No other American president would contemplate cruelty of ending California fire aid

No other American president would contemplate cruelty of ending California fire aid

It the midst of an unprecedented — and completely avoidable — government shutdown that is hurting government workers, contractors and farmers across the nation, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE inexplicably decided to aim his Twitter ire at the victims of California’s devastating wildfires.

In a recent tweet, Trump said he has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stop providing disaster relief funds to the state, which are intended to help get victims back on their feet and help ravaged communities recover.


His stated rationale for the cruel threat is his long-disproven claim that wildfires in California are the result of bad forest management by the state. There are many reasons the president’s claim is false, not the least of which is that most of the forestlands in California are federally owned — and therefore, currently managed by his own administration.

State and local governments in California manage a scant 3 percent of forestlands in the state. Beyond being misplaced, Trump’s scapegoating of California here seems totally manufactured.

The causes of The Golden State’s exploding wildfire problem are complex. A long drought, increasing winds, and beetle infestations — all associated with climate change — are the primary culprits. Logging practices and heavy development in the urban forest interface also play a big role.

It does not help that the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget request proposed slashing federal funding for wildfire management, and eliminating the Joint Fire Science Program that funds research on fire prevention and mitigation.

California, by comparison, has been more proactive, with then-Gov. Jerry Brown signing an executive order last May increasing wildfire funding and implementing projects designed to improve forest health and increase protection from wildfires. The state’s building codes have also been updated to require the use of fire-resistant building materials.

However, Trump’s baseless scapegoating of California is not the main offense here.

Can you ever imagine Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, or any other previous president threatening to halt emergency funding to blameless disaster victims as they struggle to recover? Can you imagine them even contemplating such a threat?

Of course not. Why? Because such cruelty — especially aimed at fellow Americans — is far beneath the statesmanship, empathy, compassion and basic morality that we rightly expect — and are used to getting — from our presidents.

As a conservative and a person of faith, I have been appalled by this president’s behavior many times before. So much of his character and his instincts are antithetical to Biblical and traditionally conservative values. 

However, it is the apparent total lack of empathy for fellow human beings that is the most alarming.

Back in November, Trump also reportedly told GOP leaders that he wanted to cut and rescind disaster relief money for Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. On top of that, he has consistently disputed the official death toll there.

However, he has not threatened funding for states like Florida and Texas, which he won in 2016. With this president, everything seems motivated by personal self-interest.

Helping Americans recover from disaster should always rise above politics, but it is worth noting that the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, California occurred in a strong Republican district that Trump won, as did numerous other wildfires across the state.

Previous presidents, while imperfect, always seemed to set politics aside and rise to the occasion during national calamities or natural disasters. They provided comforting words, they sometimes wept, and they certainly did not threaten to pull disaster relief to those affected. They showed genuine empathy.

Of course, empathy should also result in honest, well-informed efforts to address the threats. Trump continues to ignore or openly reject the real causes of more frequent and more destructive wildfires.

All Americans, especially those whose lives have been upended by disaster, deserve better. Much better.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.