Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unnatural Disaster

Florida has had its share of troubles, but the karmic lesson of reaping what you sow on top of Mother Nature and her visits are becoming a bit much for Trump fans in one part of the Sunshine State.

MARIANNA, Fla. — A federal prison here in Florida’s rural Panhandle lost much of its roof and fence during Hurricane Michael in October, forcing hundreds of inmates to relocate to a facility in Yazoo City, Miss., more than 400 miles away.

Since then, corrections officers have had to commute there to work, a seven-hour drive, for two-week stints. As of this week, thanks to the partial federal government shutdown, they will be doing it without pay — no paychecks and no reimbursement for gas, meals and laundry, expenses that can run hundreds of dollars per trip.

“You add a hurricane, and it’s just too much,” said Mike Vinzant, a 32-year-old guard and the president of the local prison officers’ union.

If nature can be blamed for creating the first financial hardship, the second is the result of the even less predictable whims in Washington: President Trump warned last week that the shutdown might last “months or even years.”

In Florida, where Republicans dominated the November midterms and the state’s only Democratic senator went down in defeat, conservative towns like Marianna — along with farm communities in the South and Midwest, and towns across the country that depend on tourism revenue from scaled-back national parks — will help measure the solidity of public support for Mr. Trump and his decision to wager some of the operations of the federal government on a border wall with Mexico.

Jim Dean, Marianna’s city manager, said he had already been concerned, even before the shutdown, that the hurricane would prompt public agencies to consider reducing their footprint in the region. What if an extended shutdown contributed to keeping the prison closed indefinitely?

“I worry about the government pulling out of rural America,” he said.

It’s easy to gloat and practice saying “schadenfreude” with a particular Germanic tone, especially when you remember that at this stage in the recovery from Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico were still 90% without power and nothing was happening even with the government up and running.  It’s also a reminder that a lot of people who supported Trump are the ones who were so sure that they didn’t need the government hand-outs — bootstraps, everyone! — and those who had their hands out were lazy druggies or worse: immigrants.

I don’t minimize the pain and struggle the folks in Marianna went through after Hurricane Michael; I know hurricanes and they don’t care about politics, and all the best preparation doesn’t stop them.  But the rest of it was easily prevented, both before November 2016 and after when they were so sure that rhetoric and metaphors about mythical walls was the real solution to all their problems.

The shutdown will end at some point, the checks and back pay will come, and given the short attention span of the American electorate, they will probably vote back in the same people who lied and conned them the last time.  They probably know it; rest assured the liars and the con-men are counting on it.