For a group that constantly complains that Democrats enjoy making “everything about race,” the right’s biggest names are suddenly eager to push the narrative that the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the Biden administration’s response to the disaster are the result of racism against white people.
That’s the big takeaway from Tucker Carlson, who has been hellbent on accusing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg of intentionally neglecting East Palestine, a majority-white town. According to Carlson, Buttigieg is instead occupied with efforts to increase job opportunities for minorities and improve roads in Philadelphia and Detroit—cities that, Carlson sneeringly mentions, “vote Democrat.”
“East Palestine is overwhelmingly white, and it’s politically conservative,” Carlson said during a February 14 broadcast. “That shouldn’t be relevant but as you’re about to hear, it very much is.” He added: “If this had happened to the rich or the ‘favored poor’, it would be the lead of every news channel in the world. But it happened to the poor town of East Palestine, Ohio, whose people are forgotten, and in the view of the people who lead this country, forgettable.”
In a separate Fox Business interview, Republican Sen. J.D. Vance echoed a similar narrative, blaming the Transportation Department’s racial equity initiatives for setting the stage for the train derailment. “I’ve got to say, the Secretary of Transportation…talking about how we have too many white male construction workers instead of the fact that our trains are crashing…This guy needs to do his job.”
"I've got to say: the Secretary of Transportation not talking about this issue…talking about how we have too many white-male construction workers instead of the fact that our trains are crashing at alarming rates. The guy needs to do his job." – Senator @JDVance1 pic.twitter.com/WzTizjk0Hh
— William Martin (@wsmartin218) February 15, 2023
It’s true that a host of systemic issues contributed to the East Palestine train derailment. But as my colleague Abigail Weinberg wrote last week, much of those issues are tied to anti-labor practices and corporate greed—not some manufactured instance of the federal government hating white people. After all, it was Norfolk Southern, the rail company behind the crash, that chose not to update its “Civil War-era” brakes. It’s Norfolk Southern that refuses to give its workers paid sick leave, while simultaneously refusing to hire enough workers. Meanwhile, the company made $4.8 billion in operating profit last year.
It’s against this backdrop that Buttigieg on Tuesday urged rail companies to immediately improve safety measures, including providing paid sick leave to workers and alerting state emergency response teams in advance when trains are carrying hazardous gas tanks through states.
That Fox News and the right are twisting an environmental disaster into bait for the white grievance crowd may not be surprising. After all, these are the same folks who pushed outlandish election lies despite privately mocking those very lies. But it comes as especially grim today, as desperate residents look for relief and accountability, only to find some of the country’s most powerful talking heads are all too eager to seize on their tragedy for more hate.