How MAGA Republicans’ race-baiting in Ohio recalls their 'poor white victim strategy of 2016': journalist

How MAGA Republicans’ race-baiting in Ohio recalls their 'poor white victim strategy of 2016': journalist

After a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio in early February, many liberals and progressives described the crisis as a major wake-up call — one that underscores the need for tough environmental and safety regulations. Residents of East Palestine, which is about 40 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have been complaining of headaches, nausea, skin rashes and other symptoms.

But while the left has been addressing the East Palestine disaster from an environmental standpoint and a corporate responsibility standpoint, far-right MAGA Republicans — from Fox News' Tucker Carlson to former President Donald Trump — have favored very different messaging. Trump and Carlson have accused Democrats, including the Biden Administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, of being indifferent to the tragedy because its victims are mostly white, Republican and conservative. Those MAGA Republicans have framed East Palestine as a white grievance issue.

Carlson, on February 14, told viewers, "East Palestine is overwhelmingly white, and it's politically conservative. More than 70 percent of the voters in the surrounding counties supported Donald Trump in the last election. That shouldn't be relevant, but as you're about to hear, it pretty much is…. The people who live there are the wrong color."

READ MORE: How 'vile' MAGA Republicans are painting Ohio's environmental nightmare as a 'war on white people'

When Trump — who is seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — visited East Palestine on Wednesday, February 22, he claimed that Democrats are indifferent to the suffering of its residents because they are small-town Republicans. And Toronto, Canada-based journalist/radio producer Tayo Bero, in an op-ed published by The Guardian on February 23, emphasizes that this messaging recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign.

"As residents of East Palestine, Ohio struggle to pick up the pieces after a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals was derailed there nearly two weeks ago," Bero observes, "right-wing media has seized on this moment to launch baseless conspiracies about why the government’s response has been so poor…. It's the kind of political rabble-rousing that's become typical in the aftermath of any American disaster. But the race and class-baiting happening here is also eerily reminiscent of the Republican Party's poor-white-victim strategy of 2016."

Bero continues, "Back then, conservative dog-whistling about how white people in red states are pariahs in their own country who need to beef up their political muscle in order to ensure their own survival was a tactic that helped Trump win a presidential election. And I'm ruefully reminded of that period as I watch him and his supporters take advantage of East Palestine the same way."

The Toronto resident goes on to say that residents of East Palestine have "a lot to be upset about," but not because they are white.

READ MORE: 'He should be apologizing': Donald Trump hammered over rail deregulations during East Palestine visit

Bero argues, "The government completely dropped the ball both in protecting them from an incident like this, and in responding to it after the fact…. Still, what’s clear is that the derailment and its repercussions have way more to do with decades of federal government disinvestment in small, poor communities like East Palestine, than anything to do with race."

The journalist/radio producer adds, "And, Carlson’s suggestion on his show that places like Philadelphia and Detroit are 'favored cities,' and that Black Americans are the 'favored poor,' is laughable when you take even a cursory look at what’s happening in cities with a significant Black population like Flint, Atlanta and Chicago. The people of East Palestine should be able to move on from this without being used as pawns in an endless political battle.

READ MORE: 'We're not afraid to own our policies': Pete Buttigieg hits back at Donald Trump in Ohio train crash blame game

Read Tayo Bero’s full op-ed for The Guardian at this link.

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