Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Race: A View from Appalachia

Steve Inkeep reported for NPR today from Bristol, Tennessee (and Virginia--because Bristol straddles the two states).  Inskeep and NPR went there primarily to talk about the presidential election and, I suppose, specifically whether rural whites in places like Appalachia are more attracted to Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) than to other candidates.   Here's an excerpt:
INSKEEP: Obviously, Trump has support across the country. But does his message resonate in a special way in Appalachia? 
GREEN (Director of Appalachian studies at Berea College): I think that it resonates in a way that has to do - on the surface, perhaps, people might think that these are people who don't feel spoken to. They may feel like President Obama is not doing what he needs to do. But the roots of it go back to the 1980s, with the beginning of the collapse of the industries in the area - the collapse of the coal economy, which lost over 20,000 jobs in the 1980s; another 20,000 in the 1990s. And what people feel is a loss of their identity and working-class power. 
INSKEEP: Well, that's a good point. Let's follow up on that with a Republican voter who's not for Trump, by the way. His name's Ralph Slaughter (ph). He's a bearded veteran. He's bought guitars and guns at that pawn shop in Bristol, by the way. He said factories and even universities have closed in his area. 
RALPH SLAUGHTER: We traded in 10, 12, 15-dollar-an-hour jobs for seven, eight-dollar-an-hour jobs. And employment - there is none. Go up and down every street you want to choose, and look at how many houses are for sale and how many apartments are for rent. The whole damn place is selling out.
This entire story is well worth a listen for what it has to teach us about more than the 2016 Presidential election, including this vignette on the region's post-coal economic future:
INSKEEP: Adam said, we knew where we wanted to live, but there was no way to live down here. He said he job searched for about three years - was finally thinking, if he's going to work, he needs to work for himself because nobody is going to hire him to do anything at a decent wage. So what did he do? He started the Damascus Brewery, a tiny operation. Its slogan is, the best dam beer in Damascus - D, A, M. We watched him grinding barley on a homemade contraption run by a motor salvaged from a washing machine. He's making it work. He's part of this former mill town now that has remade itself as a tourist stop. It's a destination on the Appalachian trail. And as we were there, sunburned hikers were walking through town. Maybe they'll buy a beer. Appalachia is a region rich in history that's looking to improvise a future and looking for leaders who can help.
Other NPR stories out of Appalachia this week are here (on health care and its significance to the region's voters) and here (on the arts).   

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