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Donald Trump’s first response in addressing Hurricane Harley victims in Corpus Christi, Texas was a self adulating gloat on the crowd size. “What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said in the context of a natural disaster that has claimed the lives of nine people so far and is expected to temporarily displace at least 30,000 people. This unrelenting egotism was on full display right before the hurricane made landfall in Texas, when Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and later claimed he did so in coinciding with the hurricane because he “assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.
Trump’s elitist, out of touch attitude toward Hurricane Harley and its victims weren’t isolated to just him, as several other prominent figures displayed callous attitude toward the natural disaster.
Joel Osteen, a prominent Texas Pastor whose estimated net worth is $40 million, offered nothing but prayers to the hurricane victims, inciting immense backlash for refusing to open the doors of his megachurch in the Houston area to flood victims seeking shelter. He eventually caved to the criticism and opened his church doors once his lie that the church was inaccessible due to the flooding was exposed.
The mainstream media have exhibited similar attitudes. On August 29, ABC News National Correspondent Tom Llamas tweeted, “We’re witnessing looting right now at a large supermarket in the NE part of Houston & police have just discovered a body nearby.” He added in another tweet, “we informed police of the looting and Coast Guard is flying overhead. Multiple officers now on the scene,” in regards to a scene he witnessed while reporting on Hurricane Harley Disaster relief efforts in the Houston, Texas area.
“Great to hear you informed police,” Jillian Angeline, a local NBC News reporter tweeted in response to Llamas.
Llamas was heavily criticized for the tweet, prompting him to eventually delete it due to the tone deafness it exhibited in snitching out hurricane victims taking food.
“So gross to call it looting,” Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald tweeted in response, adding that the real “looting” occurring in the Houston, Texas region has been egregious cases of price gouging by businesses for local necessities. Journalist Ken Klippenstein tweeted a photo of a Best Buy selling water bottles for $29 and $42 a pack, noting the Texas Attorney General is being inundated with hundreds of complaints about price gouging.
Some Twitter users compared Llamas to the Les Miserables character Javert, who arrestsJean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread. Llamas’ tweet was a prime example of poor shaming that is frequently done in reporting by elite mainstream media reporters. As Jamed Baldwin said in a 1965 interview with Esquire, “I object to the term ‘looters’ because I wonder who is looting whom, baby.”
The mass media has used words like “looters” and , concluding that these victims already in poverty are wrongdoers trying to steal everything, capitalizing on unrest for their personal gain. Llamas made an inflammatory accusation toward a captive population robbed of everything by Hurricane Harley of looting.
One Twitter user cited that the law in Texas permits scavenging food in a natural disaster or in the event of “necessity, duress, and public duty,” as circumstances that punishment is withheld in circumstances such as these, or at the very least mitigated. The thefts Llamas complained to officers about was food, not immaterial objects for hurricane victims to exploit by seizing the opportunity to steal for profit.
The reactions toward Hurricane Harley and the victims from a few prominent people, from Trump to some journalists and public figures like Joel Osteen, is illuminating to how callous and cold the common attitudes toward struggling and marginalized people are from elites. Even in the face of a natural disaster that has uprooted thousands of people from their homes that they no longer have, a situation that demands empathy and compassion has provoked self absorption and indignation toward the people most affected by the hurricane.