It’s been nearly two weeks to the day since wildfires erupted on the island of Maui, killing at least 111 people, burning some 2,700 structures, and destroying much of the historic town of Lahaina. Even with hundreds still missing, the devastation makes it the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century.
Two days after the blaze, President Joe Biden issued a major-disaster declaration to expedite federal funding and assistance to the area, though many on the ground have said resources are scarce. Additionally, the president has made very few public comments about the disaster, despite receiving multiple questions from reporters on the topic.
After much prodding, the White House finally announced last Wednesday that the president and First Lady Jill Biden would pause their vacation at a billionaire climate activist’s Lake Tahoe estate to tour the damage on Monday.
On Monday’s show, Megyn was joined by Nicholas Kardaras, PhD, founder of Maui Recovery Center and author of Digital Madness, to discuss what his team has observed on the ground in Hawaii and why Biden’s response to the tragedy is “disgusting.”
A ‘Disgusting’ Lack of Compassion
While Megyn acknowledged that presidents do not travel to the site of every natural disaster, this situation is unique. “I realize we don’t have a president go out to California every time we have a wildfire out, but we’ve got over 111 people dead, including children, and the president didn’t seem to give a damn until, what, he was forced to politically.”
After saying “no comment” in response to inquiries about the devastation in Maui as he spent time on a beach in Delaware earlier this month, President Biden finally issued public remarks on the fires during a trip to Milwaukee, WI, last Tuesday.
He described federal efforts to support disaster relief, including a $700 one-time grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to victims. But what got the most attention was the fact that the 80 year old president seemed to have trouble remembering the name of Maui – referring to it as “the one where you see on television all of the time.”
Kardaras is a psychologist and addiction expert with a recovery clinic about 15 minutes south of Lahaina. He called Biden’s handling of the disaster “disgusting” and lacking empathy, which, in his view, is part of a pattern of behavior from the president. He said Biden has a history of “self-referring to some of his own crises” when he is asked to “put on his compassion hat.”
One such example is what we recently heard from the Gold Star families who lost loved ones during the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago. They recalled the president telling them that he lost his own son in combat, despite the fact that Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 while receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. “I’ve got one of my closest family members right now struggling with cancer and it’s a horrible disease, but it wasn’t dying in Iraq,” Kardaras noted. “He’s used it as a way to kind of play up his compassion bona fides, but he lies about it. There’s no sincerity there.”
The White House released a statement on Monday ahead of the president’s trip that seemed to back up Kardaras’ observation:
“I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life. I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”– President Joe Biden, August 21, 2023
Perhaps Biden’s statement about Maui was meant to be generic, but Megyn said it’s unlikely. “Knowing Biden’s history, that sounds more like, ‘Trust me, I know. Back to me, back to my son, Beau, who allegedly died in Iraq and I was there to see his flag draped coffin come home,’” she said. “None of that’s true… but, once again, he thinks empathy is making it about him so we’re going to look at him and feel sorry for him as opposed to the people of Maui.”
The Need for Empathy and Awareness
Both Megyn and Kardaras agreed that the only appropriate response to a situation like the one Hawaii is currently facing is empathy and awareness. “The president’s role is largely symbolic, and these are one of the symbolic instances that we need to show care and compassion,” he explained. “That’s what the people needed to hear.”
He pointed to the actions of then-President George W. Bush in the aftermath of September 11 as exemplary leadership. “Say what you want about George W. Bush, but, when 9/11 happened, he was there with a bullhorn, he was on the ground, and that rallying cry of ‘pretty soon the world will hear you’ was critical for the psychology of our nation, for the emotional well being of our nation,” Kardaras shared. “We’re getting the opposite of that now.”
Megyn said the response from the White House has been tone deaf on several levels. “When you’ve got the president of the United States sunning himself on the beach and releasing topless photos while 111 people are dead… and fleeing from the flames into the ocean with no one there to help, it might be appropriate to at least call attention to it when handed the microphone and asked specifically to say something,” she said. “Just call attention to it if nothing else, so that people understand their suffering… ‘No comment’ is not an acceptable answer from the commander in chief under those circumstances.”
The Tradition of Ohana
Since Kardaras has a team on the island, he has been in close contact with those who are experiencing that tragedy first hand. An employee of his clinic, Jubee Bedoya, made international news when a video of him helping a family who went into the water to escape the flames went viral.
While he said it’s been “hard” to hear about the devastation, the people on the island are rallying around one another – with or without help from Washington, DC. “Maui is a very special place and they really honor the tradition of what’s called ohana or family, and, in talking to my friends who are still there, the one thing that really came through was they all were there for each other,” he explained. “They’ve sort of just said, ‘Forget the government. We can’t wait for FEMA. We can’t wait for Joe Biden.’ And they have all kicked into action.”
While resources are limited, Kardaras said everyone is doing what they can. “People were giving out water and supplies and food,” he concluded. “They really showed the true commitment that they have towards one another as a community.”
You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Kardaras by tuning in to episode 611 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.