For Australia, it’s all “love” from President Donald Trump. But for California, it’s mostly fire and fury.

Devastating wildfires raged through both places over the past year, but Trump has taken markedly different tacks when talking to their leaders.

Wildfires are just the latest issue over which Trump appears to be friendlier with a foreign power than he is with Democrats in his own country. And it brings into stark relief Trump’s no-holds-barred style when grappling with politicians who disagree with him – even when their state is burning.

This week, Trump shared words of encouragement both in a phone call and later on social media with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, as the continent finds itself in the middle of a devastating bush-fire season.

“We love Australia!” Trump wrote on Twitter in response to a message from Morrison thanking the U.S. president for a recent phone call. The president’s deputies at the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department dispatched more than 150 firefighters across the Pacific to help battle the blazes as part of a long-standing practice of United States, Australia and New Zealand exchanging fire assistance.

Yet only two months earlier, Trump scolded California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, for supposedly not managing the state’s forests properly – even though most forested acres in California are actually managed by the federal government.

The president, as he tells it, told Newsom the first time they met that he “has done a terrible job of forest management” for allowing too much water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to flow into the Pacific. The water policy, controversial among California farmers who want the water instead, has essentially no known effect on forest fires.

Nevertheless, Trump went on to threaten to cut off firefighting funding until Newsom can “get [his] act together.”

There have been other times when Trump and Newsom have seemed to get along when dealing with the fires. In October, before Trump’s scolding tweets, Newsom praised Trump as “a partner” and said his administration’s response to the disaster was “extraordinary.” And Trump has praised the firefighters in California.

Yet overall, Trump is taking different approaches with leaders who have different ideological bents.

Morrison, the leader of Australia’s right-leaning Liberal Party, is like Trump a big proponent of coal, which is one of the continent’s leading exports.

“This is coal,” the future prime minister famously said in 2017 while holding up a grapefruit-size lump of the fuel in Parliament. “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be scared! Won’t hurt you.”

Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, by contrast, have spent much of the past three years fighting the Trump administration in court to stop it from rolling back rules meant to slow down climate change.

“You don’t believe in climate change,” Newsom shot back at Trump last November in response to his threat to cut funding. “You are excused from this conversation.”

Whether on this side of the world or the other, wildfires are growing in more frequent and more intense as higher temperatures driven by the burning of fossil fuels are creating drier conditions.


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