Thursday, November 03, 2016

Fear fuels Trump in Appalachian coalfield, but there are other things to fear, writer says

Ivy Brashear
We've heard plenty of thoughts and opinions from urban journalists about why Donald Trump is popular in Central Appalachia. Ivy Brashear, a former Rural Blog writer from Perry County, Kentucky, who is now a communications associate working on Appalachian transition with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky., gives her take in Medium, an online publishing platform.

"Being who I am — a queer, liberal, woman who has vehemently supported Hillary Clinton from the get-go — you’d think I’d be angry at Trump voter. Or that I’d be confused by their choice of leader, or that I’d join in all the ridicule that’s being thrown at them," she writes. "But, the thing is: I understand them. I know exactly why they’re voting for Trump."

Brashear says Perry County's coal has generated great wealth, but also "great hardship and poverty," as indicated by its rank "at the bottom of nearly every single statistical measure of quality of life, including health, income, educational attainment and life expectancy. We, as well as nearly every other county in Eastern Kentucky, face some very real and urgent challenges, paramount of which is what we’ll do when the coal is gone."

The loss of more than half the coal jobs in the region is not just an economic blow, Brashear writes: "It is a way of life, and an important foundational element of the culture. . . . It’s helped build America, over and over again, through economic transition after economic transition, and it’s powered the nation through it all. Coal miners are proud people — not ignorant people, not less-than people — proud. And right now, coal miners and their families and the communities in which they live are facing an unprecedented economic shift for which they weren’t prepared. In fact, they were systematically and strategically made to be unprepared for it, and now, with their backs being forced against the wall, my people are scared."

"I'm scared too," Brashear writes. "I’m scared of the extremist, racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric coming from the Trump campaign that has fanned flames of hate." Trump has promised to bring back coal jobs, but she writes, "Trump cannot bring coal back — no one can — and he has no plan to help us rebuild our communities when the last ton is shipped away. We need opportunities for people who have hit the bottom, and Trump cannot provide them. I am scared of a Trump victory, because if I’ve learned anything from growing up in the shadow of coal mining, it’s that rich men who talk a lot about themselves mine our wealth and take it elsewhere when they’re done."

Brashear is a former graduate assistant at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

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