Trump’s disaster relief prioritizes ‘Western civilization’ over U.S. people of color

The administration hasn't acknowledged three Louisiana churches targeted by arson.

CREDIT: Zach Gibson/Getty Images
CREDIT: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

In the wake of the fire that devastated the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the White House announced Tuesday that it would offer “assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization” — despite the Trump administration’s decision to turn a blind eye to other recovery needs in the United States.

While President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were quick to offer thoughtful concern to France after the fire, neither has so much as mentioned the three black churches in Louisiana that were recently destroyed by arson, as the Washington Post’s Eugene Scott noted.

In fact, the administration has habitually downplayed the severity of domestic tragedies and even threatened to withhold recovery support.

When wildfires ravaged California last fall, for example, Trump claimed that the fires only occurred because the state’s “forest management is so poor.” He warned that if this “gross mismanagement” were not remedied, there would be “no more Fed payments!” Trump later claimed that the forests would be safer if their floors were properly raked, a bizarre claim for which he was widely mocked.

Trump has also been very slow to release federal funding to communities in need. The city of Flint, Michigan, has not had access to clean drinking water since 2014 due to lead contamination. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency subsequently awarded a $120 million grant to Michigan to repair Flint’s water systems. But it wasn’t until just this week, well over two years after the funding was designated, that Flint received the bulk of the federal funds — $77.7 million. Nestlé has agreed to extend its donations of free bottled water to the city through August.


Puerto Rico disaster relief following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria has also continued to stall because of Trump’s obstruction, and the fight has spilled over into Congress. Earlier this month, Senate Democrats rejected a Republican proposal that would have stripped significant funding to Puerto Rico that House Democrats had approved. Republican lawmakers were catering to Trump, who falsely claimed that Puerto Rico had already received $91 billion in hurricane relief funding. In reality, only $41 billion has been allocated, and the territory has only received about $10 billion in total. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has pushed to investigate whether the administration has intentionally dragged its feet to block much of this funding from being dispersed.

Specific disasters aside, the Trump administration has also made a habit of taking funding away from programs that support the nation’s most vulnerable in order to fund its anti-immigrant family separation policies. Over the past year, it has diverted millions of dollars away from programs like Head Start, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and the National Cancer Institute to fund cages for children at the border.

The Trump administration’s domestic funding decisions have deprioritized people of color. Meanwhile, in her statement, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Notre Dame as an “irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization.” This rhetoric feeds into conspiracy theories spread this week by white nationalists and other extremists who claim that the cathedral was targeted for arson by non-“western” individuals.

So far, more than $1 billion has been raised worldwide to help rebuild Notre Dame. The giving has spilled over into growing support for the Louisiana churches, with the now-viral crowdfunding campaign raising more than $1 million at the time of publication Tuesday — but that’s in spite of silence from Trump.