We can rally to help EKY without worrying about politics
The comments, one after the other, felt like punches of the gut.
“You get what you pay for, guys.”
“These people have voted against their self-interest for decades.”
I was crushed to read these reactions and dozens of others like them to a national reporter’s tweet about the floods that devastated communities in eastern Kentucky. I wondered how one’s humanity could allow this reaction to the death and destruction that has happened in our Commonwealth. How can one look at the stories of children swept away from their families and immediately think of politics?
But sadly, it has become a common response to tragedies in our political culture – one that is so deeply ingrained in the rot of partisanship that victims have opportunities to ‘own’ the other side for points on social media. It becomes natural to use as.
While today’s version comes from liberals across the country who feel comfortable chasing us for our electoral results while our state sinks, it is a bipartisan trend. After the 2018 California wildfires in one of our nation’s most liberal states, conservatives jumped at it with similar tweets and memes. This social media-fueled dehumanization of tragedy is such a powerful tool that we have inspired other countries to use it against ourselves.
It is the latest symptom of our increasingly corrupt political culture in the United States. In the past two decades, people’s dislike of others in an opposing political party has increased by 400% in the United States. Partisanship is at a 50-year high. While this is a global trend, the United States ranks among the world’s industrialized nations for political polarization.
Our hatred for each other is so intense that our political life is taking a toll on our physical health. A recent study from the University of Nebraska found that nearly 40% of American adults find politics to be a source of personal stress, adding that it causes fatigue, feelings of anger, and anger.
And let’s be clear – this deep division can lead to the collapse of societies.
But, we can find hope in our own home. Despite these trends, the past few days have shown that Kentuckians know the way forward and out.
As soon as it became clear that our Eastern Kentucky neighbors were in need of care, people across the state began organizing supply drop-offs, fundraisers, and mutual aid. Social media is helping those on the ground to meet necessities such as clean water, medical supplies, bleach and toilet paper. Cultural activists are scrambling to help preserve the archives at Hindman Settlement School and Appleshop. People are creating Facebook groups to reconnect with their neighbors with family heirlooms and photos that have been stolen from their homes by the floods.
When western Kentucky was devastated by tornadoes last year, Kentuckians reacted in a similar way. We rallied around communities like Mayfield, giving our time and treasure to those who had lost everything. We didn’t stop asking about his political persuasion before helping; We pitched because that’s what a community does. That sentiment was beautifully demonstrated this weekend by Mayfield’s fire department, who drove six hours across the state to assist in Southeast Kentucky.
I have had the privilege of becoming close friends and collaborators with many of the areas affected by this weekend’s tragedy. He has taught me what it means to be a Kentuckian and how the fates of all our communities – rural and urban – are deeply intertwined. This lesson of bonding fate is one that I will hold to my last moments. After this week, it’s clearer than ever that they are right. In this spirit, the people of Kentucky can be a guiding light for us out of the dark place in which we find ourselves as a country.
So, as Kentucky’s communities rebuild, let’s capture this urgency to care for one another unconditionally. Let’s remember to see each other as neighbors, not just as political actors. Let us admire the beautiful, resilient people from our nation’s tallest mountains so that the rest of our nation can see that there is a better way.
And in the meantime, let us continue to give our time and treasure to our neighbors in Southeast Kentucky.
Richard Young is the executive director of CivicLex, a civic health and literacy organization in Lexington.