I spend a lot of time writing about what President Donald Trump says. But sometimes I have to write about what he’s not saying: In this case, he’s saying virtually nothing about the wildfires engulfing the Western United States right now.
At least 15 people have died so far in the ongoing seasonal blazes across the West Coast, while hundreds of homes have been destroyed and millions of acres have burned. As a series of wildfires in northern Oregon merge and move toward the outlying communities surrounding Portland, things stand to get even worse. And while the worst fires are in California, Oregon, and Washington, every state west of the Rockies has been affected. Even in communities not directly affected by the fires, clouds of smoke have lowered the air quality to dangerous levels.
The White House hasn’t completely ignored the ongoing crisis. The administration quietly approved disaster declarations for California last month and Oregon this month, freeing up federal funds for relief in those states. But the president himself is quiet on the disasters themselves. The Washington Post found no references to the wildfires in any of Trump’s recent public remarks and noted that the Oregon disaster declaration was even announced by a member of Congress, not the White House itself.
Trump’s personal Twitter feed is similarly devoid of any words of comfort or consolation for those affected by the fires, even as he warned of dire consequences should he lose the November election. “If I don’t win, America’s Suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, ‘Friendly Protesters,’” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday, as flames overran at least two small towns in Oregon, leaving mostly ashes in their wake.
Trump is not wholly alone when it comes to underappreciating the impact of Western wildfires, of course. Most of the nation’s political and media infrastructure is located in New York City and Washington, D.C., so matters affecting the East Coast receive a disproportionate amount of attention in the public sphere. Indeed, it’s telling that perhaps the most prevalent images in American climate discourse are of superstorms that might hit the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard in 20 years, not the blazes that annually ravage the West right now. The New York Times’ Charlie Warzel noted earlier this week how his own perception of the annual fire season changed dramatically when he relocated from the East Coast to Montana, a few years ago.