Keep Air Force One on the ground

 
 
Posted8/29/2017 1:00 AM

One of the most misguided, useless -- and possibly disruptive -- but common and typical events in American politics -- appears set to take place today.

While rain is likely to be pouring down for the third consecutive day, Air Force One, under the control of President Donald Trump is scheduled to tour the disruption and devastation caused to at least two states in the southern United States by Hurricane Harvey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His visit and tour will not provide any benefit to the affected states, nor to the residents of those states, nor to the businesses, schools, hospitals or other institutions that have been affected. None of the roads that are under water will be drained for the benefit of residents.

Instead, police resources will be shifted to protection issues. Public officials -- many of them, at least -- will be more focused on the presidential visit than on the Texans who might still be without homes.

I know. Been there. Done that. Twice in one year.

In August of 1992, while working for President George H.W. Bush, I made two trips on Air Force One with the president to visit and inspect storm damage. Our first visit was to Miami and the second was a few days later to Louisiana.

I don't recall that there was any benefit -- not a single bit -- to the people of Florida or Louisiana resulting from the presidential visits. There were a lot of photos taken, to be sure. And there was a lot of television coverage of both visits. I don't recall that there were any benefits to the people affected by the storms -- at least no benefits that could not have been directed to them from Washington without the on-site inspections. And the U.S. Government did do as much as it could to provide relief.

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When we went to Florida, I remember the hundreds of military and law enforcement personnel who were assigned to protection and traffic control for the president's visit. Streetlights and traffic control lights had not been restored to use, so extra traffic control personnel were reassigned to a new duty.

The president was guided into one building -- I can't remember what it was -- which had no power and the only lighting was from flash lights and hand-held torches. Television lights were not allowed in the building, so information presented to the president (and all Americans) could have been just as easily and effectively conveyed through television after the inspection.

At the time of Hurricane Andrew, President Bush had served as vice president of the United States for eight years and he was in his fourth year as president. He had seen other disasters and knew what to expect. He also knew that Florida and Louisiana were going to need help from the federal government, and he knew the residents of those states needed understanding, some compassion, and pledges of support.

But they didn't need the president to make an on-the-scene inspection.

Today, and in the coming days of this week and the weeks and months to come, the U.S. government can and should provide emergency support and humanitarian support to the people and governments of Texas as efficiently and quickly as possible. Some of that help may be needed for months, even years, and the president and the U.S. government, as well as charitable and humanitarian organizations, should help as much and as expeditiously as possible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But a costly, personnel-demanding showboating visit by the president is not necessary and is not useful. The law enforcement personnel who will be assigned to help control traffic and keep the public under control have more important tasks to perform this week.

The president should stay in the Oval Office, perhaps on the phone with government leaders and relief agencies. Air Force One should stay in its hangar at Andrews Air Force Base. Dozens, probably hundreds, of local law enforcement people in Texas should stay on the challenging jobs they have been assigned.

And for the cynics, President Bush had carried both Florida and Louisiana when he was elected in 1988. He carried Florida again in 1992, but lost Louisiana to Bill Clinton. In 2016, Trump carried Texas' 36 electoral votes.

Ed Murnane, edmurnane@gmail.com, of Arlington Heights, is retired president of the Illinois Civil Justice League and a former staff member for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

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