Even though it’s still summer, fall colors were particularly vivid this week.
No, not the leaves in Minnesota (at least not yet). But the trees, shrubs, grasslands — and homes — burning out west in a wildfire season gone, well, wild. The infernos left landscapes looking like cinematic scenes from an apocalyptic flick. The Golden Gate Bridge, in just one example, had an eerie gold backdrop as California’s fires turned day into dusk.
They also turned the news narrative, however briefly, back to climate change — the existential threat that’s recently receded as a topic as cascading crises buffet the country.
Crises like the racial reckoning racking the nation since the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Since then, new cities such as Kenosha, Wis., have become epicenters of America’s stark divides and confrontations between citizens and police.
In Portland, news of 100-plus days of red-hot anger was at least briefly eclipsed by Oregon’s orange skies as Gov. Kate Brown now deals with wildfires as well as gunfire that turned once-peaceful protests deadly.
Skirmishes have occurred elsewhere as a backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement emerged, including from some fans at Thursday night’s NFL kickoff who booed a moment of unity between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.
As for the commander in chief, President Donald Trump has campaigned on, and sometimes with, the police, calling for defending, not defunding, the thin blue line that he sees as besieged. And last week, he ordered an end to any diversity training that refers to “critical race theory” or “white privilege” — concepts he called “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
However, any controversy over the president’s appeal to aggrieved white voters paled in comparison to White House revelations in “Rage,” the latest Trump-era bombshell book.
Several elements will make the incumbent uncomfortable, but the most prominent is the president’s admission he deliberately downplayed COVID. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told journalist Bob Woodward last spring. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Of course, a pandemic panic did ensue (as any mid-March grocery shopper could attest to). Many evidently didn’t take direction from the president, but heard and heeded the words of public health officials. Others, however, perhaps reacting to Trump and a cacophony of conservative media voices, did not, and the resulting initial inaction contributed to the catastrophic American response.
While the president was predictably criticized for downplaying the pandemic, Woodward was, too, as many wondered whether Trump’s rose-colored glasses were matched by green eyeshades that may have shadowed the journalist’s judgment. After all, Woodward held his White House scoop for his book instead of immediately sending a red flag about the president’s lack of alacrity in his public statements. Waiting was wrong from a public-health perspective. It also unwittingly allowed Trump to use the reporter’s reticence as a defense, arguing that Woodward’s delayed disclosure showed that his inconsistent coronavirus comments weren’t consequential.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Senate Democrats blocked the GOP’s “skinny” version of a coronavirus-relief bill, meaning that while fat cats on Wall Street, Silicon Valley or other envious environs remain relatively unscathed, millions will continue to suffer from the COVID economic crisis.
True, the worst of the recession may be over. But the sclerotic economy was evident in Thursday’s weekly jobless report. A higher-than-expected 857,000 workers filed for unemployment, and there wasn’t much to celebrate on Labor Day as blue- and white-collar job losses were met with White House and congressional paralysis.
Alas, the congressional cavalry isn’t coming soon, especially with so many lawmakers set to decamp for the campaign trail, and with Trump and Joe Biden bidding to flip red and blue states and pivot purple ones. The list includes Minnesota, where Trump and Biden will visit next Friday in the wake of events this week featuring Jill Biden in Prior Lake and Donald Trump Jr. in Duluth.
The current and potentially future first families aren’t the only ones trying to sway presidential votes. China and Russia are targeting both campaigns, Microsoft reported on Thursday, with Beijing particularly probing the Biden campaign. That assessment is different, to a degree, from one issued by the director of national intelligence in August, which suggested that the Chinese government preferred Biden over Trump.
That’s not the only intelligence discrepancy revealed this week. On Wednesday a whistleblower said White House and Department of Homeland Security officials suppressed information about Russia’s attacks because it “made the president look bad” and told analysts to instead concentrate on China and Iran.
While all these crises manifest as national issues, most are actually transnational ones. So too are others making news this week, like the global migration crisis. Overseas, thousands were displaced by fires ravaging Europe’s largest refugee camp in Greece. Here at home, a federal judge blocked Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants in the census. And global terrorism, which used to be the transnational threat that most worried Americans, was in the news again with Friday’s somber 9/11 remembrances.
Like the kaleidoscope of colors soon to grace our landscape, this week’s news hues can become a blur, especially since all the concurrent crises are crucial. Yet one — climate change — may be the most enduring.
This week’s pledge by nine drug companies to “stand with science,” and a separate FDA vow on scientific integrity, should increase confidence that a vaccine will eventually alleviate, if not end, the coronavirus crisis and the economic fallout.
And however painful the process, racial relations can (indeed must) improve. Also, the election will at least provide a temporary respite from the spite amplified by foreign forces like Russia and China, and most tragically, by Americans themselves.
Climate change, however, is intensifying, and may make calamities like the western wildfires the new norm. Addressing it requires sacrifice, an ethos made more difficult by the toxic politics present in all the other crises. So amid a week when the news narrative’s fall tints were so apparent, the color, and concept, of green may be the most profound.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.