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Ilya Kravchenko

PhD in political science, RIAC expert

Column: Politics of the United States

The Trump administration is actually under great pressure put from various sides.

Besides, Hurricane Harvey has stricken the US in late August, after it, not leaving time for a pause, Hurricane Irma has hit the American coast, then Maria, after passing Puerto Rico, and finally Nate that devastated many cities and towns in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Trump cabinet should have learnt from that experience that the policy on the management of the aftermath of natural disasters must be well-planned otherwise it could cause fatal consequences for both the President and the party he represents. Donald Trump already has four such disasters in his portfolio, and even meteorologists do not know if there are any new ones coming.

When a politician’s rating is very low, and the opponents keep criticizing, then, any methods and means able to change the situation in favor of such a politician are being used. It might sound weird, but natural disasters may be an effective means to gain political scores, if they are used by professional political strategists.

But Donald Trump has not learned the rules of the American big-league politics yet.

Concerning Harvey, the President made only an official statement, a few days later, Donald Trump and Melania Trump visited the affected area, the first lady was wearing high heel shoes, and they distributed the packages with chips and chocolate bars to the people impacted by the hurricane. In terms of Puerto Rico, he did not dare to go there for a long time. Also, he constantly criticized local authorities instead of assuring people they would get help in the shortest possible terms. Acting this way, Trump has discredited himself as a protector of all Americans, hesitating whether to go there or not. After that, he got into another unpleasant incident when he decided to throw paper towels to the crowd of affected people.

In any case, the US President has all chances to turn the “hurricane-like” situation for the best.


When a politician’s rating is very low, and the opponents keep criticizing, then, any methods and means able to change the situation in favor of such a politician are being used. It might sound weird, but natural disasters may be an effective means to gain political scores, if they are used by professional political strategists.

The Trump administration is actually under great pressure put from various sides. A specific “hurricane-like” situation is being observed around the 45th President both in domestic policy (the investigation of “Russia’s meddling into the 2016 presidential elections” and repeated changes in his cabinet) and foreign policy (the withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement and his plan for a US-Mexico border wall). Trump has constantly been in the zone of high pressure since the day he outscored Hillary Clinton at the presidential elections.

Besides, Hurricane Harvey has stricken the US in late August, after it, not leaving time for a pause, Hurricane Irma has hit the American coast, then Maria, after passing Puerto Rico, and finally Nate that devastated many cities and towns in Louisiana and Mississippi. Only the first two hurricanes caused $ 50 billion in damage. Will Trump be able to use both these storms for his benefit to raise his rating and influence in the political arena of Washington?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Donald Trump has not learned the rules of the American big-league politics yet. He must consider the experience of the previous presidents who encountered natural disasters. By the way, the cabinet members who served under G. W. Bush could not recover from Hurricane Katrina that killed over 1800 people. The day after the disaster, G.W. Bush was playing the guitar on his vacation in San Diego. He flew over New Orleans, but he decided that it would be enough and did not land. As a result, the flooding, which followed the hurricane, cut New Orleans from the rest of the world. But, the then President insisted that there were no problems. The result of such political hesitation was that the emergency services did not receive timely orders on the liquidation of the aftermath of the hurricane and the rescue of people. On the top of that, it provoked the racist discourse as most of the citizens of New Orleans are Afro-Americans, and the fact that people were rescued very slowly was used by the opponents of the Republican President as the unwillingness of whites to help blacks. It was evident, G.W. Bush’s ratings started to fall, and Democrats not only strengthened their positions, having won the majority in both chambers of the Congress during the midterm 2006 elections, but also ensured the victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections.

The Trump cabinet should have learnt from that experience that the policy on the management of the aftermath of natural disasters must be well-planned otherwise it could cause fatal consequences for both the President and the party he represents. Donald Trump already has four such disasters in his portfolio, and even meteorologists do not know if there are any new ones coming. Also, Trump’s actions and speeches in no way can positively affect his rating. In particular, concerning Harvey, the President made only an official statement, a few days later, Donald Trump and Melania Trump visited the affected area, the first lady was wearing high heel shoes, and they distributed the packages with chips and chocolate bars to the people impacted by the hurricane. The 45th President at least tried to get extra political scores by promising to donate $ 1 million from his own funds for the recovery effort from Harvey.

However, in terms of Puerto Rico, he did not dare to go there for a long time. Also, he constantly criticized local authorities instead of assuring people they would get help in the shortest possible terms. The critics have immediately used Trump’s hesitation, having reminded the electors that, though Puerto Rico is not a state, it is the US territory, and it means US citizens are being affected there. Acting this way, Trump has discredited himself as a protector of all Americans, hesitating whether to go there or not. After that, he got into another unpleasant incident when he decided to throw paper towels to the crowd of affected people.

For the White House, the “hurricane-like” situation refers not only to natural disasters, but to another sensitive issue too. Donald Trump would not have brought up the issue of restrictions on sales of firearms, if a tragic accident had not happened in Las Vegas. On October 1st, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire against the participants of a country music festival from the room of Mandalay Bay Hotel. The result is 59 people killed and hundreds with injuries of various seriousness. What did Trump do? Acting like a short-sighted politician, he made a visit to Puerto Rico the day after shooting, not to Las Vegas, to the victims of the shooter’s attack. He visited Las Vegas the day after the tragedy, which had a negative impact on his rating. In addition to that, Press Secretary of the White House Sara Sanders stated it to be premature to discuss changes to gun laws right after the massacre. Nevertheless, she implied the President’s commitment to very little control over sales of firearms, having underlined: “if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there”.

The Trump administration has many other things to take care about apart from that, and the discussion of the issue on bans on firearms was apparently unnecessary. Most of his electorate are ardent supporters of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution specifying that the right of citizens to keep and carry firearms should not be restricted. The President is not going to lose their support. This tragedy is considered to be the most large-scale in number of victims in whole US history of mass shooting. But, it happened during the presidency of Donald Trump, and the whole burden of responsibility is carried by him.

Yet no US president has succeeded in finding a balance between the citizens’ right stipulated by the Constitution and the current events when mass shootings happen more often particularly due to the fact that to buy a gun one needs be a resident of a state and 21 years old in the majority of the states. Barack Obama has often criticized Republicans in the Congress for the close relation with the National Rifle Association and negligence resulting in deaths of Americans from firearms.

But, the data of the two largest American sociological research centers, Gallup and Pew Research Center, are likely to witness in favor of Trump, at least in terms of this issue. The Gallup analysts state, that the percentage of those who are for tightening the rules for the sale of firearms is less than 55% at the beginning of the year, while in 2012 this estimate was 58%, and in the mid-90s it was 70%. The experts say the number of supporters of tightening the control over guns increases as rapidly after the mass shootings as it decreases in a while. The Pew Research Center data show every three out of ten Americans keep guns, and every four live in the community where there are guns. 44% of those people who keep guns associate themselves with the Republican party, and only 20% – with the Democratic party.

The position of the National Rifle Association in terms of supporting D. Trump was quite predictable. Chris Cox, one of the leaders of the Association, mentioned Hillary Clinton, who often calls for a strict control over sales and owning firearms, is constantly escorted by armed security – the thing a common American cannot afford himself. This way, Cox hints that Clinton (and the politicians like Clinton) is acting in a hypocritical way speaking out against the possibility of buying guns for self-defense by ordinary citizens, while she herself has been protected by armed security for twenty-four hours a day. This is the most widely spread argument of the supporters of the free purchases of guns. The Association has decided to “help” the President in terms of his rating and issued a statement in which it specified that bump stocks, like the Las Vegas shooter used, should be regulated differently. It urged on the importance of new rules, not the draft law, on which Democrats and critics of D. Trump insist.

In any case, the US President has all chances to turn the “hurricane-like” situation for the best. According to the Gallup data, the rating of approval of the President’s actions for the period from mid-August (Hurricane Harvey) to October 9 is balancing between 34–40%. Along with this, Trump’s populist statements steadily contribute to an insufficient growth of his rating while his hesitation in actions brings to its falling down. Will the notorious President be able to master his temper and realize that his every step and word can either make him a national leader or ruin his political career?


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