On Friday, Mike Max kicked off a discussion with a question that was hard to even consider, let alone answer.
Max is a sports guy for WCCO on TV and radio, with an on-air career approaching 20 years. On Friday, Max tried his hand at news, filling in for regular daytime WCCO Radio host Chad Hartman. It went weirdly.
Max put his odd question to co-host Adam Carter.
"Do you think this country -- the United States of America -- is a tough country, or a soft country, when you talk about the belly of it being the people?"
Carter must have appreciated Max's clarification about which country he meant, but still struggled to navigate a universal description of America's belly-people.
"Oh, boy," Carter said, pausing.
Max continued: "Or do you think you never know, until you face extreme adversity, if you're strong enough, or weak?"
Carter eventually determined that "when the chips are down," Americans are "resilient." This led to a brief interlude about the deaths of young children.
Then Max got around to why he'd brought up this impossibly vague construction about whether America is "tough" or "soft."
It turns out the topic for this segment was Donald Trump's uncaring response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands last month, killing at least 81, and leaving millions of people on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, without electricity or access to clean water.
Early in the post-hurricane phase, Trump bizarrely tried contrasting Puerto Rico (unfavorably) with Texas and Florida, which had also been hit with recent hurricanes.
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
When Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of San Juan, suggested the island might be in less "deep trouble" if it got more help from the federal government, Trump responded like this:
The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Trump's callous response, a unique moment of a U.S. president shit-talking American citizens literally knee-deep in the wake of a disaster, horrified many people in Puerto Rico and on the mainland.
Not Mike Max, though. Mike knows better, because one time nine years ago he went to Iowa.
Max began telling the story of the time he covered the recovery from a tornado that hit the small town of Parkersburg (population 1,800), killing seven people and destroying many homes.
The next couple minutes featured Max's memories, and the lessons he learned from that experience, interspersed with his co-host's gentle attempts to prevent Max from saying what it sure sounds like he was saying.
Mike Max: One of the things they were telling me [in Parkersburg] was... they said, "When we had this terrible tornado come through, FEMA came up, and when they got here, they were all amazed. And they were amazed at how much work we had done. You know, we were moving stuff to the street, and getting things piled up, blah blah blah." And [FEMA] said, "We just came from Hurricane Katrina. They were just waitin’ for us, nobody’d done a thing. They were just waitin’ for us to show up and do all the work." And so when I heard this about San Juan last week, I thought, that’s what Trump’s talking about. He’s saying, "You know, yeah, we’re coming down there to help. But get off your butts and do -- y’know, pitch in here. Start grabbin’ some stuff and, y’know, we’ll follow your lead, but you guys start in." And that’s where I think different pockets of the country are so different.
Adam Carter: I do, but uh... [long pause] I mean it’s hard for me to look at an island that is completely devastated like that, and say, you know… I don’t know, I guess, what I’m trying to say is that, I mean where, where do you start?
Max: Well, yeah I wasn’t in their situation, didn’t have a house blown away --
Max: -- I didn’t lose my roof, or whatever.
Carter went on to say it's different when a disaster occurs to homeowners who make a "decent living," and have insurance, versus Puerto Rico, where "many people are probably living below the poverty level."
The host was unconvinced.
Max: Oh for sure, I don’t relate to it. But I do think, the spirit of it is, let’s go, let’s rebuild, the quicker you can get into that mode of --
Carter: How do we know they weren’t doing that?
Carter: How do we know they weren’t doing that in Puerto Rico?
Max: Because [Trump]'s basing it on the reports that he got. And he said, "Let’s go, mayor. Let’s get ‘em going."
Carter: But I’ve seen pictures of that mayor too out wading in chest-deep water trying to help people out, too, though.
Max: That’s the picture. That’s the photo op. C’mon, Adam --
Carter: [Laughing] “Photo op.”
Max: -- you’ve been around this business, come on. Adam Carter. Do we break now, Lindsay? Oh, we keep going, couple minutes...
And with that, they moved on to something else, leaving three million-some Puerto Ricans -- well, the ones with electricity -- to think about what more they could be doing to impress Donald Trump and Mike Max.
To recap, Max has a feeling "different pockets" of the country are "different" in how they respond to adversity. Tying back to his odd segment opener, places like Parkersburg, Iowa, are "tough." Other parts of the country, like New Orleans, Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico, are "soft." Or "weak."
For reference, here's a photo of the aftermath of that tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa. The image reveals the wicked game of chance we play with a tornado: One house in the cyclone's path is destroyed; the one next to it is still standing.
Here's what New Orleans looked like after Katrina.
Here's San Juan on September 27, three days before Donald Trump complained about those lazy Puerto Ricans.
Here's Mayor Cruz meeting with a survivor at a hospital. This is a "photo op."
Here's Trump meeting with Geraldo Rivera on an airport tarmac. This, apparently, is not a photo op.
Neither is this.
Mike Max and WCCO did not respond to City Pages' request for comment on this story.
Hey, Lindsay? Next time Mike Max gets goin' like this, and asks you if they "break now"? Just say yes.
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