Commentary

Paradise Lost: Trump’s Deeds More Incendiary Than His Words

By BILL BONVIE | Nov 21, 2018

Of all the controversial tweets that have emanated from the phone of President Trump in the past two years, perhaps none has been so incendiary as his response to what is now regarded as the worst wildfire in California’s history – the one that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed an as-yet undetermined number of its 23,000 residents.

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

Of course, the president’s subsequent visit to the site of that conflagration and promise to send federal aid to much-beleaguered California may have been an attempt to mitigate the outrage sparked by that sentiment. Additionally, there is the fact that, as noted by Gov. Jerry Brown, the forests surrounding what was once Paradise are on federally managed lands.

But it’s worth noting that even a firsthand view of the devastation apparently didn’t alter the president’s view on the role of climate change and the activities that have promoted it. As he told the CBS News program “60 Minutes” last month, “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”

In Trump’s case, however, such expressions are far from mere political rhetoric. They’re often precursors to deeds that, while eliciting nowhere near as much attention or indignation, actually threaten to undermine the health and safety of Americans.

And the deed that should really have been shocking to our sensibilities in the midst of the infernos still consuming so many homes and businesses was the nomination he announced on the day before visiting the fire-ravaged area. Former coal lobbyist Andrew R. Wheeler is his choice to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Like the man he temporarily replaced as acting director, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s controversial first EPA administrator, Wheeler has been given a mission: to undo that of the agency he supposedly will head. As noted in The New York Times, Wheeler has been instrumental in reversing environmental policies, such as those aimed at curtailing climate change, among them “a sweeping regulation on emissions from coal-fired power plants and a rule reining in pollution from vehicle tailpipes.”

Such “deregulation,” of course, is a key part of the Trump agenda that he and his supporters claim has helped rev up the economy and create more jobs by removing any obstacles to the expansion of industry. Where coal is concerned, it is also repayment of a campaign debt by the president – who has been falsely mythologized as not owing anyone anything – to one of his biggest supporters, West Virginia coal baron Bob Murray.

And while Trump might try to cavalierly dismiss as purely speculative the causes and effects of climate change, or how CO2 pollution might be helping turn places like California into tinderboxes, the fact remains that his uninformed and politically motivated opinions don’t cut any ice with scientific experts in the field who know better. Nor do they change the “facts on the ground” – the smoldering evidence of entire, once-thriving communities that have stood for decades now laid waste by firestorms that have spread into developed areas with unprecedented ferocity and speed, and which are now being fanned by our accelerated use of fossil fuels.

And what’s especially ironic is that this is happening at a time when nearly 8,000 active-duty and National Guard troops have been deployed to the Mexican border, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of between $200 million and $300 million, for an effort to halt a caravan of Central American asylum seekers and immigrant laborers from entering the U.S.

Those troops are needed, we’re told, to stem the threat of an “invasion” that somehow poses a threat to our society and our lives. Contrast that with dozens, and possibly hundreds, of everyday Americans being incinerated in their homes and their cars by an unforeseen invader – one actually aided and abetted by the president’s relaxing of the very regulatory barriers that have been created to protect them.

So, yes, the words emanating from the occupant of the White House may be crass and incredibly callous toward people who have suffered grievous losses, but his deeds are far, far more incendiary.

And if you’re among those who continue to believe such deeds are actually “accomplishments” that are good for the economy and help to create jobs, you might want to ask yourself what kind of economy and how many jobs now exist in a place like Paradise, Calif. And how many “trillions of dollars” they’re going to end up costing us.

Bill Bonvie, a freelance writer based in Little Egg Harbor Township is a co-author of Badditives:  The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them and author of the essay collection Repeat Offenders.

 

         

 

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