Hope Battles Fear in Appalachia as Trump Takes Office

Jan 13, 2017

Why is Donald Trump so popular in Appalachia? And how confident are Appalachians that Trump will change the economy and bring back thousands of coal mining jobs?

Trump won 95 percent of Appalachian counties, and 69 percent of West Virginia voters chose him - the highest percentage of any state.

As Trump prepares to take office, we talk with Appalachians about their hopes and fears surrounding Trump. We’ll also dig into the facts and talk with experts about what a Trump Presidency could actually mean for Appalachia.

A Presidential Standard

For some people, Trump’s statements on Muslims, women and immigrants disqualified him for the Presidency. We hear how Sharif Youssef, and Arab-America who grew up in West Virginia and Rev. Ronald English, an African American pastor who got his start working with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Era, are processing Trump’s victory.

"I'm hoping he can bring something that'll help everybody...and I believe he will."- coal miner Jonathan Griffith on Trump

We’ll also hear from a Venezuelan-born state delegate, Patricia Rucker, who voted for Trump, even though she recognizes his weaknesses.

For many coal miners and their families, Trump's election means hope, pure and simple.

“Everybody was excited to go because they knew something better was going to happen,” says coal miner Jonathan Griffith, recalling what it was like inside the mine on Election Day.

“You know a lot of people talk about the coal mines like it eventually is going to be gone. One day it probably will be but you know you’ve got to work what you’ve got while you’ve got it,” says his wife, Jessica Griffith.

"I’m hoping he can bring something that’ll help everybody...and I believe he will," explains Jonathan Griffith on why he and  his wife voted for Trump.

Could More Coal Mining Jobs Return to Appalachia?

"Appalachia has the potential to be the best investment opportunity in America."- Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the ARC.

Things are looking up for coal - at least a little bit. In the last few months, there’s been a slight uptick in coal production, caused by increased demand for electricity and metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel. 

Even so, West Virginia mined only about 80 million tons last year - the lowest level in several decades.

Credit WVPB/ Shayla Klein

In this episode we hear from John Deskins of West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research to predict the coal industry’s future, and how Trump’s election may affect coal jobs.

Appalachian Regional Commission

We also hear from Earl Gohl, Federal Co-chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC, about what he thinks the next few years could bring for Appalachia. "Appalachia has the potential to be the best investment opportunity in America," said Gohl.

The ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. The Federal Co-chair is appointed by the President, so Donald Trump will likely select a new co-chair to head the ARC.

100 Days in Appalachia

So how will Appalachia react to the start of the Trump Administration? “100 Days in Appalachia” is a new project to tell those stories from inside our region, a place that’s been dubbed “Trump Nation.”

Closed mine in Van, W.Va. in Boone County

Host Jessica Lilly closes this episode with this personal message:

On this show, we hear from supporters and opponents of Trump in Appalachia to find out what it means for our future and what we should be watching.

They have a story just the same as anyone else. These folks have done their own research and looked for answers that made sense for their lives. This election was such a surprise to some people but maybe it wouldn’t have been if we just listened to a different viewpoint. 

Former KY coal miner Gary Bentley
Credit Lance Booth

Get to know somebody who's a different religion, or race, or registered as a different political party. Or talk with someone in a different tax bracket, or maybe even the man you see at the gas station covered in coal dust.

A boy in Raleigh County takes a swing at baseball while behind him is a mine site.
Credit U.S. National Archive Jack Corn

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the Us and them Podcast and the Front Porch Podcast. Music in today’s show was provided by Jake Schepps, Andy Agnew Jr., and Ben Townsend.

Scott Finn edited this episode. Zander Aloi is our audio mixer. Our producer is Roxy Todd. What do you think about Trump’s election? We’d love to hear from you. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.