California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Dear President Trump: Tragedy is Not a Political Opportunity

    The politicization of tragedies and crises, such as the current wildfires, is a devastating practice that undermines the pain of those affected. Policy discussions concerning these type of events should be delayed until long after there has been time to heal and rebuild.

    As the Woolsey and Camp fires continue to blaze through California, President Trump has already taken to Twitter in a tweet posted on Nov. 10 to suggest that the only reason for these โ€œmassive, deadly and costly forest firesโ€ is poor forest management. He also threatened to withhold federal payments to the state, saying โ€œbillions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.โ€

    The Camp Fire has taken at leastย 42 lives, destroying more than 6,700 structures, while the Woolsey and Hill fires have resulted in the deaths of at least two people and mandatory evacuation notices for around 200,000 people, according to CAL FIRE.

    In light of this immense destruction and loss, these comments from President Trump are wildly inappropriate and hurtful to those who continue to have their lives turned upside down by wildfires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection does not deserve to be threatened, especially when there are so many efforts in motion to contain fires that are still blazing at this moment.

    Politicization of the current wildfires, by the president or anyone else, before theyโ€™ve even finished burning is the last thing that California residents need as they fear for the safety of their homes and lives. This is a time for the president and other political leaders to express concern and empathy, not threats based on misleading information.

    โ€œI think as politics invades more and more of public life, itโ€™s inevitable that the window of time thatโ€™s given before you politicize a tragedy is getting shorter and shorter. So much so that there may not even be a window anymore,โ€ California Lutheran University Political Science Department Chair Josรฉ Marichal said.

    The problem is that communities need time to rebuild and regroup following a disaster. On Sunday night, families throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties began to return to their neighborhoods, and faced countless fears and thoughts including what level of damage they might find.

    Gov. Jerry Brown described these increasingly destructive fires as โ€œthe new abnormalโ€ in a press conference on Sunday, Nov. 11. Brown said science tells us that โ€œdryness, warmth, droughtโ€ and other factors affecting wildfire threats will only continue to intensify moving forward. Despite President Trumpโ€™s suggestion that the only cause of current fires is forest mismanagement, the influence of climate change on the increased intensity of wildfires should not be ignored.

    In this part of California, four of the five warmest summers on record have occurred in the past five years, according to research led by University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain. Swain also found that the effect of increased warmth over the past several months has dried out vegetation more than normal.

    The length of Californiaโ€™s fire season is longer than ever before and there is a direct link between rising temperatures and dry brush that acts as fuel for fast-moving fires, according to the University of Californiaโ€™s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Based on these findings, the assertion that fire severity is entirely because of forest mismanagement is simply not true.

    However, despite these concerns, the primary problem remains that this is not the time nor the place to discuss even the influence of climate change, as this makes a political statement in the face of natural disasters such as fires as well. Marichal said that assigning blame so soon, and especially for the purposes of introducing a policy discussion, is what defines politicization.

    โ€œWhen you start saying itโ€™s not an act of nature, but itโ€™s the fault of forestry management or itโ€™s the fault of global warming, then youโ€™ve assigned somebody to blame,โ€ Marichal said.

    The stateโ€™s current focus is on those who are impacted by the fires, including residents and firefighters, instead of โ€œthe presidentโ€™s inane and uninformed tweets,โ€ according to a statement the governorโ€™s press secretary, Evan Westrup, gave to The Hill on Sunday. This is an appropriate response compared to the presidentโ€™s, and is exactly where the focus should be for citizens, state politicians and the president.

    โ€œThereโ€™s a correct human way to respond, especially if youโ€™re a community leader,โ€ Marichal said. โ€œItโ€™s to make yourself available and to share in the grieving of your community members. Itโ€™s to give people information about how they can help and where the resources are if they need those resources.โ€

    Unfortunately, this wasnโ€™t the first time this year President Trump criticized California fire efforts in the midst of crisis.

    Eight people died and 1,079 residences were destroyed in the Carr Fire, which burned through 229,651 acres of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California during August 2018, according to CAL FIRE. In the case of this fire, too, President Trump inaccurately claimed in a Twitter post that the magnitude of the fire was caused by โ€œbad environmental laws,โ€ which he said were responsible for water waste.

    We can all be more mindful of the conversations we have about crises. While it is important to discuss climate change and fire prevention later on, we must take and allow the time for those around us to heal.

    This tragedy is not an opportunity to point political blame. President Trumpโ€™s comments in regard to the ongoing fires takes focus away from the stories of real people who are living through these crises, and it is an inexcusable waste of an opportunity to offer comfort to a state in mourning.

    Carly Aronson
    Opinion Editor