By Carl Carter, APR
We can’t help being inspired by the makeshift navy of thousands of private boats that came forward to move through a flooded Houston and rescue people from homes and buildings. For a few weeks, or even months, people will continue to give and volunteer, as FEMA directs relief efforts.
But soon, the flood waters will abate, and people will return to their homes and businesses to find there is little to salvage. Volunteers will have to get back to their day jobs and provide for their own security. The sustained work of rebuilding Houston will take years and cost billions, and it’ll have to be done by people who are paid to be there.
To make it worse, only 17% of the people in the eight counties most affected by Harvey have flood insurance.
Ah, but there’s FEMA, right? Well, sort of. FEMA grants are hard to come by, and they’re capped at $33,000 — including the cost of temporary lodgings. Still, it’s better than nothing.
No matter. We’ll soon return to talking about tax cuts and health care and Confederate statues, with the new wrinkle of whether the cost of Harvey will finally kill the border wall.
But if we’re smart, we’ll use Harvey as a reminder that the free market can’t fix every problem. There are things we can only do collectively. There’s a wide spectrum on where we draw that line between voluntary relief and government, but that line is always there.
Republicans may disagree among themselves on what part of government we can live without, but they all want some. Weather events like Harvey, Katrina and the April 27 tornadoes remind us that we need to cooperate more, not less. Poorly maintained roads and dams make us all the more vulnerable.
At the very least, these disasters force us to come together for a time. These fishermen and recreational boaters will carry people to safety without worrying about what color they are, what language they speak or how they love. It won’t be as easy for these Republican Texans to return home and argue for less government, or for a government that lets the poor starve so it can give tax cuts to rich people and corporations.
On their way out of town — or back to Washington — we need to be asking them, “Now what?”
Who’s going to take it from here?
How are we going to pay for all this?
And for the next one? Because there’s always a next one.
A lot of my Democratic friends think we can’t get the Trump voters back, because they’re cold hearted, and sealed off in their fundamentalist churches where they get a steady diet of fire-and-brimstone sermons on how God’s judgment comes on nations that permit abortion and support LGBTQ+ rights. But let’s not forget that the Great Depression created two generations of Democrats. Hard times are the soil in which Democrats grow.
I’m willing to bet that many — maybe most — of the folks out there in their fishing boats were Trump voters. Yes, Democrats got 54% of the votes in Harris County, but 42% of the voters there went for Trump. And at the risk of stereotyping, I’d bet a roster of “Texans with fishing boats” would look pretty red.
So let’s say I’m right. Now, you have a fair number of Texans who are invested in the welfare of people they’ve never considered before. It’s easy to preach against the evils of creeping socialism and big government. It’s hard to look homeless people in the face, sitting there with their kids and pets, and tell them that helping them is just a luxury we can’t afford.