Newsletter: Trump takes his anger out at California, again

President Trump talks with then-Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom as then-Gov. Jerry Brown listens during a visit Nov. 17 to a neighborhood in Paradise destroyed in the Camp fire.
President Trump talks with then-Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom as then-Gov. Jerry Brown listens during a visit Nov. 17 to a neighborhood in Paradise destroyed in the Camp fire.
(Evan Vucci / AP)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. For local readers, today will be the start of a week of rainy weather (and snow in our mountains) in much of Southern California. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

This week saw two of President Trump’s worst malignancies on display — most obviously, his basic incompetence at governing in causing the partial federal government shutdown that continues with no end in sight; and his compulsive bullying, even of people in desperate need of help.

The latter behavior has to do with his desire to cut off all federal aid to the victims of last year’s fire, a punishment he previously threatened over his profoundly uninformed insistence that California manages its forests poorly (never mind the fact that one of the fires burned primary dried-out grassland, while the other originated in a federally administered national forest). It also overlaps with Trump’s behavior in causing the government shutdown, in that it likely has everything to do with the president’s dislike of California.

Right now, the most powerful person in Congress is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who happens to be from California and is the biggest obstacle to Trump’s demand for a wall on the southern border. At the same time, our new governor Gavin Newsom delivered veiled criticism of the president in his inaugural address Monday. I can only guess that this might have prompted Trump’s threat this week to punish some of California’s most vulnerable residents, a bullying tactic that the L.A. Times’ editorial board says shows both his authoritarianism and his worryingly poor understanding of the facts:

The threat is probably no more serious than it was the last time Trump uttered it. He has frequently shaken his fist at California — over its immigration policies in particular — and has rarely followed through.

Still, Trump’s response to the fires, like his response to congressional Democrats’ refusal to waste billions of dollars on a bigger, longer border wall, reflects his disturbingly authoritarian view of the presidency. Stung by criticism from California’s Democratic leaders, Trump is proclaiming his intention to ignore the federal law governing disaster assistance and simply turn off the spigot of federal dollars. Frustrated that lawmakers won’t fund his pet project at the border, Trump threatens to declare a national emergency so he can ignore the will of Congress and spend the money anyway.

What’s especially galling about Wednesday’s sniping was Trump’s willful ignorance about the nature of California’s wildfire problem.

California is, in fact, getting its “act together,” moving to spend $1 billion over five years to reduce fire risk and better prepare communities for the larger, more destructive fires driven, in part, by climate change. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday called for even more money — an additional $100 million this year — to help accelerate the thinning of dry, dense forests and brush.

Some 60% of California’s forests are on federal land, however, and as Newsom points out, the U.S. Forest Service budget has been cut by more than $2 billion since 2016. Instead of properly funding fire prevention on federal lands, where some of the most destructive fires in the state’s history have raged, Trump has repeatedly railed against the “gross mismanagement” of forests in California — whatever that’s supposed to mean. Trump is myopically focused on forests when some of California’s largest fires have been in the brush and grasslands.

But such details apparently mean nothing to Trump. California leaders have dared to question his decisions and challenge his demands, therefore — in the World According to Trump — they do not deserve his government’s support.

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There is a security crisis in border states, but it’s not about immigration. Wildfires pose a major risk to California and other southwestern U.S. states, but Trump’s partial government shutdown has put much of the work to address that danger on hold, notes the editorial board. The slowdown in other federal workforces — air traffic controllers, for one — is also cause for grave concern. L.A. Times

Back-and-forth on the impending teachers’ strike: Earlier this week, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl insisted that the demands of LAUSD educators have very little to do with pay, and mostly address the overall working conditions faced by teachers that create a poor learning environment for students. District Supt. Austin Beutner’s retort: A teachers’ strike would solve nothing, and both the district and the union should lobby Sacramento for more education funding. Readers, generally, have been sympathetic to teachers.

From the seminary to politics, to exile, to politics again and finally to the family ranch: Former L.A. Times metro editor Miriam Pawell traces the circuitous route former Gov. Jerry Brown took to get back to the rural stead where it all began for his family in California generations ago. She writes: “Breeze in Latin is ‘anima,’ Mr. Brown, the former classics major, points out, and anima also means spirit. It is a spiritual place where things can happen, and people can come together, the place where an 80-year-old ex-governor can walk in his grandmother’s footsteps, and plot yet one more reinvention.” New York Times

More women start serving in Congress, and right-wing misogynists lose it. There’s already a theme to much of the reaction to the new Congress so far: What women do and say — especially if it’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — is driving men crazy. Columnist Virginia Heffernan writes: “These moth-eaten virgin-whore tropes have become self-satirizing. If you think misogyny has faded since ‘Mad Men’ days, you’re wrong. In fact, as women pack the halls of power, it seems more virulent than ever, as conservatives convulse in fear at losing their old rubrics of control. They lash out more than Don Draper ever did.” L.A. Times

Speaking of AOC, as Ocasio-Cortez has come to be known by her fans, her “Green New Deal” is a sign of the left’s intellectual exhaustion, says columnist Jonah Goldberg. The New Deal dates all the way back to the Great Depression, but subsequent iterations of the liberal trope of putting our economy on a war footing to fight some perceived social ill have not gone away since then, Goldberg says: “American liberalism has been recycling the same basic idea: The country needs to be unified and organized as if we are at war, but not to fight a literal battle.” L.A. Times