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Millions of Americans still face perilous conditions in Puerto Rico. Three weeks after Hurricane Maria savaged the island, over 80 percent still have no electrical power. Forty percent are without running water. Millions are in dire need of food. Water purification systems can't work without electricity.
What obligations do we owe one to another as Americans? What does patriotism and citizenship mean in practice? Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico has posed these questions. Americans should be dissatisfied with the way our federal government has responded.
Fifty-eight dead and counting; 500 sent to hospitals. The deadliest mass shooting in modern American history took place Sunday in Las Vegas, as a lone gunman firing from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel savaged a crowd gathered to watch a country music show. It was, as one observer noted, like shooting fish in a barrel. The automatic rifle fire lasted for minutes. The shooter didn't really have to aim; he only had to pull the trigger.
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem last year, he acted alone, a silent protest against a society that repeatedly fails to hold police accountable for the killing of unarmed African-Americans. Kaepernick was condemned and now essentially has been banned from the NFL, with the owners surely colluding to insure that a quarterback of immense talent would not find a place among the dozens of teams desperately in need of one.
Democracy is based on the power of the people choosing their leaders in a secret ballot. The right to vote is central to the legitimacy of any democratic system. Yet in the United States Constitution there is no federal right to vote. Voting rights are determined by the states. And in the states we witness a fierce struggle between those who seek to suppress the vote and those who seek to protect and extend it.
We have suffered brutal direct hits. Over half of the state of Florida is without power, in the dark. It is too soon to know what the losses are. Houston, America's fourth largest city, suffered the most extreme rain event in U.S. history. Casualties are mounting; damages are estimated at a staggering $125 billion.
It is too soon to know the extent of the damage done by Hurricane Harvey. Estimates are that over a million people have been displaced. As I write this, 49 are feared dead -- a number that will continue to climb. The governor of Texas estimated that his state will need "far in excess" of $125 billion in federal funding to help rebuild. Harvey broke the U.S. record for rainfall from a single storm. Houston, the fourth largest city in America, was hit with 50 inches of rain.
Symbols are important. Donald Trump, whose fortune is built upon a brand, and whose presidential campaign brandished symbols far more than reform ideas, knows that well.
Racism, exposed once more in the terror visited on Charlottesville, Va., still scars America. Hundreds of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, klansmen and other fervid racists gathered -- some armed with assault rifles, wearing camouflage.
Campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump argued that blacks and other people of color should vote for him. Given their current conditions, he argued, "What the hell do you have to lose?" Since winning election, however, Trump seems intent on proving over and over again just how much African-Americans and other minorities have to lose.