More on Trump and the Fires

Trump appears to have been shamed into doing part of his job.

President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Friday, July 10, 2020, en route to Miami International Airport in Miami
Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

To add to my post yesterday, the NYT reports that Trump has been shamed into doing a basic function of his job, acknowledging national disasters. Hence, Trump to Visit California After Criticism Over Silence on Wildfires.

After weeks of public silence about the wildfires devastating the West Coast, President Trump scheduled a visit to California on Monday, where he will join local and federal fire and emergency officials for a briefing on the crisis.

The announcement of the visit, which was added to a three-day campaign swing through Nevada and Arizona, came after Mr. Trump tweeted Friday night thanking the firefighters and emergency medical workers. It was the president’s first acknowledgment in almost a month of a wildfire season that has claimed at least 20 lives and destroyed millions of acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington.

There is so much going on, and this administration so abnormal, his lack of attention to wildfires has not garnered the attention it would have normally. Heck, in more normal times his lack of attention alone would have been a scandal.

The wildfires — which have created apocalyptic images of orange-hued skies, and served as a reminder of the consequences of climate change — have not come up in any of his public remarks in weeks.

That changed on Friday:

“I have approved 37 Stafford Act Declarations, including Fire Management Grants to support their brave work,” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to an act that frees up federal funds and other resources to help supplement state and local efforts. “We are with them all the way!” Notably absent was any mention of residents who have been living under smoke-filled skies, many forced to evacuate their homes in the middle of a pandemic.

And, of course, when the article says “Mr. Trump wrote” it means “Mr. Trump tweeted” (and given the policy specificity and general coherence of the tweet, odds are that “an aide tweeted”).

And I would underscore this, which I noted yesterday:

In one of the last times he mentioned the fires, he blamed the state of California for its forest management. “I said you’ve got to clean your floors, you got to clean your forests,” he said at a Pennsylvania rally in August. He added, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

This is truly a grotesque thing for a leader to say: listen to me, or else suffer the consequences of your lack of fealty! And this is all made the worse by the inanity of the notion that if Californians would just “clean your forests” then all would be fine.

Clearly, the main thing Trump is worried about is campaigning against Biden, not actually acting like the head of state during a crisis:

A statement released by Mr. Biden on Saturday underscored all that the president himself had left unsaid.

“To the families who have lost everything; to the people forced to evacuate their homes; to the brave firefighters and first responders risking their lives to protect their neighbors — please know that we stand with you now,” Mr. Biden said.

Trump clearly does not see himself as the President of the United States, but instead the President of People who Vote for Trump (and I realize this is hardly a new observation). And California is clearly not going into the Trump column:

Mr. Trump has long clashed with California. The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has filed multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration, on issues like immigration, health care and environment policy. For its part, the administration has never appeared to hold back in confronting the state, and the president last year publicly blamed Gov. Gavin Newsom of California for a succession of wildfires and power outages that battered the state.

Democratic lawmakers from California suggested Mr. Trump was uninterested in helping a blue state. “There’s a deep feeling that you get different treatment in this administration, in terms of speed and attention, based on how people have voted,” Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said in an interview on Saturday.


“If someone calls my office for help, I don’t ask for their political affiliation or how their neighborhood voted,” Mr. Garcetti said. “It would be refreshing to have a president who thought the same way when people are losing their homes and everything they ever had. He doesn’t blame the Gulf Coast for hurricanes, but he blames California for not raking?”


And the piece concludes:

Miles Taylor, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security appointed by Mr. Trump, said recently that he witnessed the president seeking to cut off federal funding for California to combat wildfires simply because it is a Democratic stronghold.

“He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him, and that politically, it wasn’t a base for him,” Mr. Taylor, who served in the administration from 2017 to 2019, said in an advertisement by a group supporting Mr. Biden’s candidacy.

Is there any evidence that would make us doubt this account? Clearly not.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Climate Change, Environment, Natural Disasters, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    This is just further confirmation–not that any is needed–of Trump’s transactional view of his job. (His view of everything is transactional.) If you don’t support him, he won’t just ignore you–he’ll take steps to ensure that you suffer for it.

    He said yesterday in Nevada that now he’s going to be “really vicious.” His supporters cheered him.

    I wonder if, when he was in high school, he was the kind of kid who enjoyed tripping other kids on crutches. Or pushing kids in wheelchairs down flights of stairs. It wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    At the moment I sit under an unnatural pall, smelling the smoke of the Bobcat fire, feeling it burn my eyes, and filtering it all through a La Aurora Preferido. My kids live up in the land of the orange sky. None of us want or need Trump’s attention. Californians don’t want this pig on our soil.

  3. Michael Cain says:

    After weeks of public silence about the wildfires devastating the West Coast, President Trump scheduled a visit to California on Monday, where he will join local and federal fire and emergency officials for a briefing on the crisis.

    Is he receiving the briefing, or giving it?

  4. Scott F. says:

    He’s free up funds that were already allocated while he’ll claim he has done the most magnanimous thing ever. Obama never did as many as 37 declarations.

    He hasn’t been shamed into anything. He sees political advantage in the boasting he will do at his rallies in Nevada and Arizona.

  5. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Michael Cain:
    Trumps press briefs are becoming more and more like campaign events. Were I in control of the news feed, the moment he utters the word “Democrat” or “Biden”, the cameras would go dark.

  6. EddieInCA says:

    I’m writing this, happily back in Los Angeles, after 10 weeks in Utah and Montana, land of clean air, and blue skies.

    Where I sit, like Michael R, the sun looks like a Star Wars moon, there is no blue in the sky, and the air has particles floating in it that you can see. My pool has a soft mist of ash all over the top, and I can’t see the mountains.

    Damn, it’s good to be home!

  7. Michael Reynolds says:
  8. Kylopod says:

    I actually wondered a few days ago if Trump realized that the area of Southern Oregon and Northern California is in fact Republican country—it’s just all “Democrat states” to him. This seems to confirm my suspicions.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: Had exactly the same tho’t — what with Mr Trump being in the area and all. Wikipedia says something like 3million Californians voted for him.

  10. JohnMcC says:

    @JohnMcC: Oops! Closer look: The Trump vote in CA in ’16 was 4,483,810. Old worn out neurons!

  11. Michael Cain says:

    @JohnMcC: IIRC, Trump got more votes in California than in any other states except Texas and Florida.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: Like @CSK: said, it’s totally transactional. Given the EC, a Trump supporter in CA isn’t of much value to Trump, why would Trump do anything for them?

  13. Michael Cain says:

    @gVOR08: Based on 2018, AZ is the only state with EC votes realistically in play this year. I suspect that from a campaign perspective, this stop in California is a show for voters in Arizona — “See? I care about the West. I care about fire, and water.” — before his stop in Phoenix tomorrow. It wasn’t a horrible fire season in Arizona, but last month the Bureau of Reclamation ordered that Arizona will get reduced water from the Colorado River next year. This is probably his last swing through the West before the election. From here on, he’ll focus on Florida and the key Midwest states.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    And the Trumpers and the Republican Party Leadership are just fine with the transactionality of it. Steven, I know you want to believe that the vast majority of Trump voters are just Party followers but it’s that “vast” that trips me up. While many no doubt fall into that category, there are a significant number of dyed in the wool Trumpers in that group and they, as well as the Republican leadership, are simply not good people. They delight in the suffering of the ‘other’ and feel it is ok to lie and cheat and steal from them. I’ve been saying this for five years now: if you know someone who is a hard core Trumper they cannot be trusted. Don’t invest money with them, don’t hire them as your tax accountant, don’t leave your kids with them. They may consider you in their group now, but the minute it becomes inconvenient they will rationalize a reason you are not.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:


  16. Ken_L says:

    When we had similarly disastrous fires in Australia last summer, the whole nation was consumed with concern for those affected and admiration for those fighting the fires. They absolutely dominated the news cycle for weeks.

    I no longer pretend to understand America, where most of the nation seems much more interested in arguing furiously about the childish antics of a lunatic in the White House.

  17. Not Ready To Make Nice = Loviatar says:


    Politics isn’t dividing us, decency is. – Stephanie Ruhle

  18. Michael Reynolds says:


    I no longer pretend to understand America, where most of the nation seems much more interested in arguing furiously about the childish antics of a lunatic in the White House.

    Because with a child in the White House nothing can be done about anything, and anything we try to do can be undone by the childish antics.