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OPINION

The Forgotten Town: East Palestine's Catastrophe Ignored by Biden

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A catastrophic train derailment has unleashed toxic fumes and pollutants into the air and water of East Palestine, Ohio, leaving the town's inhabitants reeling with uncertainty about their future. The once-thriving community now stands in a state of disarray, with residents left wondering whether they will face long-term health consequences and whether their town will ever be the same again.

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Despite the severity of the situation, weeks after the disaster, President Joe Biden has failed to visit. To make matters worse, he decided to instead visit Ukraine. This move has only served to exacerbate the sense of betrayal felt by the people of East Palestine. With this move, he has turned the concept of "America first" on its head, treating Americans last, and leaving many Americans feeling as if they are last in line for his attention and concern.

The people of East Palestine are not political pawns to be ignored or overlooked. They are hardworking citizens who deserve compassion, empathy and a strong leader who will take their concerns seriously. Rural America has been hit hard in recent years, and East Palestine is no different. It is time for our elected officials to prioritize the needs of all Americans, regardless of their location or background, and work toward creating a brighter future for everyone.

East Palestine is a town that has endured its fair share of challenges. Once a bustling community centered around coal mining, the town has been dealt a severe blow by the industry's decline. Job losses and economic hardship have become a way of life for many residents, despite the valiant efforts of local leaders to attract fresh investment and industries. Compounding the town's woes is the opioid epidemic, which has wreaked havoc on the lives of many, leaving them struggling with addiction and the resulting social and economic consequences.

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Despite the ongoing struggles of East Palestine, U.S. politicians, including Biden, have largely turned a blind eye to this community. While the president has taken steps to address the concerns of rural America through initiatives such as the American Jobs Plan and the Rural Partnership Program, he has neglected the specific needs of communities like East Palestine, and with his visit to Ukraine, he has cemented the idea in the heads of rural Americans that they will always be ignored and treated as subhuman because their votes count little in presidential elections.

To be clear, the conflict in Ukraine is a pressing issue that demands attention and engagement from the United States. However, it is equally vital that we do not overlook the struggles of East Palestine and other similar communities. The two issues are interrelated, as the decline of traditional sectors like coal mining in the United States is linked to global economic trends and the shift toward alternative forms of energy production. By ignoring the challenges faced by communities like East Palestine, the president risks further entrenching the economic disparities that are driving much of the discontent and division in the country.

Furthermore, the disregard for communities like East Palestine prompts legitimate questions about the president's dedication to achieving his stated aim of unifying the country. If the administration remains preoccupied with global issues and geopolitical concerns at the expense of the needs of rural and working-class Americans, it risks further heightening the feelings of estrangement and frustration that have prompted many voters to embrace populist and nationalist movements. This is not to suggest that the administration should ignore international issues but instead that it needs to balance these concerns with a commitment to domestic issues and the needs of all Americans.

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Biden's choice to overlook the environmental catastrophe taking place in East Palestine during his recent visit to Ukraine is a worrisome occurrence that raises significant concerns about his priorities and dedication to the welfare of all Americans. While the conflict in Ukraine is a crucial issue, the plight of rural and working-class communities in the United States must not be ignored. To confront the economic inequalities that are fueling much of the unrest and polarization in our country, the administration must prioritize the needs of all Americans, including those in disregarded and struggling communities like East Palestine.

The sentiment among many rural Americans that they are being overlooked and ignored by Democrats remains prevalent. The perceived lack of attention from the Biden administration, highlighted by missteps from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to the president himself, reinforces the sense of neglect felt by many in these communities. While Biden is in Ukraine, former President Donald Trump is in East Palestine showcasing the care and attention a leader should exemplify during a major disaster such as this.

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, Biden's actions risk conveying the impression that he is out of touch with and unsympathetic toward struggling Americans. This perception could alienate swing voters who are already discontented with the direction of the country. The people of East Palestine are in urgent need of assistance, and it is the responsibility of the federal government to collaborate with state and local authorities to provide not only the necessary support and relief to alleviate the current crisis but also a sign of empathy and care by our elected officials to show that they care more about them than they do about their votes.

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