I’ve talked to people in Puerto Rico who lost loved ones during Hurricane Maria. I’ve interviewed whole extended families struggling to locate one another and fearing for the worst, clinging to sporadic WhatsApp updates and making daily pilgrimages across the island to tiny archipelagos of cellphone service. I’ve heard stories of cousins who disappeared and people in nursing homes or on dialysis for whom the shock of the storm and the attrition of life without electricity proved deadly. I talked to doctors who were overwhelmed with critical and dying patients, and who soldiered on through darkness. There are pictures in the papers of the deceased, and as I’ve written about here, a slew of studies has attempted to capture just how many people did die. The exact number has been in contention, and no amount of exactness can quantify the exact scale of human loss. But what researchers, the Puerto Rican government, the Puerto Rican people, and people of any level of discernment agree on is that the number is large, and the scale is truly tragic.
The president of the United States is not one of those people of discernment. On Wednesday morning Donald Trump tweeted: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” referring to the most recent study finding that 2,975 people died as a result of the storm. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,” he continued. In a follow-up tweet, he picked up the thread. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” he said.