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Hullabaloo


Thursday, March 10, 2016

 

Dying from despair

by Tom Sullivan


Downtown Appalachia, VA. Photo by pfly from Pugetopolis [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Cooper, Jr. sends a message from Donald Trump's America, meaning, the last places and people in America the casino and real estate magnate would care to visit. You know, "losers":

I live in Trump's America, where working-class whites are dying from despair. They're dying from alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide, trying to take away the pain of a half century's economic and cultural decline. In the foothills of Appalachia, Wilkes County, North Carolina, is second in the nation in income lost this century, where the number of manufacturing jobs decreased from 8,548 in the year 2000 to about 4,000 today, according to Stateline.

Empty storefronts in downtown Richwood, WV

If the color coding on the Stateline map of income decline appears less dire for Appalachia proper, it is because once at the bottom there is no further down to go. Near-ghost-towns dot southwest Virginia and West Virginia. Small but once prosperous from logging or coal, they hug hillsides along what are barely secondary roads. And that's what their people feel like: secondary. Voters have been forgotten in towns where over 20 percent live in poverty and a quarter never finished high school, Cooper explains:

They lost their influence, their dignity and their shot at the American Dream, and now they're angry. They're angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government. And they're voting now for Donald Trump.

My Republican friends are for Trump. My state representative is for Trump. People who haven't voted in years are for Trump. He'll win the primary here on March 15 and he will carry this county in the general.

His supporters realize he's a joke. They do not care. They know he's authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who've long ignored their interests.
This is the America where the unemployed and underemployed still line up for free health care each year at the fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia and in smaller places. They are "poorer, less educated citizens who are fiscally liberal and socially conservative," Cooper believes, and both parties have ignored them for years. In part, because they tend not to vote. But they are voting now, now that Trump has given voice to their grievances.


Thousands receive free medical care at the Remote Area Medical clinic each year in Wise, VA. The greatest need is dental care.

This year's primaries are like a real-life exercise in those old Verizon Wireless ads. America's forgotten working class left behind and discarded by globalization, automation, and deindustrialization has found an unlikely voice in Donald Trump, if not really a champion. Independent Bernie Sanders too is finding traction there, as his Michigan win this week proved. In primary after primary, the American worker is asking party elites, "Can you hear me now?"

It is not clear yet that they have.