Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to punish the state of California for the effects of his own federal government's policies.

Trump announced on Twitter this morning that he would punish California for its recent devastating wildfires by denying it FEMA funds intended to help victims recover from those disasters. Specifically, he claimed that "Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen."

Trump has some truly bizarre ideas about what "proper forest management" involves, but the vast majority of the acreage burned in recent fires were on federal land, where California had no jurisdiction. The most devastating of them, the Camp Fire, started on and spread through a federally managed tract before destroying the town of Paradise.

In reality, Trump's problem with California's forest management strategy is about the politics of allowing private logging on public lands, not safety. 

There are a few problems with Trump's threat. For one thing, he may not even be able to legally carry it out. For another, the government shutdown he's promised to extend for "months or even years" means that FEMA is not releasing funds anyway. That includes money for the purely preventative brush-clearing and controlled burns which would normally be underway now.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to attack the victims of natural disasters in order to win a political fight.
  • Presidents don't need to be experts on forest fires, but they do need to be willing to listen to people who are when they're making policy on forest fires.