The aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which hit the US mainland, enjoyed far more intense attention from professional media outlets and the American People than it improbably should have when considering the scope of the damage it caused. In contrast, Hurricane Maria seems to have received far less attention, especially from the American People. Maria has, however, done far more damage and caused far more devastation to the United States than Irma. It just so happens the damage was done to US Territory Puerto Rico instead of a State like Florida.
Amid criticism of the Trump Administration’s response to the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, which saw its infrastructure thoroughly devastated, one is reminded of the Bush Administration’s mishandling of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The American People strongly condemned the lack of leadership as well as the lack of preparedness by FEMA. Trump’s apparent indifference toward Puerto Ricans aside, a lack of outrage shows Americans as a People have grown increasingly indifferent toward the suffering of “outsiders.” For Puerto Rico, the Press and President are supposed to care, so there is criticism. There is, however, a lack of genuine empathy when it comes those facing crises in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
News coverage of Hurricane Irma properly stated the potential threat posed by the Category Five hurricane, but professional media outlets also hyped the unfolding events to sell a dramatic story to a national audience largely untouched by the hurricane. The real story of Irma is the catastrophe inflicted upon the islands and Peoples of the Caribbean, yet the focus is elsewhere. Coverage of the human suffering does not sell, because there is indifference on behalf of too many Americans when it comes to the suffering of foreigners. Instead of seeing the insurmountable crisis faced by these people, they are seen as people begging for a handout. It is like telling a person dying of starvation to get a job in order to ignore their immediate need for food.
In the case of Maria, the nationalized, dramatized story is Trump’s reaction, because most Americans are not affected by what is happening inside Puerto Rico. Like the Puerto Rico debt crisis and any attempt on behalf of the US government to address the problem, which is a problem many US cities and States may well soon face, the suffering in Puerto Rico is seen as their problem. If particularly indifferent and egocentric political faction openly called for the termination of Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory, because it needs helped, it would no longer be shocking. It is no longer surprising when individuals say foreign victims of natural disasters and war are not America’s problem.
The truth is that most Americans do care about the suffering of others. Most want to help in some way. Many also feel the world’s problems cannot be solved by the US alone. Some feel people are not doing enough to take care of themselves, which is leading to a learned dependence, a tendency for people to self-sabotage, and a willful unwillingness to prepare for disaster. There is some truth to this and it must be addressed when trying to help those in perpetual need. That said, the lack of empathy for those devastated by circumstances beyond their control and their inability to cope with crushing hardships is nothing more than a test of an individual’s character. It is a measure that reveals a person’s lack of morality, common decency, and humanity. Simply put, indifference towards the suffering of others makes someone a terrible person.
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