- Billionaire an unlikely working-class hero in mining country
- Promises to bring back jobs, abolish clean-air restrictions
The Appalachian region has been on a long losing streak economically, which made last night’s political victory taste all the sweeter in Logan, West Virginia.
Donald Trump had overwhelming support in this old coal town, where unemployment doubled after 2008 while most of America was recovering. Residents said they weren’t surprised, unlike pollsters and the markets, that the Republican defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton. Now they’re counting on him to deliver the new jobs and better pay that he’s promised.
“This place looks like a Third World country,” said Faith Adams, an unemployed 54-year-old who’s lived in Logan since the 1980s. “It used to be a booming town. All of my friends got laid off from work and they’re looking for jobs.”
In a Trump presidency, she said, they might find some. “I know he’ll get people working.”
That expectation has been key to Trump’s appeal -- especially in the so-called Rust Belt of America’s Midwest, once-thriving industrial regions that have fallen on harder times. His victory in West Virginia was universally expected. But the ones in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which propelled him to the White House, definitely weren’t.
The real-estate billionaire makes an unlikely a hero for the disenfranchised, but he connected with voters who feel left out of the economic rebound and see the American dream of upward mobility as a mere memory. There were plenty in West Virginia, where Trump won 69 percent of votes Tuesday.
He campaigned on promises to revive U.S. industry by renegotiating trade deals to fend off foreign competition, and scrap environmental rules that have decimated coal-mining in regions like the Appalachians.
The message was especially resonant among white, working-class men like Joshua Bryant, 31, an army veteran who is out of work and on benefits. On Logan’s main drag on Tuesday, he was wearing a T-shirt that read “Trump Digs Coal” over a map of West Virginia.
“We need change, Trump is going to make that change,” he said. “He’ll bring the coal mining jobs back.”
Their departure, partly a result of clean-energy rules introduced by President Barack Obama and backed by Clinton, left a gap in Logan that hasn’t been filled. Less than 10 percent of the adult population has at least a college degree, compared with a national average of about a third. The poverty rate is 20 percent.
Carol Whitt, 64, remembers the area as a nice place to grow up. Almost her entire extended family used to be employed in the coal industry; now many are jobless. Whitt says she’s counting on Trump to fulfill his campaign pledges because “we can trust him to do what’s right for the American people.”
The Republican has vowed to tear up environmental regulations and re-open mines. Of course, even in West Virginia, those promises of a new golden age of coal aren’t universally believed.
“I’m not sure that those jobs are going to be returning in any significant numbers,” said Eric Bowen, a research assistant professor at West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics.
Other West Virginians said they not only believe Trump, but are also willing to give him a bit of time to turn things around.
“I want change in the first six months, at least to know we’re heading in the right direction,” Michael Smith, a resident of nearby Chapmanville, said as he stocked the shelves at a Wal-Mart. “But people will be willing to wait, as long as he’s upfront and honest. He doesn’t have to sugar-coat. He doesn’t lie to us like normal politicians would.”