President Donald Trump doesn't so much choose his battles as he does pick fights. Over the last few days, protesting players in the NFL received more of Trump's attention than Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Trump's distraction from the devastated island has many people questioning his priorities.
The president's attacks on football players who take a knee during the national anthem began on Friday, when Trump's speech at a rally endorsing a Republican candidate for Senate took a surprising turn.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!'" Trump said at the time. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner — they don't know it, they're friends of mine — they'll be most popular person for a week."
Since his Friday speech, Trump has dedicated 22 tweets (including three retweets) to speaking out against NFL players he claims disrespect the American flag and the country by kneeling for the anthem. By way of comparison, the president has only tweeted five times, in total, about Puerto Rico and the crisis that has ensued since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.
What's Happening In Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria brought 150 mph winds and more than 30 inches of rain to the Puerto Rico, killing more than a dozen people and knocking out power to the entire island. This island-wide power outage is the most urgent problem Puerto Rico currently faces — and could continue to face for up to six months — as it has left residents without safe drinking water.
Although Trump has called attention to these problems in Puerto Rico, it has sometimes seemingly blamed the island for the extent of the damage it has sustained.
"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," Trump wrote Monday night. "Its old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with."
He added that getting food, water, and medical attention to the island were "top priorities," including the hashtag #FEMA.
What People Are Saying About Trump
Considering these dire circumstances, Trump's relentless fixation on the NFL protests has earned him substantial criticism across the board. Philip Bump, in a political analysis for The Washington Post, asserted that the reason Trump tweets about the NFL more than he tweets about the devastation in Puerto Rico is simply because he's more interested in the NFL than he is in talking about how to help Puerto Rico.
The president drew similar ire from Twitter users, who pointed out that Trump had chosen to harp on NFL players exercising their rights to free speech at the same time as Puerto Rico faces the prospect of months without electricity. "Hi, sorry to interrupt your dot dot dot, but the American citizens of Puerto Rico don't have electricity or drinking water," Late Show with Stephen Colbert writer Daniel Kibblesmith wrote in a viral tweet.
Democrats in Congress have also called Trump's priorities misguided, with New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez recommending Trump turn his focus toward a suffering Puerto Rico.
“Rather than worrying about football players protesting the national anthem, the president needs to focus on ensuring maximum federal resources are being used to assist American citizens in Puerto Rico who are reeling from Maria,” Velázquez, who was the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress, told the Hill.
What Comes Next
News broke Tuesday that Trump is expected to visit Puerto Rico on Oct. 3. However, if the president's latest tweets are any indication, it doesn't seem like he's going to let up on his tirades against NFL players any time soon.
"The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard," Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning. "Great anger."