Two tribes, Trump and the State of an imperilled Unionby Sam Tanenhaus / October 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
With the arrival of autumn (or fall, as we say), much of the western United States was engulfed in flames. Two dozen wildfires, covering more than three million acres in California, had been raging for two weeks and had swept up the coast to Oregon (with possible help from arsonists) and Washington: entire towns ablaze with flames fed by dry forest timber and parched fields, tens of thousands of people fleeing their destroyed homes under apocalyptic orange skies, smoke and ash billowing east across the continent.
All the while that other great hovering orange nimbus, President Donald J Trump, kept his distance from California, preferring to jab at its troubles from afar. “I see again the forest fires are starting. They’re starting again in California,” Trump told a campaign crowd in the critical battleground of Pennsylvania. The problem, he explained, begins with California’s poor forest management. “I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests—there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
Needless to say, scientists have pointed to other reasons, beginning with volatile weather systems caused by “extreme climate change.” But Trump is not so sure. “I don’t think science knows, actually,” he told officials in California. Nor is he especially curious to discover more. There is a federal fire science budget, but Trump “has twice tried unsuccessfully to eliminate it altogether,” the Washington Post reported.
Trump’s blaming of the afflicted states also ignored another fundamental fact. Many of the charred square miles are federal lands—“nearly 60 per cent of the forests in California, 25 per cent of the forests in Oregon, and 44 per cent in Washington,” as Politico noted. This implies that the federal government has responsibilities—or would, if Trump’s Interior Department was on the case. It is not. Trump’s government is an extension of himself, his cabinet undistinguished and often uncredentialled replaceables, shuffled in and out like underlings in his one-man sham business empire or contestants on The Apprentice. His current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who used to…