It’s going to be difficult, perhaps impossible, to assess how much of it had to do with the federal government’s indifference and ineffectiveness; how much was the fault of current Puerto Rican government officials; and how much was the effects of long-term Puerto Rican poverty and structural conditions.
Even so, President Donald Trump’s reaction was awful. He picked fights with local government, and during his visit to the island he focused far more on congratulating himself than on doing something worth bragging about.
Worse, he didn’t follow up. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands simply disappeared from his public statements, and there’s no reporting to indicate that anything was different behind closed doors. There’s no record of FEMA officials or anyone else being summoned to the White House and urged to do more. No evidence of high-level White House coordination of the efforts, such as they were, from the various agencies involved. In fact, the best reporting on the government response, from Politico’s Danny Vinik, shows that it was botched from the get-go, with the government going all out to assist Houston but not Puerto Rico.