Where is Obama now with Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey"Trump's policies will exacerbate these problems"
Sarah Zerback: These are images of absolute chaos that are reaching us from Texas these days: people who have to be rescued from their house roofs in boats from the brown liquid that is currently making large parts of the megacity of Houston uninhabitable, people who have been exposed to the outside world for days were cut off, without electricity, without water, without food or even medical care. It is already foreseeable that Harvey will be the most expensive natural disaster in US history. While the Texans are wondering who will pay for it, the big cleanup is slowly beginning in Houston, even when public life is still at a standstill.
We can now go into further analysis with Christian Lammert, Professor of North American Domestic Policy at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Berlin. Good afternoon, Mr. Lammert.
Christian Lammert: Good day!
Zerback: Are we experiencing the consequences of a natural disaster here in the USA, or is it man-made?
Lammert: We see both here. One is, of course, a natural disaster, which - and this is also hotly debated in the USA - is of course also the result of climate change, and this debate has been going on for a long time in the USA about the extent to which one has to intervene here and enforce a policy that does what does against this climate change. But, as you have already alluded to in your report, this is also about urbanization policy, how cities are developed and how nothing is done here to protect the environment because everything is only subordinated to an economic logic based on expansion, and Large parts of this city must now bear the consequences.
Zerback: What went wrong with town planning or with non-planning? What should one have taken into account?
Lammert: There are a number of factors. The first one has already been mentioned: everything was simply concreted over. You have not left possible green areas where such rain can then run off. Around the city, too, people simply let the city grow out of control into the marshland, drained everything and didn't make sure that areas were left free, which is possible in such violent storms, which are not uncommon there yes not to say that one was completely surprised. Such areas are needed to cope with such weather conditions.
Then the whole sewer system is out of date. There is no public investment. Here everything was really only subordinated to an economic logic that relied on expansion, that companies settled, that people were drawn to the city - Houston is now the fourth largest city - without safeguarding the whole thing, especially with regard to the environmental disasters that possible are.
Campaign mode instead of empathy
Zerback: You have just mentioned climate change, a climate change that the US President denies. Will that change his mind? What do you think?
Lammert: I don't think so, because if you look at his entire policy, his program, he is really only betting on economic growth, on creating jobs. In his term of office so far, he has had many regulations from the Obama administration that were also a reaction to such storms and catastrophes that we know in the USA with New Orleans or the storm Sandy on the east coast, which he passed around here Trump has taken back and deregulated all of them to protect the civilian population more. He took the US out of the Paris climate agreement. He's actually making a policy that will massively exacerbate these problems.
Zerback: And the civil protection that you are talking about - it was less than two weeks ago that Donald Trump received a directive there again. This is part of the so-called "role back". He's trying to take back what his predecessor Obama got going. How does that fit in with the billions in pledges that Trump has now made in Texas?
Lammert: You saw that at his performance in Texas. Of course he is now campaigning again and here he has to appear as president. Here he has to try to show empathy and offer support. And that will be the next question Houston and the people are now asked. Most of them are not adequately insured at all and need this money. We saw that in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy that this aid was lost in the political dispute, and here, too, there is a threat that Congress may not provide these funds at all, possibly because the funds are not even there because Trump absolutely wants to build his wall in Mexico.
He has already announced that he would even accept the closure of the government just to reallocate these funds so that the wall could be built. And whether he is ready now to mobilize the necessary resources that Houston urgently needs now, that is the big question that we shall see in the next few weeks.
Trump's policies could have bad consequences for Houston
Zerback: A very important question. At the same time, if we are talking about reconstruction, the money that is needed for it, you also need a lot of construction workers and craftsmen. The interesting fact is that there are many craftsmen in Texas in particular without papers, which the Trump administration is cracking down on. Can it be said that Donald Trump's immigration policy is now practically falling on its feet?
Lammert: If he were to enforce that, it would have catastrophic consequences. Then he has no people at all who can do the necessary building work down there. But the mayor of Houston has already announced that he will not check if someone helps or if someone is involved in the development, what status he has, whether he is helping there as a legal immigrant, as an illegal immigrant or as a US citizen. But that's also the argument we've been seeing for weeks now.
"In Houston, everything was subordinated to an economic logic that relies on expansion without securing the whole thing," says Lammert. (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)
There are many cities that pursue such a policy and are not that tough on immigration policy, and here the Trump administration has pushed forward with a hard hand and is betting everything on deportation. There is a conflict of goals and the administration has to behave and say, what has priority now, the symbolic politics to enforce success from its election campaign promises, or do you help the local people? My concern about Donald Trump's personality structure is that he will bet first, he wants to make his successes clear, and that would have bad consequences for the city of Houston.
Zerback: Its mayor - you just mentioned him - who is fighting for it, of course, also - we have also heard that now in this context - sent a fire letter to Washington weeks and months ago. Has it even been read?
Lammert: I do not know that. We hear from all sides that Trump is very simple in absorbing information. It now depends on how his chief of staff organizes it. Kelly is someone who is now trying to organize things a little more strictly. I believe that letters like this from the fourth largest city in the United States will certainly also be noticed in Washington. The question is, what are the consequences of this, and Washington is completely blocked right now. Hardly any decisions can be made there. And the Trump administration is still running on a mode of enforcing its own election promises. Here you don't see any ability to learn, here you don't see any ability to adapt to external pressure. And if you've watched Trump's appearance in Texas, it turned out to be an election rally again, and that's why I'm very skeptical that he will learn any lessons from it and adapt his policy.
Wrong symbol policy
Zerback: How did he do then in your opinion? Such visits are difficult everywhere to strike the right note. How did he fare as a crisis manager?
Lammert: If you look at the discussion, you can see that he has not done well. I wouldn't go into Melania Trump's outfit now, which has been criticized a lot. I also think that you are concentrating on the wrong points. But he stood up and immediately cheered the crowd that has now taken to the streets to listen to his speech, and he has to keep saying in superlatives that this is the greatest environmental disaster in 500 years. He can't show empathy. That was one of Obama's strengths.
And even the heavily criticized George W. Bush, who did a lot of things wrong in New Orleans, reacted much too late, but in this position, which the President also has, he is at the side of the people at this moment stand, cut off better than Trump is doing now. This president has no empathy, he cannot empathize with the situation. He is just trying to take advantage of the situation, and that is a wrong symbolic policy.
Zerback: Even now, shortly after Harvey, after that had started, there had been hope that Donald Trump could even use it, hope from his own camp that he would now forget the entire domestic political chaos after Charlottesville through his position as crisis manager could leave. Was that premature?
Lammert: Yes, of course it was premature, and I have to slowly say that I can no longer understand this hope. After the election it was thought that he would now be president. After he took office, it was thought that he was going to be president. After every press conference it is said, was that now the change? A day later we get the original Trump again. This president is not changing. The Americans have elected someone to office and they have to live with that now and get away with it as possible. But for a change from Trump, everyone had hoped when the chief of staff was replaced that a stricter regiment would now move into the White House. But as long as you can't control the president - and you can't seem to control him - the chaos will remain.
Zerback: ... says Christian Lammert, professor for North American domestic politics at the Free University of Berlin. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Lammert.
Lammert: With pleasure!
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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