It’s one of the myths of history that the Roman Emperor Nero fiddled while his city burned. For one thing, there probably weren’t any fiddles for at least another thousand years, but more importantly, according to historical accounts, Nero, who was 35 miles away at the time of the fire, returned to Rome to help with relief efforts. The tale was likely just a stand-in for Nero’s failure as a leader and the perception that he was more interested in self-promotion and his pleasure than in doing the work of being the leader of the massive Roman Empire.
History wasn’t kind to Nero at least in part because it was written after his death by those who disliked him. If only he’d had Twitter to set the record straight in real-time.
Two thousand years later, enter Ryan Zinke, stage extreme right. While 44 fires are burning across Montana, including one that is so threatening to Glacier National Park that staffers were removing artifacts from the Lake McDonald area over the weekend, was Secretary Zinke, a Whitefish boy, calling for more aid for our state? Was he leading a command center and visiting the surely exhausted and demoralized firefighters who have been fighting the worst fire season in memory?
No. He was out enjoying a little time fishing on the Chesapeake, thousands of miles from the front lines of fires that are threatening our communities, livelihood, and recreational opportunities.
It’s hard to begrudge a person a little vacation time, but it seems like his one term in Congress made Secretary Zinke accustomed to leading the good life of getting paid a rather handsome salary while taking an inordinate number of days off. Remember, it was just weeks ago that Zinke was enjoying the warm Greek sun while he was supposed to be reviewing monuments across the United States, a task he still hasn’t really completed.
A review of the Secretary’s Twitter stream reveals very little regard for the people of the state he was once elected to serve. Instead of information about the fires in Montana and the federal response to them, readers have been treated to a stream of self-promotion from the NRA (more on that later this week), three fishing pictures, and discussion about more oil exploration. Apparently, the good people of Montana don’t even rate “thoughts and prayers” these days.
It’s not just that Zinke is ignoring the state that helped launch his political career, of course. Instead of fighting for adequate budgets, Zinke has defended the Trump budget proposal which would have slashed firefighting initiatives. From the NY Daily News:
As smokeaters in the Golden State are battling 14 major wildfires, Congress is debating a White House proposal to cut $300 million from the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire fighting initiatives and $50 million from its wildfire prevention efforts — all on top of a 23% reduction of federal funding for volunteer fire departments around the nation.
In fact, Zinke issued a press release on August 30th that was only slightly more tone-deaf than his fishing photo opp over the weekend, in which he praised Donald Trump for the tax cuts that will let people take road trips to national parks. The Soviet-style praise of the press release would be embarrassing under normal circumstances, but to claim that the magic of tax cuts will make road trips to national parks more affordable while cars are literally being turned away from areas of those national parks because of raging fires is unconscionable.
There’s nothing Secretary Zinke enjoys talking about more than what a fighter he is. Faced with a President whose reckless budget would only make fire danger more severe and faced with a fire that is burning down a place he has literally called his backyard, though, Secretary Zinke seems to have lost the will to fight. Or even to pretend to care.
Hope the fishing was great, though!