Trump’s Useful Idiot

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Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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68 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    I have to wonder, does anyone in WV not get this?
    I doubt it, so the question remains-

    What are they getting from this symbiotic deal?Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    Even black West Virginian’s were fed up with Obama.
    *redacted to remove an unsourced quote which, without sourcing, is problematically phrased. The gist was that a black person in West Virginia said he didn’t like Obama.*
    White Democrats drip with disdain and contempt for the working class and minorities, and they don’t even try to hide it. The Chinese even coined a word for such Democrats, baizou, which translates as “white left”, and which is defined as

    Baizou: a derogatory Chinese neologism and political epithet used to refer to Western liberal elites.
    Those who are hypocritically obsessed with peace and equality in order to satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority motivated from an ignorant and arrogant Western-centric worldview who pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours.

    Rabid Trump support is common among Chinese Americans, which no doubt boggles liberal minds. Liberals are also at such a loss to comprehend the sight of hundreds of thousands of Chinese protesters in Hong Kong waving the Union Jack that they hardly report on it, as it flies in the face of nearly everything liberals believe about colonialism.

    Respect wins more votes than condescension, and optimism works better than disparagement. To ask the question “Why won’t those backwards ignorant morons vote for us?” is to answer it.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to George Turner says:

      Listen George.
      Don’t explain to me the working class people of West Virginia. I know them. I am of them. I was raised miles below the poverty line in a community of the people you describe. To suggest I don’t understand my own people, that I have disdain for them- no. I’m not having it.
      This is not “respect”, this is pandering to desperate people who are tired of being looked down upon, but doing nothing of real substance to help them, and then feeding them lies about how great they’re doing. .
      That is disrespect. That’s contempt and disdain.
      This is not about Obama, and I defy you to look through my year worth of writing on this site and find a place where I have praised Obama as a savior of anything.
      Take your assumptions about who I am and where my perspective comes from elsewhere.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        I started to say much the same thing, minus the West Virginia part. We were not really miles below the poverty line, though. That was the neighbors down the road, who had a dirt floor in their house.

        But you’ve said it just fine. Better than I could.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

      George ‘Nat’ Turner-
      The Voice Of Afro-America.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

      The quote was part of piece on West Virginia’s black mining culture by journalist and author Reniqua Allen.

      Bio:
      Reniqua Allen is a journalist that produces and writes for various outlets on issues of race, opportunity, politics and popular culture. She is currently a producer for Fork Films. Her first book, It Was All A Dream: How A New Generation is Navigating the Broken Promise of America, about black millennials and upward mobility is out now from from Nation Books/Hachette.

      She has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Quartz, Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue, Glamour and more, and has produced a range of films, video, and radio for PBS, MSNBC, WYNC and HBO.

      I was just trusting her to report accurately about what they told her.

      This came up because in another comment thread today (Pushing on a String) the stance of West Virginia on mining was said to be a token of white identity politics. I disagreed, noting that mining was a route many blacks took to the middle class, and why many of them moved to Appalachia.

      I apologize for accidentally causing offense.Report

      • Avatar JoeSal in reply to George Turner says:

        I jousted a few ancoms that thought all country folk were like Virginia country folk.

        East Coast gets a little strange in places. The Free State project probably would have worked better in Montana or Wyoming.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

        George, first, thanks for introducing us to Reniqua Allen. She seems like a wonderful and articulate writer.
        But assuming you are sincere about speaking on behalf of black Americans, you have the same peril we liberals do which is that its easy to substitute your own voice for theirs.

        The least we can do is quote her accurately and in context:

        “By the 1930s, the industry employed 400,000 miners, 55,000 of whom were black. African Americans were restricted to more physically demanding positions requiring less skill, earning 30 percent less than whites. But their wages were still high by national standards: $118.30 per month, according to one 1929 survey. By contrast, a national study in 1939 later found that black men earned an average income of $460 per year.”

        “But at mid-century, as machines began to take over the tasks of drilling and blasting coal and hauling it above ground, black miners were the first to lose their jobs. What had once been an all but certain gateway to the middle class began to close. African Americans fled the industry at even higher rates than whites; by 1960, the share of black workers in coal shrank to 6.6 from 12 percent a decade earlier. In 2014, the most recent year for which Bureau of Labor Statistics data are available, only about 2,500 blacks worked as coal miners, less than 3 percent of the total.”

        This is why for anyone born after WWII, “coal miner” is synonymous with “white coal miner”.Report

        • The data Chip cites is accurate. It lines up and comes from the research I’m doing on my current writing project: that word of the treatment of African Americans got around. There were two major labor events in WV that greatly affected how the African-American’s saw the region. The first was the completion of the C&O railway through the heart of WV and what we now know as the coal fields from Covington, VA to Huntington, WV and the Ohio river, done almost completely with “freeman” black labor and the occasional immigrant, that was barely better than the slavery they had just left. The same line that brought us the John Henry story also buried a lot of people of color who fell in, worked to death, or died of “tunnelitis” from digging and grading the railbed around and through the mountains. Hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, died. The line was completed at Hawk’s nest where the two ends met, and that would be the cite of the second event, the Hawks Nest Tunnel. In the intervening years blacks along with influx of immigrants did indeed flock to the mines the railways had made viable. But during the industrialized murder of digging out the Hawks Nest hydroelectric tunnel, it’s now believed more than a thousand men died from the known dry drilling of silicon inside that mountain. The black workers received half the compensation of a white victim, and as many of them were mirgrant-type workers from the south, to their families they just disappeared as little effort was made to identify or notify. We now know of several mass graves used for the African-American victims, several of which have been documented now. BY the late 30’s when you start seeing the drop in numbers, the word was out that treatment was harsher, work was not what it was proported to be, your chances if black of ending up in an unmarked shallow grave was as high as making a living, so they started going elsewhere.Report

          • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            In all this research in the nations past about death, did you happen to look at the death numbers of the decades referenced of those working in agriculture, who happened to die with really pale color skin?

            Because the way you make it sound, is that thousands of deaths were a lot at that specific point in history. Hell, agriculture practices in the Ukraine were killing approx. 30,000 pale skin folk a day at about that time.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          The decline in the number of active miners is certainly true, but when you count “retired miners”, and retired miners who stayed in the community, or the number of people whose father worked in the mines, the numbers are still quite large. The whites I grew up with were going through the same shift as the blacks, just a bit slower.

          Once West German mining equipment came in (a bit before my time), along with mountain-top removal operations, there was an irreversible decline in mining employment, but the local economy kept trundling along. Even though there aren’t many active miners, and people are working at Walmart or McDonald’s, everyone knows that mining (and black lung checks) is what keeps the money trickling in.

          Lots of people would never work in a mine yet appreciate the industry, its people, and know many miners, their wives, their foremen, etc. The same would be true for steel mills, automotive plants, ocean fishing, farming, ranching, or oil drilling.

          And it can happen elsewhere. Amazon is thinking of moving out of Seattle. Suppose they do, and then suppose Boeing goes belly up from their 737 fiasco or other bad market decisions. Then Starbucks collapses when fancy coffee goes the way of Blockbuster and frozen yogurt, and then Microsoft screws up so badly that they get kicked to the curb by some new Android OS.

          Then Seattle starts looking even more like Detroit. All those formerly employed and lauded Boeing machinists and tech workers sit around lamenting the loss of their once great industry as they apply for part-time shifts at Arby’s, wondering how long everybody’s pension checks will keep even that economic activity afloat.

          And then, once they’re used to being mocked as being backwards relics of a bygone age who just can’t adapt, along comes someone like Trump who tells them they’re great and are turning things around, and who massively intervenes to try and breathe knew life into Boeing or pressures Amazon to open a new downtown headquarters.

          How do you think they’ll start voting, and do you think it will have anything to do with “white tokenism”? Probably not. Nor would it be condescending to breathe hope into the region’s residents. I remember, it seems like a hundred years ago, when a man from Hope Arkansas ran on that very idea. Some politicians have visited the region as part of their “poverty tour”, like they were popping into Ethiopia for a photo op with the desperate and helpless inhabitants, while others show up and identify with the locals. A lot of the locals can keenly sense the difference.

          They had one party, the one they were overwhelmingly loyal to, whose national leaders starting insisting, quite loudly, that they were obsolete, often even implying that they are really without redeeming value. Almost nobody on the national stage in their party was on their side, and that created a big opening for anyone who would support them, and who would tie their struggles into a larger narrative of growing greatness versus abject decline.

          This wasn’t rocket science, it was retail politics 101. Reacting viscerally and vociferously to their party switch, as if it reveals their horrible character flaws, just cements their certainty that they made the right move, at a time when people like Governor (now Senator) Manchin could have turned them right around if his party would have listened to him.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

            Cool story.
            I come from a region which is the economic engine of the economy, powering prosperity and job creation of the entire Pacific Rim. We are also the cultural hub of the world, providing entertainment and software that is the foundation of the new economy.

            The people here, the hard working ordinary folks are the essence of Real America, a vast melting pot from all across the globe. We uphold the traditional values of hard work, tolerance and mutual respect for all persons, derived from the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment, and the American Founders.

            And yet there is a national party, one that is insular and locked in a bubble of self reinforcing propaganda, that is dedicated to mocking us as effete snobs and that stages rallies furiously denouncing us as foreign and dangerous, hurling insults at us constantly as babykillers and terrorists. They reject the American experiment in cosmopolitan liberalism and cling to a foreign cult of blood and soil bigotry.

            Meanwhile, the other party visits with us and hears us, and shares our experiences. They understand that members of Antifa go to Panera Bread and are just regular folk, looking to defend their cultural heritage from outside agitators.

            You want to know how we get President Kamala Harris? This is how we get President Kamala Harris.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    In the other thread on coal, I mentioned that Josh Hawley nearly went full Nazi and brought up “cosmopolitan elites.” Missouri is not as bad off as West Virginia but it is another rust belt state filled with the kind of white, working class, and largely exurban to rural voter that has been destroyed to gentrification and potentially lost to the Democratic party forever. IIRC, West Virginians voted for an incarcerated person or former felon instead of voting for Obama in the 2012 Democratic primary.

    Coal is dying its death and there will not be a rival. I do think that a kind of Green New Deal/WPA can be used to get good employment in West Virginia doing environmental clean-up but this does not seem to be wanted.

    What seems to be an issue is that lots of people want special pleading and subsidy for ways of life that are not necessarily economically viable or needed anymore. When this does not happen they lash out.

    The problem with a lot of rural areas is that their reason for existence largely gets destroyed by better technology, communications, transportation, and shipping. In California legal ethics classes, there is a story that we all read to have the fear of managing and observing your staff put into us. The story involved a lawyer from the 1990s whose secretary forged his signature on many documents and embezzled hundreds of thousands from clients. She also forged his signature on his voluntary resignation before the bar in lieu of investigation (the guy was a drinker). The interesting thing is that the guy graduated from Harvard Law and then spent his entire career practicing law in a small town in the Sierra Foothills. How many Harvard law grads would do that today? I can do court appearances from my home because of court call most of the time. It wasn’t too long ago, that getting to court in Contra Costa county from SF was a pain because of the lack of the Bay Bridge and BART. Now Contra Costa is a bedroom county for SF and Oakland and cities of their own. You would also need much small distribution networks because of the lack of shipping containers.

    Not so much anymore. But either people do not want to leave rural areas and/or they don’t have the ability to do so (this is not necessarily physical. they might be psychologically not able to cope with larger cities). Creating jobs in rural areas just because does not seem like a good policy solution.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      There was an interesting subplot on the show Shameless where Kevin, the big gentle lug of a guy decides he wants to stop bartending and get a “real” job so he applies to be a machinist, thinking it is some authentic manly job. He discovers that first, you need to know how to run a computer controlled machine and second, you need to speak Spanish to communicate with the other guys.

      I don’t know how real that is but I know that the audiences expectation were assumed to be like Kevin’s, where we live in a world where any guy with muscles can get a job bending metal or pounding something and that job would be sufficient to support a family.

      What is equally interesting is how any non-stereotypical work is largely invisible. Raniqua Allen’s piece profiles some of the people who used to work in coal but moved into other low wage work like Walmart.
      The Rust Belt stories never tell us about the sort of work people do now in Appalachia or Youngstown or Detroit, the call centers or Walmarts or retail work. Its as if the work that gets done there is not “real”work, and these people are no longer part of the “working class” but some invisible category we can’t see.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        A machinist is very skilled labor.

        A while back I was having drinks with a dude, who was a crane operator — you know, the big cranes you see looming over cities.

        It turns out, his salary is higher than mine. That surprised me a little, at first, but then not really. If you think about it, that’s a hard job that takes serious skills.

        Sure, I know how to use a PS4 controller, but then, my character dies a lot too. Putting me behind the controls of a crane would be a bad idea.

        Anyway, I bet coal miners know tons of stuff I don’t know. Shame about the Trump thing, tho. It’s honestly tragic.Report

        • Avatar jason in reply to veronica d says:

          One of my jobs in the military was loading/unloading ships/planes. Some of us got to try running a large crane on a civilian ship while we were deployed in Kuwait. It was really difficult. The fluid movement you might see requires a great degree of skill. I didn’t have it, but I moved a container from the deck of the ship down to the dock really slowly.
          I can imagine how the skill level goes up for high rises.Report

  4. Avatar JoeSal says:

    Wasn’t there a comment here from George?Report

  5. Avatar CJColucci says:

    In many parts of the country, for much of the 20th century and continuing today, large numbers of folks support people who are screwing them because of their resentment of people they think are laughing at them. Whether those people are actually laughing at them is largely beside the point. H.L. Mencken was particularly good on this.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to CJColucci says:

      As a resident of those dreadful coastal elite places, I can tell you the amount of time I spend laughing at people from places like West Virginia is exactly zero. Three different social events during the weekend and zero minutes spent discussing people from West Virginia or a similarly situated state.Report

      • Avatar JS in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        So you’re saying you don’t even care? That the people of WV are beneath you? They mine your coal, or grow your food, or…whatever. It’ll be something.

        That is, of course, not your point and not how anyone thinks. But care about their plight and you’re condescending. Don’t care and you’re ignoring the ‘real America’ in favor of your effete city ways.

        Because it’s not about you, of course. You’re immaterial, a convenient scapegoat for their problems.

        Far, far better to have a nebulous “them” that is causing all the problems. People can be faced, voted out, defeated one way or another. Systemic economic issues or worse yet the sheer vague way that things just change? How can you fight that?

        Sadly, anywhere there is an unhappy or angry person, there are con-men to prey on them. Left, right, middle, urban, rural doesn’t matter. Anger and misery sells snake-oil.Report

        • Avatar Philip H in reply to JS says:

          I care a lot about West Virginia Coal MIners. And Pennsylvania Truckers. And Louisiana Oil Field workers. And Montana ranchers.
          Which is why I support progressive Liberal policies that will actually help them, instead of polemical right wing corporatist agendas that devalue all human labor. That they choose to scape goat me instead of confronting the real drivers of their growing misery (including the politicians they support) is also something I care about. But at some point one has to call a spade a spade, and these folks have long ago waled over that line.Report

      • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Some years ago, I had an office mate who had come in second in the Miss West Virginia contest. We constantly engaged in consensual banter that, even in those days, would have had HR coming down on our heads like a ton of bricks. Her filthy jokes were filthier than mine, and she had city-slicker jokes to match or top any of my fairly obvious West Virginia jokes. Her West Virginia jokes were better than mine, too.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to CJColucci says:

          I’m not sure why this is irrelevant to your original comment or my response but okay.

          My point was that red-state types think us blue staters spend a lot of time thinking about them and laughing at them. We really don’t. The person I know who talks about it the most is from rural Midwest and got beat like tar for being different.Report

          • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Just a little human interest. The person who beat out my former office mate to become Miss West Virginia was Patty Ramsay (that may not be the name under which she won), now better known as the mother of Jon-Benet Ramsay.
            As to your larger point, no disagreement. From what I’ve seen, red-state types spend a lot more time thinking about and disparaging blue-state sophisticates than blue-state sophisticates think about and disparage red-state types. And when blue state sophisticates object to red state types, they object to certain unfortunate folkways. When red state types object to blue state sophisticates, they object to us, period.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to CJColucci says:

              Yeah, I’ve said this before. I have no problem with pickup trucks, guns, and tractor pulls. I’ve owned guns. I’ve owned a pickup truck. I’ve been to a tractor pull. That’s not the issue I have with ruralia.

              It’s really pretty simple: ruralia has too many bigots with too much power. It’s really that. That’s the whole thing.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d says:

                There are people in SF who own pickup trucks. TBH I find this one kind of obnoxious. Unless you are a contractor, there is no need for a pickup truck in major cities especially small ones.Report

  6. Avatar J_A says:

    With all due respect, we (I) have talked about this several times.

    There’s a political party that has some proposals to alleviate the situation. They include job training, improved access to healthcare, increased minimum wages, etc. We can discuss those proposals, and improve them if possible. Me, personally, I would eliminate some of those and I also have some additional proposals to add to the mix. But all those proposals start on the premise that the coal industry is dying and nothing will be able to save it.

    There’s a party that is against all those proposals. Instead, they just say they will make coal great again. There’s no details, no explanation, no rationale. It will just happen, you just wait. Nothing needs to change because all will be great again.

    Voters vote for Make Coal Great Again. I can understand that

    The sad thing is that the second party knows pretty well that coal is dying, and that nothing will bring it back. They are against the first party’s proposals, not because they think they are bad for west Virginians, but because they are bad for capital. Since they can’t say that, they just lie. They simply lie to West Virginia, collect their votes, and let the voters rot. It is not as if the second party can do anything to save the mines. No one can.

    West Virginia’s hope lies in losing electoral votes, so it gets to be as meaningful as Montana. Then the second party will lose interest, and will probably get out of the way.

    It’s a pity there will be so much damage done between now and thenReport

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to J_A says:

      Yep. The issue is that job retraining programs can also be hijacked by grifters and confidence men. The New York Times had a good indepth piece about the many cons in a program that tried to teach West Virginians to code:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/us/mined-minds-west-virginia-coding.html

      Never mind teaching much older people to code is probably not going to work. But you are correct that voters want Make Coal Great Again over “We will give you jobs cleaning up West Virginia from many environmental hazards and help you make it beautiful again because then what?”Report

      • Avatar J_A in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        ep. The issue is that job retraining programs can also be hijacked by grifters and confidence men. T …….

        Never mind teaching much older people to code is probably not going to work

        I agree – I would put all these retaining programs much lower in my personal list of proposals.

        But proposing to teach old people to code is more realistic that promising to Make Coal Great Again, so I’;; still count it as a pint for the party of the first party 🙂Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to J_A says:

      Bummer, I should have checked before choosing Montana as my example . Montana is expected to win a seat, and after 2020 it will have the same EVs as WVReport

    • Avatar Philip HPhilip H in reply to J_A says:

      That second party also spent 13 months and over 70 hours of committee debate appearing to work with a President of the first party ti implement the second party’s healthcare reform proposals, and then when it came time to vote, voted against their own ideas, and have spent nearly a decade trying to torpedo implementation of those ideas. Because that’s all about power and winning power, not actually representing constituents.Report

  7. Great post, Em. Also clicked through to that CC account and all “she” does is tweet MAGA stuff all. day. long. Definitely a bot. But apparently one with 300k followers.

    We live in weird times.Report

  8. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Forthcoming from Em Carpenter: What’s the Matter With West Virginia?.Report

  9. I have to confess that if some others I can think of had written the exact same post (with references to “we,” etc. changed), I would probably be very bothered by it. But because it’s you that have written it, I find I really like it. It would still be a great post if you hadn’t written it, but you have the standing to say what you say in a way that I, for example, would not have had.

    tl;dr: great post, Em, I really enjoyed reading it.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We should turn these communities into Reservations.

    They can have a facsimile of their old lives and old cultures in a plot of land that is left alone by the outside world. Send invitations to the younguns, of course, promising that if they leave their people behind, they’ll be welcome in the Modern World… but if they want to stay there, they can stay there.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird says:

      Umm, Jay me lad, that’s basically the existing policy. No one’s trying to turn ruralia into urbania.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North says:

        I was also suggesting similar levels of local control.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird says:

          They already have that. They also want local control over the cities and, of course, large subsidies for their rural enclaves and for us to nod and take them seriously when they squall about stopping cities from mooching off the rural areas (when, in reality, urban and suburban areas massively subsidize ruralia).Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

      So who actually looks down on rural people?

      “Reservations”?

      Jimminy fucknuggets, Jaybird. I know you’re trying to be ironic, but seriously.Report

      • Avatar Fish in reply to veronica d says:

        I don’t know…this got me thinking about the tiny rural farming community I enlisted in the Air Force to get out of, and I think about how little real change it has undergone in the intervening decades (aside from shrinking by about a third) and I think about those of us who left versus those of us who stayed and…”Reservation” is damned uncharitable, but it’s so close to the mark that it stings a bit.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

        For what it’s worth, if a real politician argued this, I’d say that s/he wasn’t a particularly good politician.Report

        • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Jaybird says:

          We already know that as a matter of short-term political success lying works better than the truth. What we haven’t figured out is an alternative to lying that can address reality without sending reality’s victims into the jaws of the liars.Report

  11. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I find myself wondering if there’s a parallel to the urban renewal cycle that works on a statewide level. The usual thing that turns a neighborhood around is that everything goes to crap, and becomes really cheap, and then block, by block, new money moves in and makes way for the “bohemians” who like cheap, and put up interesting things, which attract more people and so on.

    Of course, that means tolerating the “bohemians”, which means the current residents have to be desperate enough for their money to not greet them with pitchforks.Report

  12. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    There are lots of ways to revitalize depressed areas.

    All of them require turning away from Trump.

    Trump wasn’t elected on the promise of making anyone’s life better. He was elected on the promise of making life worse, for the hated Other.

    This is a real life version of the Soviet “Ivan’s Goat” joke where a guy would rather see Ivan fail than both of them succeed.Report

  13. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Remember this scene from The West Wing?

    JOSH
    You knew we were for free trade. You knew it when you endorsed us five years ago.

    PARSONS
    Yeah, ’cause you told us we might lose old economy jobs – shoe manufacturing – to some dirt-poor country, but if we trained ourselves we’d get better jobs. Now they’re being vacuumed out of here, too.

    JOSH
    We’re going to fight for more job training, more transition assistance…

    PARSONS
    I have members on their third and fourth career. What are they supposed to train for now, nuclear physics? Cello playing? Or should they just give up and bag groceries for minimum wage?Report

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