Political system flaws prevent US from addressing disasters like ones in Ohio
Published: Feb 21, 2023 10:33 PM
Debris covers the ground and nearby cars after an explosion at the I. Schumann & Co. metals plant, on February 20, 2023 in Bedford, Ohio. Photo: AFP

Debris covers the ground and nearby cars after an explosion at the I. Schumann & Co. metals plant, on February 20, 2023 in Bedford, Ohio. Photo: AFP

On the day US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kiev, a blast at an Ohio factory took place. Just more than two weeks ago, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, releasing poisonous substances into the ground and water. The crumbling of the US' infrastructure is the tragedy of American politics today, and a symptom of the country's declining governance capabilities.

An explosion in an Ohio metals plant sparked a large fire on Monday, killing at least one person and injuring at least a dozen others, according to media reports.

The incumbent and recent former US presidents have expressed their ambition on investing more on infrastructure, especially during their presidential campaign and the initial stage of their tenure. Biden even sells infrastructure improvements as a way to counter China. 

"As a matter of fact, what Biden has done turned to be exactly the same as his recent predecessors. Their concern for internal affairs is so slight that you can even ignore it. During the election campaign, the emphasis on domestic matters and infrastructure was just a gimmick to gain votes," Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "But after taking office, what they are primarily engaged in is to make profits for some interest groups by creating international disputes. In this regard, the US is a unique country."

On the whole, there are obvious obstacles for the US in its quest to improve its infrastructure, which mainly stems from its political system. The US federalism lacks a national coordination mechanism, which is affected by factors such as mutual restraints between the federal government and states as well as the vicious development of its two-party system. 

Furthermore, about 85 percent of the US' critical infrastructure is in the hands of the private sector, with the pursuit of profit rather than the provision of public goods and services as the primary goal. This results in a lack of effective motivation for infrastructure maintenance and construction.

Even though the Biden administration in November 2021 signed the infrastructure plan into law, which would put $550 billion in new funds into transportation, broadband and utilities, the plan is progressing slowly. There is a significant gap with the efficiency of building infrastructure in comparison with China. And the US government is deficient in putting forward an effective response plan to deal with this issue. Therefore, it is anticipated that various security accidents or disasters resulting from infrastructure defects will repeat in the US, and will constantly impair the country's national image.

In response to Biden's unannounced visit to Kiev on Monday, a number of MAGA-aligned Republicans blasted Biden for going to Ukraine before making a visit to East Palestine. Former President Donald Trump is reportedly to visit Ohio Wednesday.

Lü noted, the Biden administration's practices in playing down the disasters that happened in Ohio is inappropriate beyond doubt. But when its Republican counterparts take office, their moves will not be different from Biden's team. By then, the Democratic Party will be criticizing the GOP president in the same manner. 

This is determined by the US political system. At present, both parties rack their brains to politicize domestic matters and even disasters as instruments to attack each other, in a bid to gain more support. Unfortunately, no one is thinking carefully about how to address these problems and how to prevent similar tragedies from repeating, Lü continued.

The frequent occurrence of such accidents in the US, as well as the constant attacks toward the Biden administration from GOP radical members, Trump and his supporters in response to these incidents will further tear apart the US political and social consensus and induce more intense political debates, further exacerbating political polarization.