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.