Politicizing Hurricane Harvey Has Begun, But It Should Be Where Politicization Ends

The cover of the current issue of France’s comic “Charlie Hebdo”

You knew it was going to happen. With American society fully submerged in politically-charged waters, and the media looking for any narrative they can use to stir dissent among the population to instill a sense of dependency on media outlet’s drip of “news” and perspective, a natural calamity is the perfect opportunity to pit factions of people against each other, and ensure attention and money continues to flow into the media-fueled political industrial complex.

A hurricane is a great starting point for political discord. We saw that during Katrina. As President Bush was pounded for a slow response, conservative America used the aftermath as an illustration of the ills plaguing America’s cities and urban dwellers.

But Hurricane Harvey made it harder than expected to sow the political acrimony they so desperately want us believe has gripped society. As the media continues to attempt to drive home the idea that America is a land divided and rife with racial bigotry and intolerance amid a rising tide of tribalism, the depictions from Houston and other places people witnessed was of an incredible outpouring of kindness and neighborly love with little or no regard to race or creed from those involved.

There were white people helping black people, black people helping white people, Latinos and Asians and others all coming to the aid of each other, and each other coming to the aid of them. In the onslaught of calamity, few saw others through the filter of who someone voted for or the color of their skin, and instead identified with another human in need. Looting was limited, the outpouring of help and donations was incredible. Along with the lines of people looking for assistance, you saw lines of people looking to help give it. Screw politics; people were in need, and still are.

But now as the waters have receded in many places, and the refugees have at least found food and shelter, it’s now open season to use Hurricane Harvey to assert why your particular political ideology is superior to someone else’s. This is especially true since Houston is in Texas, and true or not, is seen as a conservative stronghold of closed-minded ideology, that if it didn’t cause the calamity itself, it deserved its wrath a little more than other locales, or at least it should open Houston’s eyes to its wrongful political stances.

Of course all one had to do was witness the images of Harvey to see Houston is a much more diverse place than it’s given credit for. In a May 2017 story in the Los Angeles Times, writer Brittany Meja laid out in great detail how Houston has statistically and culturally become the most diverse place in all of America.

“The story of how his city turned from a town of oil industry roughnecks and white blue-collar workers into a major political centrifuge for immigration reform, demographic analysts say, is nothing less than the story of the American city of the future,” says the LA Times story. “Houston boomed through the mid-20th century, thanks to the oil bonanza, and most of those who came to get rich were white. Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees began arriving in the 1970s, and after an oil collapse in 1982, they were followed by an influx of Latinos driven by cheap housing and employment opportunities. Whites, meanwhile, started drifting out.”

Yet the misnomer that Houston is a white, blue collar, conservative bastion prevails, if it’s not stronger than ever, and inferring political opinion-making like never before.

“The multi-ethnic boom has occurred deep in the heart of a state that has often seemed to regard conservatism, and Texas identity, as an element of religion,” says the LA Times. “Yet demographic experts say the Houston metro area … is a roadmap to what U.S. cities will look like in the coming decades as whites learn to live as minorities in the American heartland.”

This is to say nothing of the fact that Houston’s mayor from 2010 to 2015—Annise Parker—was one of the first openly gay mayors of a major American city, and made Houston the most populous city in America to elect an openly gay mayor. The current mayor of Houston—Sylvester Turner—also happens to be African American. Houston is not the closed-minded society responsible for its own perils because it turns a blind eye to social causes, urban planning, or the calamitous issues of global warming some elements of the media want you to believe, it is literally one of the most liberal cities in the entire Western Hemisphere.

But that hasn’t stopped the misnomers and stigmas of Houston as a conservative mecca to be used a think-piece starters by political opportunists in the media and elsewhere. The legendary, and often controversial French comic Charlie Hebdo’s most recent issue depicts Hurricane Harvey’s survivors as Nazis—fueled by the idea that Nazi-istic behavior is on the rise in America, and a city like Houston would certainly be a bastion of such hatred and subversive activity as a major population base in Texas.

Some have blamed Houston for its lack of zoning laws and rabid growth for the floods. This certainly was a factor in how the metropolitan area was able to deal with the incredible onslaught of water, even though zoning and urban renewal is very much a part of Houston’s currently urban legacy to a greater degree than it is getting credit for. The idea of a zoning-less sprawl is an outdated notion of Houston, while many of its suburbs have always adhered to strict zoning laws and insisted on flood control measures from developers.

But this is another instance where Harvey let the pundits down. By dropping an astronomical 50+ inches of rain on the city, no zoning situation or exquisitely-planned urban blueprint could have saved many of the neighborhoods from the calamity. It was just too much rain in an area where much of the rest of Texas that was inundated with water drains through. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was a perfect storm.

But of course you can also blame this on Houston as well for turning a blind eye on the issues of global warming, not just as a conservative bastion (which it isn’t), but has the home of big petroleum (which it is). However even though doomsayers have been predicting catastrophic hurricanes will be a direct result of warming atmospheric conditions, much of this science is based around the warming of currents in the mid Atlantic, and the depleting sheet ice in areas around Greenland that are altering Atlantic Ocean currents. However Harvey once again offered its own retort by forming almost overnight in the historically-warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan, where the science of global warming and hurricane formation is more unstudied and up for debate.

Besides, try telling someone on the Texas coast that hurricanes are the cause of George Bush, Donald Trump, Houston, or the city’s petroleum infrastructure. In 1900, before any of these factors were at play, the island of Galveston was hit by the deadliest natural disaster in American history. The Hurricane of 1900 killed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people, and demolished the Texas coast.

Is global warming making hurricanes and other weather more severe? According to the experts, it most certainly is. Did policies of the City of Houston or the actions of some of its residents potentially make the disaster of Hurricane Harvey worse? There is a good chance they did, and we should learn from those mistakes. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only factor, and you can blame a population of mostly poor minority immigrants in Houston for the calamity that befell them via Hurricane Harvey.

Of course politicizing Harvey—and with misconstrued facts—is far from a one-sided affair. All one has to do is pour over the reams of collected tweets and social media posts from individuals blaming the post-Katrina problems on President Obama, when in fact he wasn’t even in office at the time. Certainly there are other examples of individuals using Harvey or some effect of the storm to push why a more conservative ideology is superior to progressive values.

But the point is that Harvey didn’t expose America’s political divide, it exposed that whatever divide exists is not nearly as cavernous, unnavigable, or irreconcilable as the people who benefit from endless political war would have you believe. Of course we disagree. Of course there is strife that sometimes spills out into embarrassing and unfortunate disharmony, and even property damage and death. These instances shouldn’t be brushed under the rug, but they also shouldn’t allow us to be misled that the common purpose and general decency that still prevails among wide swaths of American society is somehow dead. In a strange juxtaposition, America is better than many of its leaders and representatives, reaching hands out to those in need and pulling them closer, quite literally. Sometimes you just need a crisis to see that.

People are dead and missing in the Harvey aftermath. Hundreds of thousands of homes and business are destroyed. Countless lives have been uprooted. But none of this needs to have happened for nothing, and it shouldn’t be used to help validate anyone’s polarizing and spurious political grandstanding. In the receding clouds of Harvey’s wake, there is a silver lining that we have learned something from, which is we don’t all hate each other as much as media and politics would lead us to believe. Not even in Texas.