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By the time President Trump flew West—and by the time his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, gave his first speech on the matter—the fires had been burning for weeks. Millions of scorched acres and dozens of smoke-filled days later, the national political conversation had finally caught up.
Why did it take so long? Here are two factors to consider:
Wildfires don’t map neatly onto polarized political narratives. Despite the scale of the damage, “the images of the Portland riots are far more likely to dominate the public debate in Oregon and beyond,” Anne Applebaum argues.
The Electoral College enables candidates to deprioritize certain voters. “If every additional vote in California, Oregon, and Washington … mattered as much as every additional vote in a swing state, Biden might have spent the past few weeks touring the West Coast,” Peter Beinart argues.
Further reading: My colleague Robinson Meyer offers a useful analogy for understanding the intensity of the fires: Imagine boiling a pot of ravioli until all the water evaporates, until the pasta begins to smoke. This phenomenon helps explain why large swaths of the forests have lit up like kindling.
One question, answered: Short of a vaccine, rapid tests are supposed to make the biggest difference in getting life back to normal.