LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the wake of disastrous flooding that claimed the lives of more than 30 Kentuckians, those in the state are not only dealing with cleanup efforts but also vitriolic comments that suggest the victims deserved their fate because of the political makeup of Eastern Kentucky.
Many Kentuckians of all political stripes have, in one voice, called out these criticisms as lacking a basic level of empathy and humanity.
One anonymous user tweeted that, while heartbreaking, “this is what they (Kentuckians) voted for.”
“This is heartbreaking, but at the same time, this is what they voted for... The sad thing, is I think they will continue to vote for the same people over and over.”
Another tweeted that “now blue states will be be bailing them out — yet they elect (Senators) Mitch (McConnell) and Rand (Paul).”
It is true that many Kentucky politicians at the federal level, particularly those in the GOP, have voted against legislation aimed at combating climate change. But Kentuckians far and wide have starkly criticized justifying the devastation wrought upon the victims, many of whom are poor and represent a sliver of Kentucky’s 4.5 million people, by blaming them for the state’s voting behavior.
Reacting to a tragedy by saying that the government should adopt different policies is one thing – several climate scientists have lain blame at the feet of a worldwide increase in CO2 emissions – but it’s another altogether to suggest that anybody ‘had it coming’ because of their perceived political leanings, they pointed out.
Writing for the United Kingdom-based publication The Independent, East Tennessee native Skylar Baker-Jordan said that in an article titled “Liberals saying Kentucky deserves these floods need to take a hard look at themselves.”
“Blame the people in power, by all means,” Baker-Jordan wrote. “But don’t blame some of the poorest, most neglected, most mocked and marginalized people in our nation.”
The five counties that are confirmed to have lost lives in the floods – Knott, Perry, Breathitt, Letcher and Clay – average a median household income of $32,464.
22 to 37 percent of their residents live in poverty.
Kentucky’s median household income is $52,238 and 15% of residents live at or below the poverty line. America’s median household income is more than $67,500.
Baker-Jordan, a political leftist, said that “an Appalachian Democrat, I can barely believe what I’m seeing from people who should be on the same side as me.”
And many Democrats have, just as resoundingly, called out the blame game.
Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge put it bluntly: “If your take on the devastation in Eastern Kentucky is to say folks ‘deserve it’ for how they vote, you’re an ***hole.”
Eastern Kentucky author Silas House framed the reaction of a cynical few as part and parcel with negative attitudes toward the region that fail to reckon with its once-central role in the American economy.
“So many on here (Twitter) lecturing me about how my people live off them. No. Appalachia has fueled this country since the beginning. With timber, coal, gas, our children, our lives. We keep getting pushed down and we keep getting back up,” House wrote.
Another nuance often lost on outsiders commenting about the tragedy: Eastern Kentucky is not a political monolith, and was until recently under control of the opposite party.
For a long time, Appalachian Kentucky in the Eastern part of the state was solidly under Democratic control.
Only in the 21st century has a majority of Eastern Kentuckians voted for Republicans at the federal level reliably. The shift took place more slowly on the state level, and much of the local politics of Eastern Kentucky counties is still dominated by Democrats. The Herald-Leader published a report on the shifting political sands of the region in June.
Richard Young, executive director of CivicLex, wrote in a Herald-Leader op-ed that some vitriolic responses to the floods are in part due to the “rot of partisanship” that has infected American politics.
But the best counterexample, he said, is the behavior of Eastern Kentuckians themselves.
“In our own home, we can find hope,” Young wrote. “Despite these trends, the past few days have shown that Kentuckians know the path forward and out. As soon as it became clear that our Eastern Kentucky neighbors needed care, people across the state began organizing supply drop-offs, fundraisers, and mutual aid.”
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