Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Closed Minded View from "Trump Country"

After World War I Great Britain learned the consequences of not changing with the time economically and clinging to dying industries while often rejecting new ways of thinking.  While Great Britain had lead the industrial revolution and reaped huge profits for a considerable period, but World War I and its aftermath made it painfully clear that not modernizing and shifting from industries rapidly growing in other nations carried sever economic consequences.  The same held for not preparing for the shift from coal fired industries to those using petroleum.  The lessons of Great Britain were lost on much of America's so-called rust belt and Appalachia where reliance on dying industries and refusing to embrace modernity are yielding horrific economic consequences.  Donald Trump is now preying on these regions and promising that things can return to they way they were once were, disregarding the winds of globalization and industrial change.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the mindset of many in these reasons who say they are desperate for change, but sadly not if it requires new ways of thinking on their own part. Christianity, thankfully, is declining in America, acceptance of diversity is becoming an economic requirement, and changes in the global demand for coal make promises of a return to "the good old days" of the coal industry are never going to return.   Here are article excerpts:
Paris, Ky. — After Bill Bissett, the president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told me that “President Obama cares more about Paris, France, than he does about Paris, Kentucky” — a sentiment that seems broadly shared around here — I decided to check out this little town with a big name set amid the verdant undulations of picket-fenced Kentucky horse country.
St Soon enough I ran into Cindy Hedges . . . . straight talk, the way the people of this particular Paris like it, is the kind of talk they recognize in Donald J. Trump.
For her, that somebody is Trump. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and says her political choices are gut-driven rather than party-driven. “I have never been this political,” she tells me. “This is the most fired-up I’ve ever been for a candidate.” She believes Trump will get business going, revoke trade deals she sees as draining domestic jobs, and “clean up the mess Obama has left us.” But what, I ask, of Trump’s evident character flaws? “Sure, he’s kind of a loose cannon, but he tells it the way it is and, if elected, people will be there to calm him down a bit, tweak a word or two in his speeches. And I just don’t trust Hillary Clinton.”
Obama is blamed for the collapse of coal, particularly in eastern Kentucky, and the ever more stringent standards of the Environmental Protection Agency. Beyond that, the blame is aimed at airy-fairy liberals more concerned about climate change — often contested or derided — than about Americans trying to make their house payments.
The number of Kentucky coal jobs has plunged to fewer than 6,500 from about 18,000 when Obama took office; the number fell 6.9 percent between this April and June alone. Hillary Clinton’s words in Ohio — “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — echo on Republican radio ads, plucked out of context from her pledge to replace those jobs with opportunities in clean, renewable energy. By contrast, Trump declared in West Virginia in May that miners should “get ready, because you are going to be working your asses off!”
“Trump’s appeal is nationalistic, the authoritarian shepherd of the flock,” Al Cross, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, told me. “That’s why evangelical Christians are willing to vote for this twice-divorced man who brags about the size of his penis. There’s a strong belief here still in America as special and exceptional, and Obama is seen as having played that down.”
There’s a sense, crystallized in coal’s steady demise, that, as the political scientist Norman Ornstein put it to me, “Somebody is taking everything you are used to and you had” — your steady middle-class existence, your values, your security. It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished.
Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos.
For anyone used to New York chatter, or for that matter London or Paris chatter, Kentucky is a through-the-looking-glass experience. There are just as many certainties; they are simply the opposite ones, whether on immigration, police violence toward African-Americans, or guns. America is now tribal, with each tribe imbibing its own social-media-fed ranting.
Somewhere on the winding road from whites-only bathrooms to choose-your-gender bathrooms, many white, blue-collar Kentucky workers — and the state is 85.1 percent white — feel their country got lost.
Hazard, set in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, is a once bustling town with its guts wrenched out. On Main Street, the skeleton of a mall that burned down last year presents its charred remains for dismal contemplation. Young people with drugged eyes lean against boarded-up walls on desolate streets. The whistle of trains hauling coal, once as regular as the chiming of the hours, has all but vanished. So have the coal trucks spewing splinters of rock that shattered windshields. In the age of cheap natural gas and mountaintop removal mining, a coal town is not where you want to be.
“Trump’s going to get us killed, probably!” he told me. “But I’ll vote for him anyway over Hillary. If you vote for Hillary you vote for Obama, and he’s made it impossible to ship coal. This place is about dried up. A job at Wendy’s is the only thing left. We may have to move.”
Jenny Williams, an English teacher at Hazard Community and Technical College, told me it’s past time to get over divisions between “Friends of Coal” — a popular movement and bumper sticker — and anti-coal environmentalists to forge a creative economy around agriculture, ecotourism, education and small-scale manufacture. Coal, she observed, was never going to last forever. “How could any idiot support Trump?” she said. “But when you’ve been on $70,000 a year in coal mines, and your life’s pulled out from under you, who else can you be mad at but the government?”
The frustration of these people, whether they are in Kentucky, or Texas, or throughout the Midwest, is acute. They are looking for “someone who will articulate the truth of their disenfranchisement,” as Webb put it. Trump, for all his bullying petulance, has come closest to being that politician, which is why millions of Americans support him.
There are many places, here and abroad, where people feel shoved aside by technology and cheap global labor, leading them to seek radical political answers. Trump is one of those answers; Brexit, the surprise British vote to leave the European Union, was another; the fall of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany next year could be a third, after she trailed an anti-immigrant party in a local election this month.
Trump can’t reverse globalization. Nor is he likely to save coal in an era of cheap natural gas. His gratuitous insults, evident racism, hair-trigger temper and lack of preparation suggest he would be a reckless, even perilous, choice for the Oval Office. I don’t think he is a danger to the Republic because American institutions are stronger than Trump’s ego, but that the question even arises is troubling.
Back in Paris — the Kentucky one — I sit down in a coffee shop with Cindy Hedges and her husband, Mitch. . . . . “Look, there’s nobody to vote for,” he says. “Trump is an idiot, he pisses everyone off, he’s scary, he’ll pump his mouth off to some foreign country and we’ll be at war. He’s a billionaire on a power trip with as much reason to be president as I have. If Trump had shut up, he’d win the election. So do you vote for the one who’s going to lie, or the one who takes you to war? I’m leaning Hillary.”
“Oh, come on, Mitch!” says Cindy.
Virginia represents this closed mindset in microcosmism.   You have the modernity embracing urban crescent in the the east and the equivalent of the parts of Kentucky looked at in the Times article in the southwest part of the state.  Through their embrace of ignorance and bigotry, the majority in Southwest Virginia retard their own chances for economic improvement.  Worse yet, through their Republican representatives in the General Assembly, they hold the state as a whole from needed changes.  The mythical past that these people either never existed or were times when minorities and gays were stigmatized and often terrorized.  If these Trump supporters want change, the first thing they need to do is look in the mirror and admit that they themselves need to change.  Sadly, I doubt that will ever happen. .  

No comments: