Editorial: It’s time to stop ranking catastrophes

Suffering isn’t measurable by death tolls

U.S. President Donald Trump made one of his usual idiotic statements this week when he opined that the devastation in Puerto Rico wasn’t as severe as Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans several years ago, because not as many people died.

Try telling that to a family that lost everything in Hurricane Maria and has been scrambling to find enough food and fresh water ever since. Pretty sure that the families who lost their homes and possessions in our summer of fires can understand what they are going through, even if Trump can’t.

It’s typical Trump talk. Remember how he had the largest crowd ever seen at an inauguration? Everything always has to be the best, the biggest the grandest, even when he is talking about death and destruction. And judging from his comments in Puerto Rico, the number of people dead indicates how much you are suffering.

Suffering isn’t measurable by death tolls. It’s always intensely personal.

Nor should the media, in the case of events like the domestic terrorist attack in Las Vegas Sunday, immediately jump to headlines about ‘largest mass shooting.’ For one thing, it wasn’t, and more importantly, it’s not a contest to win.

It’s not that the media should stop covering these events. But instead of trying to rank them on some imaginary scale of devastation, we need to be more sensitive to the terror and trauma experienced by the people who were involved in the event, and the secondary shock and heartache conveyed to the readers.

The focus of media coverage — and U.S. presidents — should be on the people. Their stories need to be told so others can understand, empathize, help and hopefully, start making some small steps to a better world, where shootings like the one on Las Vegas are rare, rather than increasingly common.

It’s time to stop trying to rank these devastating events on some imaginary scale of horror. Understanding and empathy are the goals, not trying to judge who has the most trauma to deal with.

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