More than a week after a derecho wind storm caused historic damage to Eastern Iowa, President Donald Trump finally came to Cedar Rapids on Tuesday. He never left The Eastern Iowa Airport.
Some Iowans criticized Trump for not coming to Cedar Rapids sooner, and for making such quick work of his visit to Iowa’s storm-ravaged second-largest city. Vice President Mike Pence also visited Iowa for a previously scheduled political event a few days after the storm and he, too, opted not to check out the damage up close.
I, for one, was glad Trump didn’t stick around too long. Next time, he should save himself a trip and just send a bigger check instead.
Ostensibly, the point of government executives touring disaster sites is to give them a sense of the damage so they can coordinate a fitting response. They sometimes even put on hard hats and boots, as if to convey that they are actually doing real work. But that’s all an elaborate charade, because politicians are not disaster recovery experts. Fortunately, they hire actual experts for that.
A better reason for politicians to visit communities in crisis is to build public awareness, since cameras for national and international news organizations follow the president. That national exposure, though, was already building before Trump’s visit, thanks to diligent advocacy by Iowa journalists and concerned citizens.
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An even better reason for a presidential visit is for local leaders to have face time with the guy who can direct the federal government’s enormous resources. To that end, it appears that Tuesday’s session was not fruitful.
Trump met for about 30 minutes with state and local leaders, chatting about the damage and about corn. Elected officials invited to meet with Trump were mostly Republicans. The two Democratic members of Congress representing Eastern Iowa were not there.
“We’ll take care of it,” Trump assured elected officials pleading for more disaster aid. But as of Thursday afternoon Trump had only committed $45 million, or about 1 percent of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request.
You’ll have to forgive me for being a few days late with this hot take. While the president was doing his expedited sit-down with elected officials, I was out of the office clearing debris and delivering ice from the relatively fortunate Iowa City to folks in Cedar Rapids neighborhoods that were still without power a week after the storm.
I have had the displeasure of covering a few presidential events in my time as a journalist. Even under normal circumstances, such spectacles create a giant hassle for entire communities by shutting down roads for security. Throw in a pandemic and a historically devastating weather event and the disruption gets much worse.
After a severe weather event, officials are quick to remind residents to avoid non-essential trips out of the house — don’t drive around gawking at the destruction, keep the streets clear for emergency responders. If you bring a motorcade, though, you’re apparently welcome.
Iowans don’t need a New York businessman to throw paper towels at the masses, and we certainly don’t need a presidential limousine mucking up streets that are already littered with tree limbs.
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