The poor folks of East Palestine, Ohio.
There they stood last week, staring into the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of Air Force One, which at that very moment was supposed to be flying overhead — 150 miles from the White House as the crow flies — making its way from Washington D.C. to Detroit.
The president of the United States has yet to visit this small working-class town on the Pennsylvania border since feckless railroad executives thought it best for the bottom line to light off five railroad cars of toxic chemicals.
President Biden promised he would visit here just as soon as his schedule allowed. Residents thought this might be that day. Maybe on his way back from Metro Detroit, where he stopped to shout his support to a few striking UAW members through a bullhorn for 87 seconds.
It was not to be. Instead, Biden reboarded Air Force One (he took the short stairs) and flew to Frisco for two days of political fundraising.
Biden’s appearance didn’t matter much, ambivalent auto workers told me. While they appreciated the gesture, they knew it was naked electioneering. Political Season. Time to fake the working folk. They know Senator Joe voted for NAFTA and trade with China.
Biden’s 15-minute photo-op was designed to trump Trump’s speech the following evening in Macomb County; billed as an address to striking autoworkers. Problem is that the factory where he spoke in Macomb County was a non-union plant. If there was an honest to goodness group of striking UAW workers there, they were the ones lined up on the road protesting the presence of the Big Orange.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Trump has gone so far as to encourage UAW members not to pay their dues.
The guest list for Trumpapalooza was cobbled together by a local right-to-work acolyte who believes the UAW is there to protect pot smokers and alcoholics. In short, Trump’s “pro-labor” rally was as fake as his 16 electors.
There can be no politics without lies, and Trump and Biden’s double feature last week unofficially raised the curtain on the season of mass mendacity.
Down in forgotten East Palestine, Ohio, people labor to get some federal attention paid to them. Trump did come in February, three weeks after the train derailment and distributed some red MAGA hats and bottles of “Trump water.” The following day, Biden’s Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg paid a shameful visit, tweeting a picture of himself in a vest and hardhat. It was like the Detroit stopover — only in reverse.
If autoworkers in Michigan think last week’s sock puppet theater will translate into house seats at the opera, think again. Just look toward Ohio.
The EPA refuses to test people’s homes or their blood streams for vinyl chloride in East Palestine. It is a chemical so toxic that the secondary substances created when it’s burned have been banned for use in war.
The EPA’s man in charge of the town refused an interview. He’s the same guy who was in charge of the Fed’s response to the Flint water clean-up — and you know how that turned out. The EPA’s man in charge of field operations in East Palestine is a guy named Ralph. Just Ralph, according to an EPA spokesman. The spokesman couldn’t say if it was Ralph Kramden, Ralph Macchio or Ralph Lauren.
I wish the auto workers luck. But I’m afraid they are on their own. Ask the folks of East Palestine who were looking to the clouds, hoping to catch a glimpse of Scranton Joe, but only catching rain drops in their eyes.