After a February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, national interest in investigating the accident waned. That has now changed drastically. Over the past 10 days, EPA Administrator Michael Reagan, former President Donald Trump and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg have all visited the city. A lively national political debate also ensued, but like the burning of the wagons, this generated much heat but little light.
The disaster has escalated into a proxy war as existing political divisions erupt and the failures of both contemporary sides come to light. The Democratic Party is struggling to respond effectively to the crisis with empathy rather than the rhetoric of technocratic politics. On the other hand, the Republican Party under Trump speaks right and advocates wrong.
The dialogue on the right is particularly vivid. Some conservative media groups have accused the mainstream press and Democratic establishment of ignoring the story, even as Fox News has lagged behind its competitors . Yet Trump and other pro-MAGA Republicans, such as newly elected Ohio Senator JD Vance, have cited East Palestine as an example of the Democratic Party's neglect of the Midwest's white industrial working class. Tucker Carlson goes further and argues that the response has been slow because the country is conservative and predominantly white .
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The derailment is a kind of strange crisis as the material consequences are obvious. Unlike some recent rail disasters, no one died in the first derailment and fire; In contrast, a 2013 disaster in Quebec near the US border killed 47 people. The long-term effects on the environment are still uncertain. State and federal officials say the water is safe to drink and burning chemicals will not cause long-term health damage. Many of the evacuees who had smelled, smelled and seen the flames were unsure.
The diagnostic and policy ideas put forward by MAGA Republicans offer little hope. In a speech in eastern Palestine on Wednesday , Trump said the Biden administration had offered support because he was visiting. He said, "They wouldn't do anything for you. Vance made similar allegations. But Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, while not close to Trump, said he turned down federal aid : "Look, the President called me and said, 'Anything you need.'" I didn't have him after that call contacted. one or the other, I don't know. Eventually, possibly under pressure from Trump, the EPA decided to respond to the debacle but ignored the situation.
Vance offers a more interesting perspective, describing "the turmoil at the nexus of corporate power and government power." He's right, and he's right that many counties don't trust the federal government. But these points collide with the fundamental paradox of MAGA, the crutch of politics: populism in the front, corporatism in the back. Vance said he wants bigger fines for companies like Norfolk Southern, the railroad that destroyed the train. However, once Trump was in office (as the Biden White House is fond of pointing out), his signature initiatives consisted of rolling back environmental regulations, reducing penalties for white-collar criminals, and reducing government oversight. It also extended to waiving safety regulations for trains carrying chemicals .
[David A. Graham: Art Dealer]
Trump has found that if he shows up and makes people feel like he's on his side, he can get away with measures that don't really help. This ability is one of the reasons East Palestine voted for Trump twice. Despite their best case for corporate responsibility and environmental protection, the Democrats seem unable to communicate effectively with voters in places like East Palestine.
Neither side has much to offer after the initial cleanup, although their keen interest in the disaster could help bring immediate aid to eastern Palestine. The city is dependent on the railways, which, despite good safety rules, poses a total danger. The prospects for further economic development are slim. Trump clung to racial and nonracial discontent as a salvation. Biden's massive stimulus packages could reshape the US economy, but they couldn't hurt depressed small towns like eastern Palestine. "We are here and we will remain here for as long as possible to keep you safe and to help East Palestine recover and develop," Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw wrote in a statement over the weekend . A promise he probably won't be able to keep. Memorize. Recovery may be possible, but progress is still a long way off.