Biden admin torched by anger as concerns over toxic train ferment
Incident may be awakening moment for Americans to realize the govt's inability; US politics may become more toxic
Published: Feb 15, 2023 09:28 PM Updated: Feb 15, 2023 11:15 PM
A damaged memorial stands near the railroad tracks on February 14, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. A train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed on February 3, releasing toxic fumes and forcing evacuation of residents. Photo:VCG

A damaged memorial stands near the railroad tracks on February 14, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. A train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed on February 3, releasing toxic fumes and forcing evacuation of residents. Photo:VCG

Concerns and anger have been simmering in recent days after the US media finally woke up to the alarming Ohio train derailment catastrophe. Many vented their anger directly at the Biden administration, whose bungling of domestic affairs, for example on the railway system and climate change, has led to catastrophes. Yet the US system and government, deeply poisoned by bipartisan struggles and too obsessed with fighting with "imaginary outside enemies," may continue to ignore its people's cries. 

The impact of Ohio train derailment accident will be far-reaching, as it will be an awakening moment for the Americans to realize that their government is unable to respond to their sufferings; thus voters will project their hope on extreme political figures in the next presidential election, who will inevitably lead the US politics to a far extreme end. 

The US president tweeted on Tuesday that "Because of our climate investments, our kids will breathe cleaner air, drink safer water, and get to school powered by clean energy." The president added, "That's the future we're building," tapping US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan, "let's finish the job." 

Under his tweet, Buzz Patterson, a columnist replied: "not in Ohio." Another asked: "What about Kids growing up around a train wreck in Ohio?" Ohio Senator JD Vance also blasted the Biden administration for abandoning the people of Ohio. "We are ruled by unserious people who are worried about fake problems instead of the real fact that our country is falling apart in some of the most important ways," Vance said. "The leaders of this country have decided to disregard the people of East Palestine."

The US president has so far hardly touched such a serious incident for the US people, and few in his administrations made comments, so far so much for Biden's so-called being responsible for its people, and valuing of human rights, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

Li referred to an American apocalyptic political satire film "Don't Look Up", which involved a scene when politicians tried to downplay a crisis. "The US government this time is trying to tell the public, do look up at the balloon, but don't look at Ohio," said Li. 

Darnell Turner, a young US teacher living in Maryland, was also appalled by the US media's initial ignorance of the incident. He told the Global Times that"If our locally elected governments and our own media are willing to downplay a horrible catastrophe like this, it scares me to think of what else they're willing to hide from the public."

Chinese experts also warned that the Ohio train accident is just the tip of the iceberg and a wake-up call for US politicians, who have bungled a bunch of domestic affairs at home. They pointed out that due to slowing economy, US railroad corporations are slashing train crews, and refusing employees paid sick days, which stroke anger among railway workers.

Before the railway workers planned to stage a seven-day strike in December, Biden signed a bill into law making a rail strike illegal, preventing workers from walking off the job weeks before the holiday season, US media reported. 

The Ohio incident has revealed the danger of ignoring railway workers' welfare, and cutting their workforce to the bone; and the Biden administration has put economic profits over railway workers' safety, human rights, which are likely among the factors that resulted in the Ohio incident, experts said.

Melodie Imberg, a Cincinnati-area resident, which is close to Ohio, told the Global Times that "I have a lot of anxiety for what this will do to the environment and the general health of those it'll affect. It's already contaminated the river and the air, killing a lot of wild life. Who knows how long it will take for it to cause cancer in the affected areas. It's heart breaking knowing that this is a direct consequence of greed-driven politicians."

Except for the public anger over the problem that is eating into the railway system, what Biden dubbed as "backbone" for the country's supply chain, the public also scolded the government for its environmental policies.

Despite the EPA has assured the public that it did not detect "any levels of concern" in East Palestine as of Sunday, residents in the nearby area reached by the Global Times still expressed concerns for the long-term effect of the release of toxic substances. 

"I am scared, to be honest. We have a garden we are getting ready to plant in a few months and I don't know if it will be safe to consume the food we grow. I also live directly on the river so I am not sure if anything can evaporate and affect our air quality," Shelbi King, who lives in Northern Kentucky along the Ohio river, told the Global Times. 

"The Environmental Protection Agency," Vance continued, "should be focused on clean air, clean water. It's the thing I'm most focused on for the people of East Palestine, but so often they're focused on environmental racism and other ridiculous things instead of fixing the problem that they are established to fix."

US plays down toxic Ohio train derailment. Cartoon: Vitaly Podvitski

US plays down toxic Ohio train derailment. Cartoon: Vitaly Podvitski

Sliding to extreme

The Ohio incident is bound to peter out public support for the Biden administration, Li Haidong said, noting it becomes more and more clear to the public that the US government and current system is unable to solve their sufferings and dilemma, as the two parties are too involved in bipartisan struggles; and engaging the country in hegemony against other countries, so they turn a deaf ear to people's demands. "What US political elites and the general public want are totally different things." 

The US has in recent years been investing more resources and money into the broad national security field, whilst neglecting its domestic problems, Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. He also pointed out that officials in Biden's cabinet don't even have relevant experience in their department.

Take Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as an example, he has long been criticized by other politicians and public that he "lacks experience." Before serving as Transportation Secretary, he worked as an Indiana mayor without also serving at the state or federal level. "Lack of professionals in departments that are highly professional is a big shortcoming of an administration,'' said Lü.

Chinese experts predicted the impact of the Ohio train derailment will also be "far-reaching," especially with the upcoming US presidential election in 2024.

Mistrust between the US government and the public is running deeper, so naturally voters will project hope on extreme political figures, whom some voters believe will change the status quo, said Li, noting that on the other hand, those figures will make the US political circle become more and more extreme, and more toxic. 

Prague-based American journalist Bradley Blankenship contributed to this story.