Coal Tattoo

Will coal country focus on hope or fear?

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton give a thumbs up after taking the stage to make her acceptance speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t provide as much mention of coal issues in her acceptance speech as former President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama did earlier this week.

There was this brief mention:

My primary mission as President will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States…

From my first day in office to my last.

Especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind.

From our inner cities to our small towns, from Indian Country to Coal Country.

From communities ravaged by addiction to regions hollowed out by plant closures.

You can read the whole speech for yourself, or watch it here:

But there’s a tone underlying the election that we’re heading into that is in some ways far more important for the coalfields and our future than even the specific policy differences (in which the Clinton campaign offers a detailed plan for diversification and Donald Trump offers impossible dreams of the next boom that will never come).

I’m talking about the difference between fear and hope.

Anyone who watched the Republican convention or who pays any attention to the career campaign consultants in West Virginia knows that one side wants to make this all about fear. That’s what all of the “war on coal” and “our way of life” stuff plays into — the fears of hard-working coalfield residents.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wave to supporters during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Hillary Clinton hit on this last night:

We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together.

Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one.

Will we stay true to that motto?

Well, we heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention.

He wants to divide us – from the rest of the world, and from each other.

He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.

He’s taken the Republican Party a long way…

from “Morning in America” to “Midnight in America.”

He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

The coal industry’s campaign against the Obama administration, against environmentalists, against coalfield citizens — even against anyone who wants to stand up for health and safety protections for coal miners — is all about fear. It’s about dividing people, and scaring people.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration certainly hasn’t done nearly enough to try to deal with these fears — at least not in coal country. But if your job is electoral math, it’s easy to understand why this hasn’t been a priority. Certainly, Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate choice of words hasn’t helped. She played right into the hands of voices like Hoppy Kercheval, who sow this same sort of fear every day in our state.

In some ways, President Obama responded to some of this so much more clearly and powerfully than Hillary Clinton. For example:

… What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems, just the fanning of resentment and blame and anger and hate. And that is not the America I know.

The America I know is full of courage and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.

I see people working hard and starting businesses. I see people teaching kids and serving our country. I see engineers inventing stuff, doctors coming up with new cures. I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.

And most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.

Think about all of this and put it in West Virginia terms.

The whole “war on coal” campaign that has been waged by politician and consultants (from both political parties) and lobby groups from the industry has told us to focus on fear: Fear of a changing world where coal isn’t what it was, of change in general, of a president with a funny name who doesn’t look like us. Fear of environmentalists. Fear of our neighbors. Fear of our court system. Fear of the federal government. Fear.

To borrow a phrase from President Obama, that’s not the West Virginia I know. Look around you — don’t you see energetic young people eager to chart a future? New kinds of businesses trying to find their way? Neighbors spending untold hours helping neighbors in need of help rebuilding a flooded home or just getting through a long day?

Politicians here like to get points by talking about what good people West Virginians are — strong, kind, resilient, smart, resourceful. We are all those things. But then the politicians make out like we’re helpless to find a future on our own, brought to our knees by some federal enemy, or environmental group, or unexplained political vendetta by “the other” in Washington.

That’s not the West Virginia I know. The West Virginia I know likes a challenge, is optimistic about the future, and wants to do its part to help the country and the world move forward. It’s about hope. Not fear.