Several days ago The New York Times reported that the reason President Trump is so fixated on The Wall is that his staff used it as a sort of mnemonic device, and he got stuck on it. He "hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder," write Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker, so a border wall was the perfect way to get Trump to include lots of anti-immigrant xenophobia in his rambling diatribes. But now he can't let it go.
This type of mental target fixation appears to be a signature characteristic of Trump's fading mind. Another one is the idea — picked up from God knows where — that California is fire-prone because the state government is not spending its apparent federal forest subsidies properly. He threatened to cut them off in November, and on Wednesday he apparently told the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop payments of … something.
Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2019
America has become a prison, with a doddering lunatic as our national jailer.
As an empirical matter of "Forest Management," Trump is of course off his chump. For one thing, the state government owns almost no California forest land. On the contrary, the federal government itself owns and manages some 57 percent of that land, through agencies like the USDA, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and so on.
For another, the recent huge, deadly California fires didn't even happen in forests. They were instead in the combination of grassland, shrubland, and houses that constitutes the "wildland-urban" interface. Forest management could probably be done better, but it simply has nothing to do with the question at hand. Finally, a major exacerbating factor behind these fires is climate change. Days and nights have been hotter, winds stronger, and both drought and heavy precipitation more common — leading to dangerous boom-bust cycles of rapid plant growth that then dries out, creating a giant tinderbox.
The Trump administration is specifically implicated in all of these problems. Obviously, if California forests are poorly managed, then the first place to look to fix things is the federal government — but we can't even do that, because Trump himself shut down the government over his addle-brained wall obsession. His administration is also working diligently to increase the amount of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, thus increasing the damage climate change will do to the American people.
Now, as Mike Davis explained many years ago, government policy actually is implicated in one major factor behind the fires, namely the constant push of more and more housing into fire-prone chaparral and scrub woodland. That has been deeply unwise, and both state and local governments in California have been in denial for decades about the risks of that development.
But again, federal home insurance and other policies are just as implicated in that story as state and local efforts. Even if FEMA payments (by the way, it's unclear whether Trump has actually done anything yet, or what it is he would even do) were to be used to push development away from risky areas, it's wildly unjust to just cut them off out of the blue. The federal government helped create this problem, by rights it should help fix it.
But it's senseless to expect Trump to be able to even remember more than three to four topics other than himself at once, let alone understand a simple logical argument about any policy whatsoever. The man's mental acuity, never that sharp in the first place, has eroded down to the nub. A bright fourth grader would deliver orders of magnitude better performance.
There's no escape, though. Trump's goofy, nonsensical fixations dominate the national discussion and the operation of the American state. Furloughed federal employees are going without critical medicine because they haven't been paid in nearly three weeks. This idiotic California dispute, based on false pretenses and nonsensical on its face, is just another Trump tax we are all paying every day.
Perhaps we should be grateful he can only pay attention to a few things at once. Maybe by the end of the year it will be down to just one.