While Trump writes off poor, black countries as “shitholes,” ignorant of history and how wealth extraction creates poverty, the Flint water case grinds on.
While President Trump declared places like Haiti and African nations to be “shithole countries” due to the degrading effects of generations of wealth extraction by the West, a federal district judge in Ann Arbor sent the Flint water case into mediation.
If there’s a city in the United States that Trump would consider a shithole, Flint, Michigan, is it. In 2016, 45% of Flint’s residents lived below the poverty line, an increase from 42% in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among cities with at least 65,000 residents, Flint has the highest poverty rate in the country, with an especially high number of impoverished children: 58%, in a country where the average rate is 18%. These startling statistics are the result of a downward spiral with its origins in the boom times of the 1960s-1980s, when being a General Motors town meant Flint had the highest median income in the state of Michigan. Putting all their eggs in GM’s basket meant economic disaster when the auto company largely parted ways with the city and the residents who could afford to move elsewhere, did.
In 1965, Buick City (Flint’s 235-acre GM factory) and several other General Motors plants in the surrounding area dumped 26.5 million gallons of industrial waste into the Flint River every day. That same river provided such low quality drinking water that in 1967, Flint decided to buy water from Detroit instead. After Flint’s emergency manager ordered the switch back to the polluted Flint River in 2014, GM itself wouldn’t use the water out of fear it would corrode their metal parts. However, it was still deemed fit for Flint’s residents – largely poor and African-American – to drink. That’s how you create a shithole: drain the wealth and let those who can’t leave deal with the problems that are left behind, and then wonder why nobody’s bootstrapping their way out and no investment is coming in.
Many of those people are touched by the Flint water case that’s now moving through the court system. It’s been dragging for years, which is why U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Judith Levy vowed to make the process as efficient as possible. If the plaintiffs win, mediation means they’ll be compensated in a more timely fashion.
Judge Levy named former U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Wayne County Chief Judge Pro Tem Pamela Harwood (a nominee of Democratic former governor James Blanchard) to facilitate the mediation, to no objections.
The scope of the Flint water case is immense. A hundred thousand people have potentially been affected, from kids with lead-related brain damage to people whose property value may never recover. Hundreds of cases will be filed, but most of the litigation is being rolled into one massive proceeding.
The cost of the Flint water case could easily surpass hundreds of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, just like sexual harassment claims against members of Congress, taxpayers are picking up the tab for both the prosecution and defense, the salaries of defendants like Eden Wells and Nick Lyon and others who are still employed or on paid leave during the proceedings, and eventually, any damages awarded.
Finally, one can hope that the proceedings move quickly and we can finally put the Flint water case behind us. Water tests have already started to come back cleaner (and maybe, someday, people will find those tests trustworthy). It would be wonderful to no longer rely on water donations just so people can drink and bathe without the fear of lead contamination. Another positive step would be to pass some of the still-languishing Flint water-related legislation to protect the people of Flint and other cities in the state.
Clean water. Rule of law. Punishing corruption. Restoring human decency. Recognizing the role of history. That’s how shitholes should be treated, Mr. President.