The Washington Post

The Kentucky flooding is horrific. So is Democrats’ lack of sympathy.

- BY COURTNEY LUCAS Courtney Lucas is a writer living in Pikeville, Ky.

On Thursday night in Hindman, Ky., I stumbled through pelting rain, guided only by lightning flashes, waded through creeks that once were streets and moved my car to higher ground. Then I went inside a building that already had several inches of water on the floor and watched as the only road to or from the building turned into a rushing river four feet deep with a current strong enough to carry away cars and houses.

The disaster here in eastern Kentucky was like nothing I’d ever seen before — but some of the online response to it was depressing­ly familiar. “These people got what they voted for,” said one post. “Elect a turtle, learn to swim,” read another. “Maybe it’s God’s punishment for being a bastion of ignorance and regression.” Or, my personal favorite, “What are those houses doing there along the river in the first place?”

I scrolled through social-media post after social-media post of selfprocla­imed Democrats, liberals and leftists declaring the flood some kind of punishment for the Republican­controlled state that Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell calls home. Whenever a natural disaster occurs in Kentucky, as with the tornados that ripped through the western part of the state in 2021, killing more than 70 people, I see online derision about climatecha­nge-denying Republican­s or just about general Republican corruption.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, my friends and acquaintan­ces shared images of the devastatio­n — families stranded on rooftops, a bedridden person awaiting rescue in a bedroom filling with brown water, lost pets, found pets — and desperate pleas for help escaping the rising waters or contacting missing loved ones. At least 26 people have died, and more rain is coming.

I have always proudly voted for Democratic candidates in local, state and federal elections. The first vote I cast in a presidenti­al election was for Hillary Clinton, and I gladly voted for Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who has gracefully led this state through the pandemic.

I support the Black Lives Matter movement, abortion rights, same-sex marriage — all the things good Democrats are supposed to support. I have also always been an Appalachia­n, a part of my identity that I cherish. I was born and raised in Pikeville, Ky., as were my parents, my grandparen­ts and many generation­s before them.

In recent days, when I saw two very different stories about the flooding unfold on social media, I wondered if I was an “us” or a “them,” if I should stand with my party or my people. Democrats often justifiabl­y accuse Republican­s of choosing party over people. You don’t have to look hard for examples — in mid-july, it was Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvan­ia voting against federal protection­s for same-sex marriage and then three days later attending his son’s same-sex wedding.

Democrats tend to view themselves as being above such behavior. But what I saw on social media suggests that more than a few can’t put people before party even when lives are in danger.

I know, you can’t deduce too much from the awful things people say online. But when those comments draw dozens of like-minded replies, and you know plenty of these people’s friends and allies are likely thinking the same thing but just aren’t putting it online, that’s dishearten­ing — and infuriatin­g.

People need a scapegoat for their political frustratio­ns, and Appalachia’s complicate­d history of exploitati­on and extraction makes it the perfect candidate. It’s a region that outsiders have a hard time understand­ing, a region that was blamed for helping elect Donald Trump. Too many of my fellow Democrats have become calloused to places like eastern Kentucky because they are deemed a lost cause. That makes things only more difficult for the people and organizers who are actively working to try to change this part of the country and make it a better place.

The flood waters didn’t check voter registrati­on before taking cars, homes and lives. Yard signs proclaimin­g “In this house we believe . . .” were not going to make the water change course and spare the homes of Democrats. But even if this were possible, even if the only people affected by the floods were those who voted for Mcconnell and Trump, even if the only homes destroyed belonged to gun-toting, Capitol-insurrecti­on-attending, bigoted, worst-of-the-worst Republican­s, they are still human beings, and no one deserves the devastatio­n that I’ve seen. No one.

If the choice is between party or people, I’ ll choose to stand by my people every time. Although flooding on this scale is unpreceden­ted, the people of eastern Kentucky and Appalachia are resilient, and we will continue living here and celebratin­g our shared culture, even when we don’t share each other’s politics.

 ?? ARDEN S. BARNES FOR THE Washington POST ?? A home sits almost completely submerged along Route 15 near Jackson, Ky., on July 28.
ARDEN S. BARNES FOR THE Washington POST A home sits almost completely submerged along Route 15 near Jackson, Ky., on July 28.

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