There’s been no doubt that all of Donald Trump’s plans (at least the ones that aren’t designed to hurt Muslims and Mexicans) stick it especially hard to his voting base. Gutting the ACA will throw millions more into uncertainty and poverty. He’s destroying programs that reduce misery in Appalachia (while obviously not doing anything to “restore coal”, because that’s impossible). He’s gutting Meals on Wheels, which I don’t remember being the province of smug liberals.
He’s doing this because he’s a Republican, of course, and a tremendous liar, both of which facts eluded (and in a way were hidden from) the people that voted for him. But regardless.
One area where this is especially true is in the Great Lakes, home of the Rust Belt, and the symbolic heart of Trump’s victory. On the surface, it is easy to see why. For decades, after the labor/environmental split, which was more a product of a few mistakes and deliberate divide-and-conquer strategies of management rather than an inevitable corporate outcome, “green” policies have been perceived as harmful, and even antithetical, to the white working class.
It’s a buncha eggheads at the EPA and college professors and long-hairs who are stopping us from working, with their regulations. The culture wars mixed with the regulatory battles (and are really part of the same phenomenon), to the point where anything that smacked of environmentalism was seen as un-American. That’s why Trump (like every other Republican) gets applause when he talks about destroying the EPA: he’s attacking BIG GOVERNMENT and he’s ANNOYING LIBERALS.
But the funny thing is that people who are opposed to all this green stuff in the main tend to like it when it is by their homes. That’s why Trump’s Great Lakes policies, in which he is going to gut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, have proven to be so controversial.
The GLRI is a $3 billion dollar fund started in 2010 by the noted hater of the working man, Barack Obama, to improve water quality, clean up and manage pollution, fight invasive species, and promote responsible waterfront development in the Great Lakes, especially the heavily industrialized areas.
These are Rust Belt areas in which the land was poisoned and the water destroyed. These are areas like Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, and others. But they aren’t just big blue cities: they are the innumerable small towns that have their own shuttered factories whose legacies are pollution and waste. And, even in those “blue” cities, there are the fabled white working class, whose lives are destroyed, are whose lakes are algal disasters.
The GLRI has been working not just to undo that legacy, but to bring the lakefronts back to life. One of the most remarkable things about Chicago is that, as ruthlessly and dirtily capitalistic as this city was, we never built to the lake, keeping it public and beautiful. As such, the waterfront is the heart of the city, and helps bring in millions of tourists.
Other cities can get in on that. The GLRI has not just been great for the Lakes environmentally, but it has had the effect of letting cities use their waterfronts for recreation, commercial fishing, and gatherings. Look at this image from the Niagara River (which is part of the Great Lakes system).
I mean, yeah, you can see the rot around it. But that’s the same area from the top picture! Now it’s an area where people hang out and can have jobs. It’s a tax base. It’s a place where life can be better.
For another great example of this, look at Erie, PA. It’s a town that was dying (and in parts, still is). But the GLRI helped clean the waterfront, bringing it back to life, a process Ohio had started but couldn’t afford on its own. Now there are big hotels, and a happening downtown with good restaurants and bars and stores. That’s economic progress. That’s turnaround.
And now that’s going to be thrown away. How nuts is this? It’s so nuts that even Scott Pruitt promised to keep funding the GLRI. Trump’s budget, the dream of Republicans, is so cruel and insane that even people who truly hate environmentalism are being wrong-footed by it. It’s pure nightmarish ideology.
What’s interesting (and predictable in a cheering, if also cynical way), is that Great Lakes Republican are angry. Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Rob Portman and others, who always talk about federal waste, think the GLRI should stay. (And remember, Scott Walker is generally fine selling off most of his state to the highest bidder.) And they’re right!
What we see here, of course, is that wasteful overreach is only wasteful overreach when it doesn’t impact you. These GOP governors and Senators know that they need the Lakes, both for drinking water and for their state’s economies. They’d be fine cutting the EPA budget for other areas. But not for the Lakes.
This, finally, is the ultimate in GOP cynicism, and I think paves a way forward for liberal environmentalism to reconnect with labor. After all, the Trump budget was made from his priorities and from those of Washington think tanks who have been wanting to destroy the EPA for decades. They’ve managed to make that seem like a good thing for the working class, but now that they have total power, the truth is known.
They think the working class should live with dead rivers and unusable lakes. They think the ground should be ruined and salted with chemicals. They think that the government has no need to help make up for the wastes of industrialization, in which the white working class gave their lives, only to be left with poverty and poison. Someone else made money off of it. Now you have to live there.
Remember, the people making these decisions don’t live in Detroit. They don’t live in Erie. They sure as shit don’t live in Buffalo. They’re rich people in think tanks who think that the poor and economically anxious should stay that way, and if cancer is the price, well, it’s your choice if you can’t afford health care. Trump, and the people making his budget, aren’t just cruel. They’re snobs.
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