Yesterday, Lakers superstar LeBron James and his family evacuated his Brentwood mansion, as did former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless rich people whose faces you might recognize. And even richer people who aren't used to packing up in front of cameras. Not everyone in Brentwood is rich, just like not everyone who lives on Fifth Avenue is rich. But "posh" and "tony" were the words reporters kept using yesterday. Fires burning out of control don't care whether the houses they destroy are posh and tony. Pack your Oscars, friend. It almost felt like gawking.
Today, the focus has shifted over the mountains to the Simi Valley, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I worked for every Democrat who ran against Ronald Reagan. I managed to get booed at the Reagan library for suggesting that respect for the presidency doesn't mean you agree with all his policies (Mrs. Reagan was so sufficiently embarrassed that she sent flowers). But I came back whenever I was invited, not only because I did believe in respect for the presidency but also because the place so vividly recalled the man it memorialized.
You could imagine Ronald Reagan surveying the majestic spread, the library perched atop the hill, very much a part of the landscape surrounding it.
Until today, I would have told you it was a place of endless quiet, a reflection of Reagan the outdoorsman, Reagan the rancher, Reagan the Californian.
And, as it turns out, of Reagan the environmentalist.
It was not what I expected. Every president since John F. Kennedy has been warned of the dangers of climate change, but Republicans (some, not all) have been embracing fake science for decades to protect their best friends/donors.
Harvard professor and well-known progressive Cass Sunstein recognized that the Reagan administration was generally wary of what it feared would be costly regulation but that "with respect to protection of the ozone layer, Reagan was an environmentalist hero." Sunstein credits Reagan as the "prime mover" behind the Montreal Protocol's phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals. Reagan, who once suggested as candidate that trees cause pollution, became a president who understood that the costs of phasing out these chemicals was a great deal less than the costs of the cancers that would result from the failure to do so.
The aisles at our pharmacy are clogged with people desperate for relief. I cough. My son sneezes. The lady at the register talks in a whisper. "Smoke," we all say quietly. Smoke and ash are not good for your health. I don't know how the exhausted firefighters keep going in the brutal heat, and no one knows if and when these heroes will pay the price.
Are you watching, Mr. President?
Do you see the flames licking behind the library, almost blocking the view of Reagan's Air Force One inside?
Do you see people running down the streets carrying pets and children, cars stalled in traffic for hours?
Do you understand what it is like for all the disabled people trying to pack their most precious belongings and somehow get out in minutes?
There's a joke in California that you don't get to know your neighbors until there's an earthquake and everyone runs outside. In every fire, there are stories of people who not only meet their neighbors but also carry them to safety.
Word is that LeBron James' family had trouble finding a hotel room on Monday night. I'm sure they made do. Most of the places where fires are raging are not nearly as posh as Brentwood, and it's not the availability of hotels that is daunting but the extraordinary price of finding housing in an already expensive housing market.
Reagan was an "environmentalist hero" who understood the need to act internationally.
And Trump, almost certainly too consumed with the news about his impeachment to pay any attention to what is happening in California, is no one's hero. California didn't vote for him, so why should he care?
Even if it is the Reagan library in the path of the flames ...
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Saiho at Pixabay