the recovery efforts and inserts political issues at the forefront. King has been a Cruz antagonist during most of his time in Congress. With thousands of Texans reeling from what could be one of the most expensive hurricane disasters in U.S. history, Rep. King’s comments are out of line and untimely.

Political cartoonists also made their debut. Politico’s Matt Wuerker created a cartoon that featured Texas secessionists rescued “ironically” by the government in the form of the Coast Guard. Rob Rogers created one for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that pictured a man on the roof of a flooded house holding a sign reading “No trans-gender rescuers!” Nate Beeler devised another for Columbus Dispatch that illustrated President Donald Trump on Marine One with a megaphone, yelling, “Rest easy, folks! I just banned transgender disaster relief workers.” Political cartoons are undoubtedly a facet of American politics and satire, but when done too soon or in bad taste, they are a symptom of insensitivity and poor judgment that perpetuates party lines in crises.

After Hurricane Irma forced millions to flee from its path and lashed a large portion of the southeast, we’ll see if politicians and partisans can take their foot off the gas and let Floridians focus on their recovery. A lack of civility and decency unfortunately permeates American society, largely from bottom to top. Americans need to stop making everything about “us vs. them.” Much more unites us than divides us, and if we can unite around our common strength and values, our media and politicians would stop the unrelenting denigration that typifies their respective constituencies.

Liam Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio. Follow him on Twitter @liamverses