Monday, September 12, 2016

Hope, religion fueling Trump's rise in Appalachian Virginia coal county, but a critic calls him a drug

Financial Times map
Buchanan County, Virginia, near the heart of the Central Appalachian coalfield, gave presidential candidate Donald Trump the highest vote pecentage in the GOP primaries. The county is largely white, unemployment is high, incomes are low and college degrees are rare. What makes Trump, who earned 70 percent of the county's vote, so well-liked in Buchanan County?

"In the past seven years, more than half the region’s mines have closed," Edward Luce reports for Financial Times Magazine. "Most of the rest are operating well below capacity. With the closures went hope. Property prices collapsed. An opioid epidemic spread like brush fire. Mere mention of President Obama’s name prompts scorn. If anything, Hillary Clinton elicits even worse. Of all the candidates on either side, only Donald Trump promised a miracle." Trump said at a rally, "We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 per cent. You’re going to be proud again to be miners."

Luce writes, "Alone in the Republican field, Trump vowed to protect them. Whatever else you can say about the New York property magnate, he knows his market. Call it big-government conservatism for white people." Local resident Dana Oliver told Luce, “Coal is not coming back—it costs too much to open a flooded mine. In their heart of hearts, most people know that. Trump just gives them a little bit of hope.”

Hope and religion are all some people in Buchanan County have. "Before the start of each shift, a preacher calls for God’s blessing on the miners," Luce writes. "In this part of the world, the church is almost as ubiquitous underground as it is above. In the wake of the mine closures have come bad habits. People sell food stamps for opioid pills, says Oliver. Church attendance has fallen. God is missing in action." Oliver told Luce, “If you think about it, what Donald Trump wants to do is bring God back into their lives. That’s the way a lot of people see it.”

People like Tamara Neo, Trump’s main cheerleader for the region, say that's a good thing, Luce writes. "What most appeals to her about Trump is that he talks without a trace of political correctness. He calls things the way he sees them. Gaffes that would have felled a lesser man—calling illegal Hispanic immigrants 'murderers' and 'rapists', for example, or obsessing over supposed slights about the size of his penis—have left Trump unscathed." She told Luce, “He just keeps walking through one fire after another and coming out the other side untouched. I take this as a sign.”

Not everyone in Buchanan County supports Trump. Luce highlights Daniel Justus, who recently graduated from the University of Virginia and says "Trump is just another drug. People round here are addicted to escapism." Justus said what angers him "is that his people are clinging to a way of life that has crippled them—often literally," telling Luce, “It’s as if they have Stockholm syndrome." (Read more)

No comments: