Californians won’t soon forget President Trump’s initial response to the hellish wildfires sweeping through both ends of the state.
In an outrageously tone-deaf tweet, he blamed the catastrophe on the state’s “gross mismanagement” of forests — even though the vast majority of public forest land is under federal control.
The president’s approach softened later, when the extent of the disaster became apparent.
By Wednesday afternoon, Trump was tweeting that he’s with the people of California all the way, and he sent an emissary to tour the fire zone: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
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That would be the same Zinke who, just last August, blamed California’s wildfires on “environmental terrorist groups” who stand in the way of removing dead and dying timber.
Zinke had more conciliatory words after he toured Paradise, the town destroyed by the Camp Fire: “This is just not a state issue. It’s not a federal issue. It’s an American issue,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, he also said it’s “not the time to point fingers” and he acknowledged that rising temperatures are a factor in wildfires.
That’s a start, but these would have been far more powerful statements had they been delivered by the president, rather than one of his surrogates.
Instead, President Trump continues to regard California as the enemy.
In the almost two years he has been office, he has made only one brief trip to California, and that was to attend a private fundraiser and to see prototypes of the controversial border wall.
He has never visited the state to fulfill his role as consoler-in-chief, and if ever there was a time to do so, it’s now.
Californians have been brought low by tragedy after tragedy.
First, the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks that took the lives of 12 innocent victims, followed by the Camp Fire in Butte County, which has claimed at least 48 victims. Three more people have died in the Woolsey Fire in Southern California.
The president, who so often rushes to judgment and thoughtlessly places blame where it doesn’t belong, needs to see the aftermath for himself.
We’re not talking about a brief visit where he shakes a few hands and tosses paper towels.
He should speak with victims who have lost everything.
He should listen to the gut-wrenching stories of survivors who barely escaped with their lives.
And he should spend some time waiting with those who still don’t know what happened to their missing loved ones.
Finally, this president should apologize for putting politics over people when he chastised California and threatened to withhold federal aid.
To those Californians who never, ever want to see Trump set foot in our state again — and there are a lot of you out there — relax.
This scenario is never going to happen; Trump’s disdain for California and his lack of empathy are too powerful to allow him to visit, let alone apologize.
But it’s what should happen, because, as Zinke said, “This is an American issue.”
President Trump might wish it were otherwise, but California is as much a part of America as Arizona, or Ohio, or Florida.
And it’s time the president stopped treating us as demons and acknowledged us as Americans.