On some level, Donald Trump really does see himself as the hero—white hat, steed and all. As a one-time newbie candidate without a platform, it was not coincidental that Trump adopted the Populist approach, one that appealed to the “average” American. His stance on immigration, transgender persons in the military, and most recently his Tax Reform Bill, remains unpopular with the majority of Americans, yet these policies are the white horse upon which Trump believes himself to ride. And the platform that allows him to maintain his political base.
In the New Times interview of July 2017, reporter Maggie Haberman shared a quaint anecdote where Trump’s granddaughter, Arabella, visited the Oval Office during the interview. The interaction between grandfather and granddaughter became a defining moment far beyond anything else he has done, not so much as president, but as a person.
Let me be clear, Trump does not want to be the villain. This is not surprising, as the most poignant villains in literature, film and history, always believe they are fighting for a noble cause.
But this article isn’t so much about heroes and villains, but rather about Trump’s promises, the part of America he courted and then left at the altar.
During Trump’s campaign, he targeted a very select but historic group of Americans. I’m speaking of the coal miners scattered across such states as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. During the industry’s peak in 1923, the number of miners totaled approximately 863,000, while the most recent 2016 poll reports only 50,000. For these coal miners, Trump is their last hope.
Coal miners have a long and distinguished history in America. You need only be familiar with the 1987 film John Sayles film, Matewan, the dramatization of the real-life struggle to unionize the coal miners in Matewan, West Virginia, and the company that sent their strong-armed men to prevent just that. The film illustrated the nation’s reliance on coal. As time passed, the threat was no longer union busting, but something much uglier and more detrimental to the industry—automation, Green Energy, the cultural and fiscal understanding that fossil fuel is no longer sustainable.
Trump would have the world believe environmental protections and Green Energy are the enemies of the people. As recently as June of 2017, during one of his campaign-style rallies Trump expounded, “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal…”. Perhaps that was the rational for the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Perhaps as the self-proclaimed hero of this chapter in American history, that is why he promised to rescue towns like Cedar Rapids from despair and abject poverty. “We will put the miners back to work,” he chanted, targeting the remaining pockets of America’s coal industry. Some will remember the hyperbole, the miner’s helmet he wore as he pantomimed those coal-shoveling movements. Like a promise ring, he gave each and every coal miner hope in spite of the world where their future was marked as steadfastly as the America Buffalo. This is the reason why a year after taking office, the voters in these regions have not forgotten Trump or his promises. While he seems to have done just that.
Trump had decided to fight technology, perhaps believing he could cheat progress or perhaps he knew mining jobs were simply not to return. If the latter, so then like many other Americans, the coal miners were unwilling participants to yet another Trump con, a “bait and switch” bought and paid for with American votes and hopes.
If the former, in the history of civilization, nobody, no nation, no group of people have been able to restrain progress—from the buffalo herders to the typing pools, both of which now can only be sought out in Google and museums.
Times are tough in the towns where coal is still mined. Black Lung Disease continues to cripple once strong labourers, their lungs now filled with the very substance that once gave them a livelihood. Since 1968, approximately 76,000 miners have died in part due to Black Lung Disease. Yet, this is their culture, their legacy and so they continue in spite of health risks, and the slow demise of their industry. There has been an uptick in jobs, but nothing like what Trump had prophesied. The next hurdle they continue to face is the economics of their industry where fracking has made natural gas a cleaner and more economical source of fuel. Yet the miners continue to support Trump, “Give him a chance!” Many onlookers will ask why? The answer is simple—there is nobody else to trust. These states still remember Obama whose environmental regulations further crippled an already beleaguered industry. Then there was Hillary Clinton who was turned into the spectre of death when she was misquoted as saying that she was going to put a lot of coal miners and companies out of business. Trump was the only candidate who seemed to use the language the miners needed to hear. Flimflam man or not, many still remember. Many still hope.
Trump has not abandoned the coal miners completely, as he continues to remove regulations but while these maximize the negative impact on the environment, they pose a minimal impact on the miners.
Here in Ontario, government-assisted programs aid workers who have been laid off. Why would Trump not attempt to foster a similar kind of safety net to help workers in an industry that is plainly on its last legs? Ironically, one of the fastest growing fields is Green Energy (namely Solar photovoltaic installers and Wind turbine service technicians). Why not invest in these new technologies and provide incentives to businesses, foreign and domestic to build and manufacture in these locations that have clearly demonstrated both a willingness and an ability to work hard. Only one thing stands in their way, Donald J. Trump.
For Trump to incentivize companies, he would need to admit to these strong red states that he was wrong, that he was either lying or mistaken, and that the jobs are not coming back, and that the future will continue to be as black as the very coal which they have spent generations mining. Perhaps asking Trump to change his ways, to bend not to the will of the people, but rather the reality of situation, may be asking too much.
Trump will never be the hero he wants to be because he is not willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good—that selfless attitude to which all heroes must commit, proof that his empathy and compassion extends beyond that of a visit from his granddaughter. Obama paid the price for his health care reform. Comey lost his job after refusing to pledge loyalty to Trump. Sally Yates lost her job in a similar fashion. Senator Al Franken resigned putting party first.
Being the hero means self-sacrifice, and that is simply something Trump is unwilling to do, no matter the cost or the reward.
k.g. Sambrano is a Canadian writer known for his works of literary fiction and poetry, and is an occasional freelance political writer.
His latest book, Trump- the First 365 Days: America’s Fight for America will be released later this week.