Poor East Palestine. It’s bad enough that the northeast Ohio village is living through the nightmare of a toxic train wreck. Apprehension and uncertainty grip the town. Nobody knows what the long-term health effects of air and water contamination will be after the controlled burning of cancer-causing chemicals from derailed tanker cars. Official reassurances that all is well have been walked back before.
The East Palestine community, briefly evacuated as a precaution, is suffering. Imagine the questions and concerns that torment residents. Now imagine those same traumatized Ohioans being exploited by political opportunists to own the libs and stoke racial division. A new low even for MAGA politicians and their right wing media shills.
They didn’t travel to the Ohio/Pennsylvania border to help residents under extreme duress. They came to harangue Democratic leadership and score political points off a tragedy. They prefer performance to policymaking. Developing solutions to prevent another train disaster is hard.
So MAGA agitators bash and berate. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has been mercilessly skewered by Republicans — whom they derisively call “Mayor Pete” — for everything from his “failed leadership” to what he wears and his sexual orientation. Ohio congressman and Jan. 6 coup plotter Jim Jordan hasn’t authored and passed a single bill in 16 years, but he can disparage Dems all day on Twitter.
“Maybe hiring a guy with no transportation experience to be Secretary of Transportation wasn’t a good idea?” he tweeted after slamming Buttigieg’s response to the trail derailment as “a total disaster.” (Federal officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies were at the site within hours after the incident)
“Not shocked at all by Mayor Pete wearing dress shoes to East Palestine,” tweeted Ohio Senate GOP spokesperson Tom Evans. (Not shocked at all that it’s petty and untrue.)
“He’s the gay guy, so we gotta give him something, let’s make him Transportation Secretary,” sneered Donald Trump Jr. “You know Pete (a Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar, Iraq War veteran, and two-term mayor of his South Bend, Indiana hometown) has no business in that position,” Junior added in his homophobic rant.
Tucker Carlson, the shameless TV huckster who took a principled stand against the truth to inflate the lie of a stolen election for ratings, joined in the exploitation of East Palestine with vile race-baiting. He suggested that the mostly white town in Columbiana County was not afforded the same federal attention and resources as the “favored poor” who live in “favored cities” usually run by Democratic mayors with large Black populations. See where this is going?
J.D. snake-in-the-grass Vance, who also took a stand against the truth to get elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio, ran with the Carlson description of East Palestine as a “poor benighted town whose people are forgotten, and in the view of the people who lead this country, forgettable.” Vance underscored the plight of “forgotten” Americans (read white) and called them “our voters.” (As opposed to the “favored poor”?)
MAGA fomenter Charlie Kirk echoed the racialized rubbish with a blast about Biden’s “crusade on white people” and a diatribe about how Democratic leaders ”hate working class whites.” But the worst charlatan to parrot the trumped-up “You are not forgotten” MAGA mantra was the loser who made an underwhelming appearance in East Palestine to hand out red ballcaps and bottled water with his name slapped on the front.
The disgraced, twice-impeached ex-president, who fraudulently tried to overturn an election he lost, feigned concern for the frazzled residents. The lackluster performance was the height of hypocrisy. If Trump cared a whit about protecting the public he wouldn’t have gutted train safety regulations as president or spent years openly mocking and rolling back environmental safeguards. He doesn’t give a damn about what voters in even a solid red county breathe, drink, or contract medically five to 10 years from now.
He accused the Biden administration of “indifference and betrayal” regarding its response to the train derailment, but it was he who was indifferent to the welfare of countless communities along railroad tracks when he bowed to rail-industry lobbyists. It was Trump who betrayed his supporters in East Palestine by catering to corporate polluters at their expense.
But that’s the MAGA masquerade. Pretend and perform. Never problem-solve. Show up for photo-ops in a devastated community. Get your digs in about Dems and the derailment. Leave. One writer likened the political charade in East Palestine to a second train wreck. An apt description.
Meanwhile, the actual work of fixing what went wrong in a railroad town paying dearly for cut corners and runaway profits goes on. Federal and state officials are coordinating clean-up operations and vowing to hold Norfolk Southern accountable. The Biden administration and Secretary of Transportation pledge to reinstate safety protections scrapped by Trump as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills.
Question is will MAGA Republicans commit to pragmatic legislation to address the 1000 train derailments every years (there’ve been three since Ohio’s) or just continue to make a mockery of East Palestine’s misery with pointless posturing? Will they investigate broken or defective railroads screaming for resolution or revert to theatrics? Jordan just launched an investigation into Buttigieg. There’s your answer.
Poor East Palestine.
Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.