Over the past 24 hours on his Twitter feed, President Trump has attacked Democrats and racial injustice protesters nearly a dozen times, mentioned law and order, and made false claims about mail voting.
But on the increasingly deadly, catastrophic wildfires in California and Oregon that have displaced 500,000 people, caused fire tornadoes, killed a 1-year-old, and blotted out the sun in one of America’s largest metropolitan areas, he’s been silent.
A search of the president’s Twitter feed and his public comments from Factba.se, plus a search of recent White House news briefings, finds no mention by him or his press secretary of one of the worst natural disasters to hit the West in modern times.
These two states are running out of money and manpower to fight the blazes eating millions of acres and neighborhoods. One of the only times the president has talked about this was in late August at a news briefing on the coronavirus, where he announced that he had approved an emergency declaration to open up federal funding for California to fight the wildfires. As the crisis escalated, he approved similar funding for Oregon on Thursday — but the public heard about it from a Democratic congressman, not the president.
The president’s relative silence on the West’s wildfire crisis matches up with his relative silence on three other issues: the struggles of Democratic-led states, climate change, and crises that require empathy.
The president has, in the past, leveraged the West’s worsening fire seasons to attack Democratic leaders. Last fall, he even threatened to stop providing emergency aid to California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, if the state didn’t start following the president’s recommendations on how to stop the fires.
When the president spoke of this season of wildfires in early August at a bill signing, rather than acknowledge the depth of the crisis, he gave advice to the state on how to handle it: ‘‘I ordered much more active forest management to prevent catastrophic wildfires,’’ he said.
One way to think about this is framing provided by those who have worked closely with the president, some of whom have said that getting reelected dominates how he thinks about his job. ‘‘I am hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations,’’ writes his former national security adviser John Bolton in his recent book.