A few hardy wildfire survivors hunker down for long haul

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, Arissa Harvey, 16, left, and her sister Arianne Harvey sit on the bed of a truck as they drive through their neighborhood burned in a wildfire in Paradise, Calif. The Harvey family was living in an RV near where her family's home was destroyed by the fire. For a while, Phillip and Krystin Harvey, who lost their mobile home, had been staying with the sisters and their other teenage daughter in the camper, trying to hang on to a piece of the life they had known. Eventually the family gave up and moved to Oroville, Calif., to stay with friends to have some stability and security, their cousins Patrick Knuthson said. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

WASHINGTON — Leaving his own political wildfires at home, President Trump flew to California last weekend to examine the worst wildfire disaster in the state’s history. For once, he had little to say about his head-in-the-sand denial of climate change as a major contributor to it.

With Gov. Jerry Brown at his side — one of the staunchest advocates of addressing climate change — the president largely curbed his bombast, having earlier blamed the crisis on state mismanagement of the forests, more than half of which are federally owned.

Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom joined the president in his helicopter flying over some of the worst burned-over areas. Brown said afterward in diplomatic fashion that what they saw may have altered some of Trump’s misconceptions about the fires’causes, and he thanked the president for his promise of federal assistance.

Citing the challenge of “the big, massive cleanup after a terrible tragedy,” Brown said “the federal government can provide some help, and a lot of money and expertise,” declaring “We’ll all pull through it together.”

When asked aboard Air Force One in Trump’s presence about climate change as a factor, Brown said he agreed it was, but added: “We’ll let science determine this over a longer period of time,” adding: “Right now, we’re collaborating on the most immediate response, and that’s very important.”

Trump jumped in to agree, observing, according to The Washington Post, “We have different views but maybe not as much as people think.” Only a week earlier, the president had tweeted that California was guilty of “gross mismanagement” in the crisis, and he threatened to withhold federal funds.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” he wrote. “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 payments!”

The physical juxtaposition of Donald Trump and Jerry Brown in this major crisis offered an interesting occasion for comparing these two notably outspoken political figures.

Trump, already under wide criticism for his aggressive and personal attacks and for habitually ignoring usual presidential obligations, took pains to fly cross-country to show up, see for himself and say the right things. Brown, who twice sought the job Trump now holds, resisted the opportunity to lock horns with him over climate change and instead focused on getting federal help for his state and his desperate constituents.

The contrast on balance came down much in favor of Brown, who in his long public career — nearly 16 years as governor of California and eight years as mayor of Oakland — has always been a champion of futuristic notions.

In his impending retirement, he will soon be able to spend more time at his California farm, if he so chooses, and likely will intensify his efforts on important.

As for Trump, what lies ahead is two more years of massive challenges, for which he has already proved personally, intellectually and morally unfit, with the possibility of a run for re-election.

Before then, the sitting president must endure, rebuff and overcome the most intense and serious Justice Department investigations of a White House predecessor since Richard Nixon was forced to resign in 1974. The office of the special counsel is examining Trump’s alleged collusion with Russians meddling in the 2016 election, as well as improper business practices in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses.

Brown’s wildfire woes pale in comparison to what Trump must confront back in Washington, all in the face of the defeats he has just suffered in the midterm congressional elections. The Republican loss of the House majority assures not only intensified opposition to Trump’s legislative agenda but also to his very tenure in the Oval Office in the months ahead.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

(1) comment


Jules Witcover, way to write an article about your thinly-veiled contempt for the President. Nowhere did I find any evidence that climate change contributed to the California wildfires in your piece!

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