[Marxism] Trump’s Promises Will Be Hard to Keep, but Coal Country Has Faith
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Tue Nov 29 08:20:34 MST 2016
NY Times, Nov. 29 2016
Trump’s Promises Will Be Hard to Keep, but Coal Country Has Faith
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — If a single moment captured coal country’s despair
this year, it was when Bo Copley, a soft-spoken, out-of-work mine
maintenance planner, fought tears as he asked Hillary Clinton how,
having dismissed coal’s future in language that came back to haunt her,
she could “come in here and tell us you’re going to be our friend.”
That was in May. Mr. Copley, 39 and a registered Republican, was “very
uncomfortable” with Donald J. Trump then, he said. But over time, in a
paradox of the Bible Belt, Mr. Copley, a deeply religious father of
three, put his faith in a trash-talking, thrice-married Manhattan real
estate mogul as a savior for coal country — and America.
“God has used unjust people to do his will,” Mr. Copley said, explaining
Now coal country is reckoning with an inconvenient truth: Experts say
Mr. Trump’s expansive campaign promise to “put our miners back to work”
will be very difficult to keep. Yet as he prepares to move into the Oval
Office, Appalachians are eyeing Washington with a feeling they have not
had in years: hope.
The American market for coal is shrinking, industry analysts agree.
Utility companies have drastically reduced their reliance on coal, in
part because of President Obama’s aggressive regulations to cut
emissions from power plants, but also because natural gas is cheaper.
Nationally, about 300 coal-fired power plants have closed since 2008,
according to the National Mining Association, a trade group.
Many of those plants — including one in nearby Louisa, Ky., where a
giant cooling tower was recently demolished after the plant converted
from coal to natural gas — are not coming back. Politicians and
economists agree that what Appalachia really needs is a diversified
economy, a goal that has eluded Mr. Obama and state and local politicians.
But in this land of staggering beauty and economic pain, Trump backers
said over and over again that while coal might never be what it once
was, the businessman they helped send to the White House could indeed
put them back to work — if not in mining, then in some other industry.
“I don’t think he can ever fulfill all the promises he made even in four
or eight years,” Danny Maynard, 59, said after Bible study at the
Chattaroy Missionary Baptist Church. Mr. Maynard lost his job at a coal
company last year. “But I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he
said. “He wants to make America great again.”
Mr. Trump pummeled Mrs. Clinton in coal country. Here in West Virginia,
he won every county and took 69 percent of the vote, a landslide also
fueled by his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who
would roll back abortion rights. As Mr. Copley put it, “Coal is
secondary to me.”
It is difficult for outsiders to fathom how deeply faith and work are
intertwined here, or the economic and psychological depression that sets
in when an entire region loses the only livelihood many of its people
have ever known. Coal has always been boom and bust; its decline began
long before Mr. Obama took office. But in West Virginia alone, 12,000
coal industry jobs have been lost during his tenure.
At the Huddle House on Route 119, Kayla Burger, 32, a waitress, has
worked three jobs since her husband lost his; they take home less than a
quarter of the roughly $100,000 he used to earn. She took an offer for
miners’ wives to train as phlebotomists, but with so many miners out of
work, the phlebotomy market was flooded. She also substitute teaches and
cooks at the school.
They have given up cellphones and sold their boat; one car has been
repossessed; the only reason they still have their house, she said, is
that they saw layoffs coming and saved money. Her husband, who cares for
the children, has experienced depression. “He doesn’t feel like a man,”
Ms. Burger said. Her father was a miner, too; he and her mother drive
In Williamson — population roughly 3,100, down from 4,300 two decades
ago — everyone has a story.
The city used to market itself as “the heart of the billion-dollar coal
fields,” but it now wraps its tourism pitches around the Hatfield-McCoy
trails that run through the nearby mountains. (“We’re the 50-cent coal
fields,” said Natalie Taylor, the executive director of the Tug Valley
Chamber of Commerce.) Williamson’s downtown, on the border with eastern
Kentucky, sits between the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River and the
Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks.
At the newly opened pulmonary clinic here for patients with black lung
disease, Patricia Sigmon, a respiratory therapist, has been caught in
the trickle-down. With coal paying less in severance tax to the state,
there is less funding for schools. Her husband, a school bus driver in
nearby Boone County, was forced to take a $4,000 cut in pay.
Larry Gannon, 61, retired early from his job as a coal processing plant
foreman so that a younger man could keep his. Mr. Copley’s wife, Lauren,
has a photography business, which is how they make do. They used to have
“Cadillac” health coverage; now they have Medicaid.
So when scientists, and Democrats like Al Gore, warn that Mr. Trump will
endanger the planet, people hear that as something off in the future;
feeding your family is here and now. Many say Mother Nature will have
“When I was growing up, they said we were in an ice age,” said Kyle
Lovern, the managing editor of The Williamson Daily News. He voted for
Mr. Obama in 2008 and Mr. Trump this year.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in West Virginia,
where anger at politicians has been building for years. Mr. Copley
remembers the Democrats who held power here — men like Senator Robert C.
Byrd, who died in 2010 and whose name is on buildings and roads built
with the tax dollars he brought home — and wonders why they did not see
the coal bust coming and work to diversify the economy.
“We’re a forgotten people,” Ms. Taylor said, explaining why it did not
take much for Mr. Trump to win coal country’s trust. “He mentions West
Virginia, he mentions the coal workers, and that was pretty much all he
had to do to seal this deal.”
Now that the deal has been sealed, Mr. Trump has put a climate change
contrarian and friend of the coal industry in charge of his
Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Environmentalists are
horrified, but Bill Raney, the president of the West Virginia Coal
Association, a trade group, is thrilled.
“Just a positive attitude in the White House is enormously important,”
While American utilities are shunning coal, Mr. Raney says, some mines
are shipping coal overseas. He sees promise in clean coal technology and
says that “some plants can get back on line” if Mr. Trump dismantles Mr.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan. But that will take time. The plan is tied up
in litigation; the Supreme Court was expected to hear the case next year.
Mr. Copley, and many others, are waiting — and contemplating a divided
Mr. Copley is now a mini-celebrity here. Yahoo News declared that he had
helped shape the race and invited his family to its studios in New York
on election night. The family had never been to the city. Mr. Copley did
not like having to explain to his children why anti-Trump protesters
were shouting profanities in Times Square, and he later felt put off by
the cast of “Hamilton” reading a statement he deemed “rude” to Mike
Pence, the vice president-elect.
At home, though, Mr. Copley sees nuance. His children’s drama teacher,
Dusty Smith, 36, who has purple and blue streaks in her hair, said she
had voted for Mr. Trump because he seemed “very humble” on “The Tonight
Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” At the Thanksgiving play Ms. Smith
directed, an African-American teenager delivered a spoken-word homage to
racial harmony. Watching it, Mr. Copley worried that his black friends
would think he was racist because of his vote.
People have asked Mr. Copley if he will run for public office; if God
leads him to, he said, he will. As for Mr. Trump, he will give the
president-elect time: “He’s got four years.”
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