It was August when Donald Trump first started sharing his thoughts on California wildfires, which the president was eager to blame on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and “bad environmental laws.” As regular readers may recall, none of Trump’s rhetoric made sense.
The Washington Post reported, for example, that the president seemed confused about every relevant detail. CNN added that even some White House officials “admitted to being slightly perplexed” at Trump’s obvious nonsense.
And yet, Trump not only refused to get up to speed on the basics of the issue, he also refused to stop addressing the issue in unusually callous ways. Five months after his initial misguided foray, he renewed his offensive over the weekend.
President Donald Trump on Saturday blamed “mismanagement” of California’s forests for ongoing deadly wildfires, threatening to withhold federal payments after 25 people died in two separate blazes and evacuation orders were issued for some 250,000 state residents.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” he tweeted.
There are a couple of ways to consider a story like this one. The first and most obvious is to acknowledge the factual details and point out that the president simply has no idea what he’s talking about. The fires are not the result of state officials’ approach to forest management.
California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice issued a scathing written statement in response to Trump’s nonsense, describing the president’s assessment as being, among other things, “dangerously wrong.”
And while it’s tempting to end the conversation there, it’s nearly as important to acknowledge serious concerns about the president’s capacity for empathy and character.
In this case, Donald Trump – while in France – thought it’d be a good idea to publish an ignorant tweet, blaming Americans for a deadly natural disaster, while the crisis was still unfolding.
The American president’s first instinct wasn’t compassion or consolation. Rather, as Californians fled and died, Trump’s judgment led him to blame and threaten.
I’ve long been fascinated by the limits of the Republican’s capacity for empathy, but this is a rather extreme example of Trump’s indifference to a deadly crisis in his own country.
Postscript: As for Trump’s threat to end “Fed payments” to the Golden State, in addition to the bizarre idea of an American president threatening an American state in the midst of a natural disaster, it’s worth appreciating the fact that Trump has threatened to cut off federal funding to California a half-dozen times for a half-dozen reasons.
The Republican never follows through – because he can’t – but he keeps repeating the hollow rhetoric anyway.