Why Does It Take a Major Disaster to Unite a Country?

As of Monday evening, Hurricane Harvey had killed at least 10 people, according to the New York Times.

The economic toll is impossible to calculate as of yet, but the Wall Street Journal puts it in the “tens of billions of dollars.”

We watch the latest news coverage of neighbors and rescuers who are risking their own safety to help the people stranded in Houston, to provide them what they need in a difficult time. What you see are not Republicans and Democrats. You don't care who they voted for in the last election. What you see are Texans, Americans, a community trying to help each other.

For a little while, much of the talk on social media isn’t about the latest political scandal, but about how to alleviate human suffering.

On Sunday, after firing off tweets about the North American Free Trade Agreement and getting Mexico to pay for a border wall, President Donald Trump tweeted this about the hurricane:

It’s worth asking -- why does it take a natural disaster to unite the country?

Trump wasn’t the only one who took to social media to send good wishes to those in Texas. Republicans and Democrats alike joined in:

In addition to tweets offering solidarity, some lawmakers tweeted links to emergency resources:

The outpouring of support isn’t surprising. It’s impossible to see photos and videos of what’s going on in disaster-struck areas right now and not feel moved:

I won’t pretend to interpret the psychology at work here. There are those specifically trained in such things who can do a better job. But perhaps part of the answer lies in the stories that are being told right now. The news cycle isn’t being dominated by “he said, she said” at the moment. The demonizing of one side or the other has been blunted by a story readers care about regardless of political affiliation.

There have been a lot of think pieces about the role of the media in the Trump era. You see them every week, if not every day, and they usually include a lot of high-sounding phrases about democracy, transparency, and so on. That's fine, for those who already believe all that.

The stories coming out of Houston, Texas go well beyond that, though. They do what the think pieces can't, by showing Americans that those in the media care about our neighbors -- and that just maybe, some of the folks in politics do too.

The stories coming out of Harvey go beyond that, though. They do what the think pieces can't, by showing Americans that those in the media care about our neighbors -- and that just maybe, some of the folks in politics do too.

Perhaps some of that attitude will carry over to the days when there isn't a hurricane at the door.