Some psychiatrists describe the existence of a narcissistic-masochistic personality disorder. The narcissist-masochist sees the hatred and resentment that he or she arouses in others as confirmation of their own greatness. Perhaps this can provide an explanation for Donald Trump’s seemingly inexplicable conduct in recent days in connection with the destruction sown by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In his racist-sounding rants against Puerto Ricans and with his unworthy attacks on San Juan mayor Carmen Cruz, who begged for more federal help, Trump has sparked widespread public disgust. Through the distorted prism of his problematic personality, perhaps he views this as proof that he is the greatest.
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Trump actually benefited from his administration’s well-regarded responses to the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida last month, but Puerto Rico is a different story. Not only is the damage heavy, the geography challenging, the local government less functioning and the local economy more desperate, Trump at first preferred to tackle protesting NFL players rather than lead a vigorous rescue effort for the demolished island. When criticism and complaints surfaced about failing federal operations, he reacted – as usual – with a spate of personal insults and aggressive, racially tinged tweets. “They want everything to be done for them,” he wrote of Puerto Ricans, evoking a classic dog-whistle line that racists – as well as their victims – identified all too well.
Trump’s offensive tweets emphasized once again his inability to deal with criticism, his tendency to make every conflict personal, his inability to grasp the essentials of leadership or to act “presidential.” Trump’s Puerto Rico tweets reinforced his image as a white racist who harbors special hostility toward Hispanics, which he exhibited from day one of his presidential run when he described Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. Puerto Ricans, it seems, are worth just a little bit less than Texans or Floridians or other “authentic” Americans.
Hurricane Maria shattered the illusion of Puerto Rico as a sensual paradise of sexy dancing and beautiful women enhanced in recent months by the astounding success of the song "Despacito" and its music video, which is the most watched in history. Instead of despacito, Puerto Rico turned desperado. Since Spain was compelled to cede the island to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War 120 years ago, Puerto Ricans have had to fight natural disasters, failed government and the indifference and sometimes outright racism of its managers in Washington. In this regard, Trump may be breaking new ground in his attitude, but not in actual policy. The failed recovery effort of Herbert Hoover’s Republican administration at the end of the 1920’s to three deadly hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico and destroyed its mainstay coffee and sugar industries contributed directly to the rise of resistance and independence movements. Their struggle included, among other things, an armed attack on Congress and a failed attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman.
The response this time might be different. Puerto Rican residents may not be able to vote directly for representation in Washington but they are nonetheless eligible for the U.S. citizenship that was given to them exactly 100 years ago. As such, they have the right to leave the island whenever they want and to live in America wherever they wish, an option that has already been used by the parents and grandparents of the estimated five million Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland. In recent years, the island has been losing population at a faster rate than ever, decreasing by over 10 percent in comparison to 2004. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the combination of the damage caused by Maria, the prospects of a protracted recovery and the sense that they are being targeted and vilified by their president could now persuade many more Puerto Ricans to leave the island and to join their compatriots in New York, Florida and other locales.
Such a development would highlight the irony of history. Trump, who based his campaign on incitement against Hispanics and on his pledge to keep them out, will oversee a tremendous Hispanic migration – and he won't be able to stop it. And since most Hispanics, especially Puerto Ricans, especially now, will be voting for Democrats, Trump will be delivering yet another harsh blow – one of many – to the party that sent him to the White House. Republicans might hate him for it, but Trump will be that much happier, convinced he has shown everyone just what a genius he is.