So, at 6am, when my husband woke me and said: “Good news, no fires yet today,” I was relieved. Not yet. Not today. It is good news.
It’s a staggering statement, and it’s no less staggering now that the President seems to have reversed course. On Friday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement that President Donald Trump had approved California’s request, only one day after the administration initially rejected it.
“Perspective for reconsideration?” The craven fickleness here appears to be just the latest crass power play by a callow President and administration that make clear they are willing to politicize even disaster relief.
Newsom’s language is the language of a governor appealing to a President on behalf of a suffering state and a damaged region. It’s the language of a local politician asking for help from a federal government which should supposedly stand ready to provide aid to citizens facing duress from natural or man-made disasters. This kind of request historically has had little to do with any kind of partisan politics: Whatever our deep disagreements as a country, we have attempted to behave, in the face of disasters, with our eye to the common good. Despite our deep disagreements, there has been some grace in this. We do not hold hostage the lives of citizens struck by disaster. Or we did not used to.
I am glad for my fellow Californians that the President approved the declaration. That it was ever a question remains a travesty.
And in an era when it feels hard to find new rage or new grief, here is a new sad level of deep fracture. Here is a new loss to any idea of sharing citizenship and civic space. There is so little we seem to agree on as a country any more: Whether to have a post office, whether to wear masks, whether Covid-19 is really that dangerous. We seem to be willing to disagree deeply about these things before even talking about whether we need health care, a social safety net, programs for environmental, economic and cultural repair. Our proliferating arguments, and the ensuing stagnancies they foster, are by now legion. But this would-be abandonment of an entire state is a different, shameful low. It is the loss of yet another norm, or common island. It is not surprising: This administration does not actually seem able to think in terms of common life or public good.
I don’t know about you, but someday I want to live in a country again — a country which has a robust public sector that takes pride in caring for its citizens, nurturing its lands, helping its small communities and its cities, supporting its farms and its arts, in fostering peace and bringing people into community. I would be happy to live in a country where we deeply disagree but also care for and respect one another. Right now, I live in a state where suffering Americans have become pawns instead of citizens. Right now, I live in a scorched state, at the caprice of a scorched-earth politician who seems to delight in sowing chaos and discord.
It’s not a tremendous surprise that so many voters in California do not see eye to eye with President Trump. We know that the temperature is rising. We see our forests are drying out. We are living through harrowing times and we are in constant danger. We are already being ravaged by climate change, and we need leaders who can plan real strategies for resilience. We need to plan for climate migration. We need to rebuild economies and tend to ecosystems and invest in green technology and foster community resilience and begin to sink carbon into the soil. But instead, our health and the livelihood of one of the world’s largest economies waits at the whims of someone who delights in being spiteful. Even now the wind is blowing, hot and dangerous.