On April 21, 1943, a day that will live in - well, not really anywhere - President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Corpus Christi. The Roosevelts had been in Monterrey, Mexico, the day before for an official state dinner with Mexican President Avila Camacho and his wife. Touching down in Corpus on the way back to Washington, FDR inspected the wartime readiness of the local naval air station.
On Aug. 29, 2017, another president and first lady visited “the sparkling city by the sea.” They got a firsthand look at storm damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey and after a brief stopover to confer with state officials in Austin headed home to Washington. Donald and Melania Trump’s touchdown in Corpus was just as memorable as the Roosevelts’.
“Thank you everybody,” the president said, addressing a few hundred supporters gathered outside a volunteer fire station in Corpus’s Annaville neighborhood. The crowd chanted “USA! USA! USA!”
Given the president’s penchant for turning every public event into a self-aggrandizing political rally, the event could have been worse, but fortunately he laid off “the dishonest media” and resisted whatever inclination he might have had to call for a “big, beautiful wall” along the Mexican border, not all that far from where he was speaking.
Of course, it was entirely appropriate for the president to visit the storm-raked Texas coast, and it was the sensible thing to do to avoid the Houston area, since rain was still falling and flood waters were still rising. What we would have preferred, though, was a bit more empathy, more heartfelt expressions of connectedness and concern similar to what Ronald Reagan, both President Bushes and Bill Clinton were able to summon during times of crisis. We wished for a bit more eloquence and inspiration, qualities that became hallmarks of Barack Obama’s presidency.
So, the president says he’s coming back, and that’s good - if he will take advantage of the opportunities a return visit offers. We urge him to roll up his sleeves, go among the people whose lives have been devastated by this unfathomable natural disaster. Put your arm around those men, women and children who’ve lost so much. Don’t talk, listen. Let them tell you what they need to get back on their feet.
And then, Mr. President, go back to Washington and bear witness to what you’ve seen and heard. Quash talk among the heartless hard-right, including members of your administration, who, before Harvey, were vowing to slash FEMA’s budget and cut numerous other programs designed to aid communities in times of natural disaster.
We hope you’ll deliver an Oval Office address. Remind your fellow Americans that Texans - too often brash and braggadocian, we realize - would appreciate their help. Remind them, as Harvey has so brutally reminded us, that we are all in this together.
Finally, perhaps you could take a cue from the Mexican president’s generosity at the time of FDR’s visit to Monterrey. President Camacho bade his American visitors bon voyage with bottles of Bodegas de Santo Tomás vermouth. Later, he shipped 88 cases of Muselle Blanco Extrafino, the wine the American president complimented at dinner.
We can do without the wine, but not without a multibillion-dollar package of federal assistance for what is likely to be the most expensive natural disaster in American history. To much-needed assistance we’ll raise a glass, even if it isn’t Muselle Blanco Extrafino.