All the points laid out in summary are on point and well referenced. So, I’m just going to anecdotally add some color to some of those points based on intimate family knowledge and direct involvement with some of the points mentioned and personal experiences around some of the other points.
Usefulness of Unions - Faded History of Tarnished Appalachia Coal Mining History.
It’s actually fairly impossible to separate coal/steel industry from the party line discussion in West Virginia. However, not in the way many would like to think. On the surface, yes, democratic all-in party affiliation with the (necessary) green/alternative energy movement is a silver bullet straight to the heart of the issue. It isn’t all THAT simple though. Once upon a time coal industry, while an opportunity for first, second, and even beyond third generation immigrant families, was a complete blessing in one hand and a curse in the other. While it was a quick route to a dollar earned for families with not much else to depend on for steady work, it was also certainly indentured servitude to a blatantly obvious and extreme level.
In search of this blessing, my great-great-grandfather walked the railroads due north from the Carolinas (I’m told) as a young man in search of work and a slice of the American Dream. He paused in the Paint Creek area, took up a job with the booming coal operator in the dusty town, and started a family. All is good, but he basically sold his soul to the mining company that “employed” him. He made scrip that was only redeemable in the coal camp general store and other outlets. He was “given” a small camp house and lived out his life and raised a family within the confines of that camp and small town most of his life.
His son, some years later as a very young man lived under those same conditions and house rules. Only, by that time unions had begun to form in support of the miners that literally gave their lives up for the coal companies in one way or another. His name is actually recorded in a WV history text about the mining wars that ensued in the Paint Creek area. When I say war, it really was. People died, private property was demolished. Bad stuff. My family understood it all too well. So much so that by the time my grandfather took to the mines, he became a staunch union man and years later into his career he was high ranking within his local union group. He marched for miner’s rights in some of the nation’s notable coal union protests and pressed his employers on bettering the conditions of the mine that he became foreman of eventually.
While my grandfather spoke of coal mining with a sense of pride, he told my father and his remaining children to stay away from it. He spent his life doing it and paid for it dearly. Twice broke his back in accidents, black lung, and two replaced knees. While he spoke with pride there was enough pain and struggle behind it to warn off others.
I took the time to paint the story above to strike a point that I think was touched on and referenced well in the original post. The story that I told isn’t a unique one. Most long-lineage coal families can trace these stories. When told accurately there is a fair dose of pain and pride. But, from what I’ve seen and heard in the hills of WV in the last 20 years, from younger relatives that still live and work in coal country and those in stereotypical coal communities, the stories are told with all of the same pride, but none of the heartache. The heartache is the factor that allowed the unions to spring up. Democrats of the time always backed the honest hard working blue collar man. So, the coal union groups were an easy horse to ride for Dems. With a strong working class that is well protected and productive in a nation that is rich in minerals needed to stoke steel production into making the US a world leader in industry and manufacturing, it was an easy thing to do.
As time has gone on things have changed in economy and industry. Unfortunately, the Dems and unions were so successful at backing the laborers of many industrial sectors in the US that they priced labor out of a world market. Why pay US laborers a living wage, or even a minimum wage, when Chinese laborers will do it for next to nothing (relatively and at the time)? This lead to job loss. With job loss came the downturn of the once strong, blue collar middle class. Without a strong horse to back, the Dems needed something new and unaccounted for - the minority populations.
Social Movements of the 1960’s.
Now that industry was dwindling due to a cheaper competing world market and workers rights in the US pricing US labor far and above countries with trite labor laws, Dems saw the writing on the wall. It was time to back another group of underserved citizens for the greater good. The Dems, I believe, would have done this anyway. But, I’m of the mindset that large political movements are well vetted and strategized by party leaders prior to acting. Minority groups in the US, at the time primarily African Americans, became life and generational Democrats the moment LBJ stroked his pen. It’s actually rumored that LBJ was a bit of a connoisseur with the “N” word and said aloud that he would have the black vote for generations after the civil rights acts passed under his administration. For all intensive purposes, while putridly possessive and manipulative in his statement, he was right about Dems receiving the African American vote to an astonishing level for years to come. With a demographic population vote nearly all accounted for, why fight for the working class laborers of Appalachia or elsewhere when they know where US blue collar industry is headed? The only issue is, where does the financial backing come from now that unions are falling apart? It’s time to back a new, burgeoning industry. The green movement.
Climate Change Means Green in More than One Way
This one, I think, is simple and sweet. With the GOP garnering big dollars from large, global market corporations, where were the Dems going to pick up lucrative benefactors? Certainly supporting social welfare is great for locking down the votes of those benefited from those policies, but there isn’t much money there to run winning political campaigns. One growing industry and train of thought peaking its head out from the hole in the Ozone Layer was the climate change and green energy folks. For those of us that don’t believe the Earth is flat, that Corona Virus is a hoax, and that Elvis is alive, climate change is real. But, good luck telling a bunch of folks that depend on carbon fuels as a way of life that they should just stop doing what puts food on the table now and build wind turbines. Oh yeah, and it’s super scary so we need to do this like, now. Clearly the Dems had long written off those voters years ago, so the choice was made in a calculated fashion.
WV didn’t stop being blue. Democrats stopped being supportive of West Virginians - and other similar rural demographic profiles. So much so that Hillary Clinton, being as out of touch as she is, called lower income white rural Americans “deplorable.”
So I say, why be a Democrat in WV? Well, there are many good reasons. Locally, WV could use a lot of liberal mindset awakenings to right the ship. Nevertheless, the big politics Democrat Party aren’t selling what WV residents, in majority, are buying or needing. It just takes a guy like President Trump to say he’s going to bring back jobs. It takes a man that will put on a trucker hat and talk about the times of old when a family could take care of itself with (or without) a high school diploma and a decent work ethic and character. Those jobs aren’t available - at least not in the way many West Virginians find them accessible.
I am going to close with a piece of how I started. The coal mining industry and its workers carry a lot of pride. So much pride that many of those workers don’t see any other line of work as honorable. They’d rather be unemployed and collect a check from the social institutions, built by a party that once supported their prideful labor, than learn a new trade that is completely foreign to them. Not only that, nobody is offering to teach them those skills. Both parties, blue and red, have forgotten struggling lower middle class and poor white rural America. All it takes is a little attention around election year…