This is the third year running in which Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold federal emergency funds to fight California’s wildfires, based on lunatic theories about their causes. Clearing lumber and debris might reduce fire risk in some areas, but not in many of the places where wildfires have actually struck in California in recent years, such as grasslands. “Raking” the forest floor, as Mr. Trump has recommended, would have done little to prevent catastrophic fires caused by bad power lines that ignited dry grass. The fact that so many of these fires abut suburban communities reveals why the damage is so expensive — and that additional logging would not solve the whole problem.
It is often difficult to determine whether Mr. Trump believes his own nonsense or deploys it cynically. Revelations from former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor suggest the president’s primary motive may be revenge. “He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him,” Mr. Taylor recounted. Thankfully, the president has not managed to follow through on his defunding threats — yet.
No matter what else factors into them, Mr. Trump’s weird outbursts about forest cleaning are clearly attempts to deny the obvious: This is what a warming world looks like. Northern California is suffering through a massive heat wave and a highly unusual barrage of fire-inducing lightning strikes. While it is too soon to say for certain how climate change interacted with these weather patterns this year, longer and more intense heat waves are among the most confident predictions scientists can make about what will happen as average global temperatures rise. Warmer temperatures are also expected to increase the frequency of lightning strikes by encouraging the updraft effects that drive them. Meanwhile, scientists warn that California and the American West are in a long period of “megadrought” that is making the landscape progressively more arid.
The Trump era has shown Americans what people in other nations learned when ruled by their own incompetent demagogues: It takes ever more outlandish falsehoods to deny realities that stare one in the face.