California Fires
© REUTERS / STEPHEN LAM
Vehicles are seen along Interstate 80 as flames from the LNU Lighting Complex Fire are seen on both sides on the outskirts of Vacaville, California, U.S. August 19, 2020
The wildfires ravaging the entire west coast of America seem an allegory of the nation's demise. Whole towns are being evacuated in a hurry before an unstoppable wall of fire. The country is going up in smoke.

What's particularly remarkable is the dearth of consensus about the wildfires. There's no doubt that the blazes this year have reached new records of devastation compared with previous years. The entire west coast seems engulfed with fire or choking smoke.

Yet the explanations differ wildly for the phenomenal crisis. An ecological cause seems the most convincing. Detrimental climate change and years of cumulative drought have cascaded to create inferno conditions.

President Donald Trump and his supporters are deniers of climate change. So, in order to avoid a glaring contradiction between their views and the physical world, Trump's political base have come up with an alternative explanation for the wildfires - it's the work of arsonists belonging to nebulous leftist groups like "Antifa".

This is denial compounded with delusion. Firefighters and law enforcement officers have largely dismissed social media claims of arsonists as "malicious rumours" which are only undermining efforts at bringing the crisis under control by peddling confusion and diverting scarce resources.

Nevertheless, Trump-supporting conspiracy networks like QAnon have continued to promote the notion that the US west coast is being burned down by leftwing "domestic terrorists".

To even conceive of such an enormous disaster - with over 100 massive fires scorching the three states of California, Oregon and Washington - being the result of arsonists is a sign of delusional thinking. At least seven other states, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, are also reportedly fighting wildfires. Are we to believe this national phenomenon is the work of subversives? Therein lies a propensity for paranoia, which is not an uncommon trait in US politics.

However, that kind of "explanation" is a convenient way for Trump supporters to avoid the issue of discussing climate change. For his part, the president hasn't publicly talked about wanton acts of arson. He has blamed the fires on "poor forest management" which still has the effect of avoiding acknowledgement of climate change as a factor.

The "Antifa arsonists" narrative also plays conveniently into Trump's campaign to turn the forthcoming election into a law and order referendum. Trump has accused Democrat rival Joe Biden of "appeasing domestic terrorists" while putting himself forward as saving America from "socialist revolution".

The way Trump and his rightwing supporters tell it, the widespread public protests against allegations of police brutality and racism are all demonstrations by violent mobs. This is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of protests across the US in recent months have been documented as peaceful.

Like the wildfire rumours, it is easier and more politically expedient to blame public protests on violent radicals belonging to "Antifa" and Black Lives Matter. In that way, dealing with underlying systemic causes are avoided: climate change in the case of wildfires, and police force racism in the case of protests.

In any event, where America has a profound problem is the absolute lack of national consensus about its many pressing challenges. The lack of consensus is greatly exacerbated in the age of social media where rumours and delusions can become axiomatic articles of belief. Without consensus, there can be no dialogue for a process of learning and solving through agreed policies.

The Trump camp definitely has a defect of engaging in "alternative facts" and "post-truth politics". This is not to claim that the Democrats have solutions, far from it. But the latter do seem to retain a cognitive ability to at least acknowledge objective realities. They may not do much about fixing it, but at least some modicum of discussion is possible, which is a start. Not so with Trump and his followers. They seem to increasingly live in a feverish fantasy-world which is taking on fascist features.

The American house is burning down indeed, not just literally. But there seems little chance for a working consensus to stop the consuming flames.

The wildfires, the protests against policing - and we could add the denials of a public health danger from the coronavirus pandemic - show that America is a place of parallel universes. That makes politics almost impossible to function.