But last week I sat next to an energetic Trump backer. He was sitting at a diner and wearing a Trump-Pence t-shirt, which the waitress noted with a whiff of derision.
“Trump is the man,” he told her. “The Democrats are destroying our economy.” He turned to me hoping I’d validate his opinion.
“I wouldn’t say that,” I responded. “There are certain industries that have done very well. Auto sales are hitting all-time highs, the restaurant/hospitality industries are cruising along just fine, and I see ‘Now Hiring’ signs at almost every business I visit. Now if I were a coal miner, I’d be right with you.”
“And that’s what I am,” he said. “I work in Wyoming now but I’m both the grandson and son of a coal miner back East. Where else can you start at $28 an hour without much education? Sure, the jobs are out there but they’re all minimum wage jobs.”
“And you think Donald Trump will bring the coal mines back?” I asked.
“Of course. Hillary is out to destroy them.”
“I don’t agree,” I responded. “You’re right that Hillary’s focus on clean energy is not the best hope for the mining industry. But I think coal will continue to shrink. Times change. There’s not much need for pay telephone maintenance workers and the digital revolution has taken a chunk out or employment in telephone directories and encyclopedias. One political party is not at fault; it’s simply choices consumers make in a free and ever-changing economy.”
“There’s almost no manufacturing left in this country,” he said.
“Statistically, that’s not true, although we have lost certain product manufacturing to low-wage countries. But again, this has little to do with Republicans or Democrats. We live in a global economy; it would be foolish for Apple to manufacture every single part of its product line in one single country. The other problem is that Americans are not willing to spend a little more and buy an American-made product.”
“All I know is Trump is a businessman who knows how to be successful,” he said. “He’ll put America first and he’ll be good for the workingman.”
“Well, we don’t know how successful he is since he won’t open up his tax returns. As for the workingman, there are many of them who never got paid for the work they did when Trump filed bankruptcy.”
The conversation went on. Neither of us found the other’s arguments convincing. But as the best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy” notes, that man at the diner is at the core of Trump’s rise. Men and women whose jobs have disappeared are not eager to hear government officials telling them they’ll have to re-train and seek a different career.
The man at the diner wasn’t a bad man or even an ignorant man. If his son couldn’t find work today as a miner, he could certainly make high wages as a welder or an electrician or a machinist. The jobs are out there, but they are not necessarily the same ones that flourished 50 years ago.
The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of Iron County Today.