"Even before the U.S. Senate recently confirmed President Trump’s pick of a former coal executive to head the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, Appalachians were already bracing for the bitter taunts from self-righteous liberals and environmentalists, 'That’s what you get for voting for Trump,'" Nick Mullins writes for the Huffington Post. "We hear it. We don’t like it. And attitudes such as these must change if we ever hope to see change."
Mullins, a southwest Virginia native and Berea College graduate who writes a blog called The Thoughtful Coal Miner, says miners' votes for pro-industry politicians don't come from gullibility or naivete, or because they're "old-style traditionalists dedicated to mining coal as a continuation of the way of life they've inherited." Instead, he says, when they defend the industry -- even when it doesn't necessarily benefit them economically -- it's because of the "assault on their culture by outside elitists and out-of-touch environmental groups."
Miners don't have many choices beyond coal, he says. They'd love to work somewhere that paid a living wage and didn't cause health problems, but relocating one's family away from the supportive network of family and community is hard -- even if a former miner could even get a job in a metropolitan area with competition from graduates of better-funded schools and probably colleges. And, he writes, job retraining is little help when there are no local jobs that can earn someone the same wage and benefits they get from coal mining.
"This is all obvious to us 'ignorant hillbillies.' It is also obvious to us that we are frequently characterized as simple-minded white trash in the national media and by faux-hillbilly authors like J.D. Vance," Mullins writes. "For many Appalachians, the coal industry is a necessary evil for both our economic and cultural survival. We are quite literally damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.
We know we don’t have a choice. Why doesn’t the rest of the nation understand this too?"