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With the looming threat of hur­ri­canes and tropical storms, some parts of the country have been impacted directly by physical and emo­tional dev­as­tation, while the rest of the country has had to bear the heavy burden of our fellow cit­izens. 

When dis­aster strikes,  American’s forget all that divides us. We forget identity pol­itics and renew our vows of com­mon­ality in embracing our national pride. 

Going forward, the recent tragedies that have chal­lenged our national com­munity can teach us about our political climate as well as our human nature — we must assure that times of trouble aren’t the only times we rise above our dif­fer­ences and lean on one another. 

In the days fol­lowing these cat­a­strophic events, our true char­acter as a nation is per­son­ified, in both the actions of our cit­izens and the lead­ership of our gov­ernment. The relief efforts that take place are orches­trated by both the private sector — groups such as the American Red Cross, The Sal­vation Army, and local churches, as well as gov­ernment run entities like the Federal Emer­gency Man­agement Agency. Both play a role, but this begs the question: Which is more effective?

I spent about 6 months vol­un­teering for the American Red Cross and even served on a deployment to Georgia after hur­ricane Matthew. 

What I learned quickly was that the true and imme­diate relief came from the private sector and local author­ities. There were no gov­ernment run shelters or gov­ernment spon­sored food banks­ — it was everyday people, from both far and near. By the time FEMA agents arrived on the scene, all the work had been done. Frankly they weren’t there to get their hands dirty — but that’s okay.  

 Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington said, “Gov­ernment is much better at throwing money at things. Indi­viduals and private groups are much better at restruc­turing peoples’ lives in a more holistic way.” 

The gov­ernment and the private sector each play dis­tinct roles which together make up the recovery process as a whole. Nev­er­theless, the duty of gov­ernment is less noticeable because it is not as direct and tan­gible as the efforts of the private sector. 

The purpose of gov­ernment in times of dis­aster is to provide influence in hope and lead­ership. Donald Trump’s two visits to the affected areas of hur­ricane Harvey received stark crit­icism. 

Though critics said his motives were polit­i­cally driven, to the people of Texas who lost their livelihood found his presence mean­ingful. “That picture of him waving the Texas flag in his hands is a very pow­erful image,” Car­rington said.

In that simple moment, those visits of course benefit Trump polit­i­cally, but more impor­tantly, they unite an entire nation because there is no other purpose but com­munity. In the modern world, tragedy is one of the few things that doesn’t have a political agenda. 

We need darkness, in order to under­stand light, we need hate in order to value love, and we need tragedies in order to bring us back together. In times of peace, there is no incentive to think beyond our­selves, but in times of dev­as­tation the only way to survive is to rise above our indi­vidual interests. 

Necessity breeds coop­er­ation in ways that other sit­u­a­tions don’t.  These sit­u­a­tions make us think about our common humanity and our common cit­i­zenship.

It is this under­standing of this common need that must carry us forward into times of peace. We must under­stand that no matter what it is, we can’t do it alone. 

Stefan Kleinhenz is a freshman studying the liberal arts.