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California fires a reminder what Trump isn’t doing for climate change | COMMENTARY

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, in unincorporated Lake County, California.
Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires leap above Butts Canyon Road on Sunday, Aug. 23, in unincorporated Lake County, California. (Noah Berger/AP)

My wife and I have been warned that we may need to evacuate because of fires ravaging the Bay Area.

The climate crisis is largely to blame for these fires, which are growing in number and intensity every year. It’s also to blame for the increasing number and virulence of hurricanes now hitting the Gulf and Southeast, flash floods along the Eastern Seaboard, and fierce winds across the Midwest.

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A hurricane and a tropical storm that’s expected to become a hurricane are barreling into the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf has never before had two hurricanes at the same time.

In early August, Illinois and Iowa were hit with winds of up to 110 miles per hour. Homes were leveled. At least 10 million acres of crops were destroyed. Many people are still without power.

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Donald Trump isn’t singularly responsible for climate change, of course. But he’s done nothing to stop it. In fact, he’s done everything he can to accelerate it.

This week he was nominated for a second term as president. What won’t be on display is his abandonment of the Paris Agreement, his rollback of environmental regulations or his boundless generosity to the fossil fuel industry.

Yet I’ll be thinking about all this, and in a newly personal way. So will many others, including, I suspect, some people who voted for Mr. Trump last time, who reside in the Gulf states, on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest.

It’s one thing to understand climate change in the abstract. It’s another to live inside it.

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I recently got an email from a woman living in North Carolina whose house was destroyed in a flash flood. She describes herself as a lifelong Republican who’s now a “born-again environmentalist.” She said she’ll be voting for Joe Biden.

It’s much the same with the coronavirus. The gross numbers tell a horrible story. In just one day last week, 1,090 Americans died of it. Only five died of it in Canada that same day, six in the U.K., 12 in France, 16 in Japan, 16 in Spain, and 10 in Germany.

Yet not even these numbers hit home the way it does when you know someone who has perished or nearly perished from this disease. I know two who have died. A good friend came close. Like me, a growing number of Americans are experiencing the coronavirus personally.

Mr. Trump isn’t solely responsible. America’s public health system was never up to the task of dealing with a pandemic. But Mr. Trump’s stream of lies, denials and refusals to take responsibility have allowed the disease to ravage America.

He’ll never take responsibility and is more likely to blame China and then claim the official numbers are exaggerated. Many of Mr. Trump’s followers will believe him. But just as with the floods and windstorms and fires, an increasing number who have experienced COVID-19 personally have become hardened against his lies.

So, too, with the economic devastation that’s come in the wake of the pandemic. Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed. Many are growing desperate. Almost everyone knows someone who has lost a job, or whose wages have been cut.

There’s an old saying that “the personal is political.” People understand politics most profoundly when it’s connected to their own lived experience.

At the Republican convention, Mr. Trump and his enablers can be expected to claim Democrats want to turn America into a socialist state. They’ll issue racist dog whistles about “rioters and looters” in American cities. They’ll conjure up “deep state” conspiracies. They’ll lie about Joe Biden.

Some Americans will believe this drivel. But I suspect the lived experience of most others — including many who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 — will be more convincing. A threat to one’s life or the lives of loved ones, or the imminent loss of a job, concentrates the mind.

After almost four years, we’ve felt the consequences of his rotten presidency firsthand. Mr. Trump’s malfeasance is now more palpable than his fearmongering. The personal is political.

Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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