A defining trait of Donald Trump’s presidency is his incessant destruction of reason, evidence and science in the service of his personal whims, conspiratorial mindset and political requirements.
On a day when Democratic nominee Joe Biden branded him a “climate arsonist” and global warming burst to the center of the campaign, Trump again ditched research and data for his own wild hunches and odd theories about California’s wildfires. And his counter-factual tendencies, which are responsible for widespread harm but are nevertheless embraced by supporters as germane to Trump’s political brand, were at work on multiple fronts Monday with America under assault from concurrent crises.
As wildfires swept across the West, causing dozens of deaths, destroying property and polluting the air with smoke, Trump abruptly shut down an official who warned that climate change was fueling the flames — by saying the weather would soon start “getting cooler.” Even by his own standards, it was one of the President’s most shocking comments on global warming — which he has previously referred to as a “hoax.”
A hurricane barreling toward New Orleans, meanwhile, revived memories of Trump’s reported Sharpie doctoring of a government weather map to back up his false claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed to Alabama. Reaction is also building to reports that the White House has put a global warming skeptic in a leadership role at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for much of the climate research produced by the government.
New reports emerged, meanwhile, of the President’s spinners trying to cook the facts on the pandemic, about which he misled the nation and which will soon claim its 200,000th American partly as a result. Trump continued to flout epidemiological guidelines by cramming people into indoor events that risked spreading Covid-19, exacerbating disbelief and extreme frustration among medical experts. At a Latino outreach event, the President was the only person in a packed room who was socially distanced — granting himself protection that his campaign stops are denying attendees.
These were just the latest occasions when a President who harbors bizarre theories on health, the environment and other issues — often distilled from conservative media conspiracy theorists — has turned away from the world-leading science and expertise that solidified US global leadership.
For years, Trump has rejected the counsel of his own intelligence services and preferred propaganda from US adversary Russia. He pushed discredited therapies for Covid-19, such as hydroxychloroquine, that federal regulators spurned. His Environmental Protection Agency has sent a wrecking ball through regulations meant to save the planet. He withdrew from the Paris climate accord to accommodate his embrace of fossil fuel polluters and has overturned fuel efficiency standards for cars.
But Trump’s visit to California for a briefing on the fires that have consumed more than 3 million acres in a record year and have also ravaged other Western states was perhaps his most stunning climate change intervention yet.
Trump doubled down on his theory that a failure to rake forest floors was responsible for creating tinderbox conditions. He cited an unnamed foreign leader who he claimed said they had mitigated their “explosive trees” problem by managing forest floors.
A consensus of scientific evidence has found that while forest management is important, longer dry seasons and warmer weather, including at night, are worsening forest fires in places like California. A study last year in the journal Earth’s Future found that between 1972 and 2018, California saw “a fivefold increase in annual burned area” and that “increased summer forest‐fire area very likely occurred due to increased atmospheric aridity caused by warming.”
Trump has no time for such science. After Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged there needed to be more brush clearance, he also asked the President to “respect” the scientific consensus that “climate change is real.”
When another local official told Trump it was time to take “our head out of the sand” by relying on the forest management excuse, the President pounced.
“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” Trump responded.
“I wish science agreed with you,” the official replied.