Screenshot via Twitter
Condemnation rained down on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its editorial staff revealed the cover of their latest issue, which depicts Nazis drowning in Tropical Storm Harvey's floods. The cover also features text which translates to, “God Exists! He Drowned All the Neo-Nazis of Texas.” The storm has claimed the lives of at least 31 people, wreaking havoc along the Texas Gulf, and raving coastal communities.
The cover presumably lampoons the violent events which erupted last month at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The U.S. Department of Justice has since opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed after she was struck by a Dodge Challenger driven by James Alex Fields, who had traveled to the city from Ohio to protest at the rally with fellow white nationalists. Users rushed to Twitter to criticize the cover; while many accused the publication of inflaming racial hostilities and unnecessarily politicizing a natural disaster, others acknowledged that the magazine has the right to publish whatever it wishes.
While Charlie Hebdo is known for its irreverence and stridently non-conformist tone, the publication has courted controversy for its response to previous disasters, as when it depicted victims of an earthquake which struck Italy last year as pasta dishes. The magazine has been the target of two terrorist attacks; in 2015, "Je suis Charlie" entered public parlance after two Islamic gunmen forced their way into the magazine's Paris headquarters, killing twelve people, and wounding eleven others.
Writing for The Advocate, Neal Broverman contends, "The French magazine Charlie Hebdo is known for its provocative covers, but its most recent one is entirely reductive... No one expects Charlie Hebdo to be sensitive — it's faced enormous consequences for mocking Muhammad and recently featured an image of British Prime Minister Theresa May decapitated — but the cover simply doesn't make sense. America's fourth-largest city, Houston would be a progressive place by most standards."
Houston is a predominantly Democratic city; this is true. As Broverman notes, out lesbian Annise Parker "was elected mayor in 2009 and reelected twice," and that "Harris County — in which Houston is located, and the epicenter of Hurricane Harvey — overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, not a typical favorite of Nazis." Harris County also boasts a population larger than 25 other states, and went blue up and down the ballot by a much wider margin during the 2012 election.
But many have regarded the disaster with schadenfreude; Texans helped elect an anti-government president whose administration houses white nationalists and, until recently, Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon, who has proposed a daily "deconstruction of the administrative state." President Donald Trump has failed to assuage critics on both sides of the aisle who've slammed him for his "moral disgrace" over Charlottesville, particularly after he spread the blame for the violence and suggested a moral equivalency between white supremacists and their opponents.
Criticisms that the White House has also legitimized climate change denial are not unfounded, as the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a noted climate change denier who received campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry while Attorney General of Oklahoma, as the fourteenth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump, for his part, has suggested that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina may have captivated the world, but there's "never been a storm" quite like Harvey, as a recent editorial in Politico posits.
"We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care," writes Eric Holthaus, who cites Houston's shoddy urban planning––"largely unplanned and unzoned"––which have "converted the metro area into a flood factory."
The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget blueprint for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also found itself in the political crossfire, amid reports that it slashes "roughly $667 million from FEMA state and local grant programs which play key roles in disaster response." The budget blueprint also guts $90 million from FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program funding to local communities and all $190 million of funding for the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program. As the magnitude of the disaster continues to grow, it can no longer be denied that the Trump administration's freewheeling cuts have hastened Harvey's economic toll on the state.
It might behoove Democrats and those Republicans who've broken away from the president to impose requirements on funding: no border wall, for example, or a significant reduction in the Trump family's travel budget; even a restoration of the words "climate change" to the government lexicon, alongside increased funding for FEMA and other relief agencies. The entire state of Texas only went for Trump by just over 52 percent––not a mandate by any stretch––and it might not behoove the rest of us to characterize Harvey as karmic payback for backing Trump. Natural disasters do not participate in elections, nor do they discriminate on the basis of ideology.
The editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo has spoken, as is their right. How we respond––socially, scientifically, legislatively––to that courtesy will make the difference.