Coal Country Has Faith That Donald Trump Can Keep his Promises of Economic Revival

Bo Copley held his youngest daughter, Merritt, 2, while waiting for the Thanksgiving assembly at Ambassador Christian Academy in Williamson, W.Va. (Christian Tyler Randolph for The New York Times)
Bo Copley held his youngest daughter, Merritt, 2, while waiting for the Thanksgiving assembly at Ambassador Christian Academy in Williamson, W.Va. (Christian Tyler Randolph for The New York Times)

If a single moment captured coal country’s despair this year, it was when Bo Copley, a soft-spoken, out-of-work mine maintenance planner, fought tears as he asked Hillary Clinton how, having dismissed coal’s future in language that came back to haunt her, she could “come in here and tell us you’re going to be our friend.”

That was in May. Mr. Copley, 39 and a registered Republican, was “very uncomfortable” with Donald J. Trump then. But over time, in a paradox of the Bible Belt, this deeply religious father of three put his faith in a trash-talking, thrice-married Manhattan real estate mogul as a savior for coal country — and America.

“God has used unjust people to do his will,” Mr. Copley said, explaining his vote.

Now coal country is reckoning with an inconvenient truth: Mr. Trump’s expansive campaign promise to “put our miners back to work” will be very difficult to keep. Yet with America so divided over the election that some families barely made it through Thanksgiving — and with Mr. Trump backtracking on his declaration that global warming is an “expensive hoax”— Appalachians are eyeing Washington with a feeling they have not had in years: hope.

In his postelection message to the nation, Mr. Trump promised to create “many millions of high-paying jobs” in energy, including coal. But utility companies have drastically reduced their reliance on coal, in part because of President Obama’s aggressive regulations to cut emissions that cause global warming, but also because natural gas is cheaper. Nationally, about 300 coal-fired power plants have closed since 2008, according to the National Mining Association, an industry group.

So even if Mr. Trump undoes Mr. Obama’s policies, many of those plants — including one in nearby Louisa, Ky., where a giant cooling tower was recently demolished after the plant converted from coal to natural gas — are not coming back. Analysts agree that what Appalachia really needs is a diversified economy, a goal that has eluded Mr. Obama and state and local politicians.

But in this land of staggering beauty and economic pain, Trump backers said over and over again that while coal might never be what it once was, the businessman they helped send to the White House could indeed put them back to work — if not in mining, then in some other industry.

“I don’t think he can ever fulfill all the promises he made even in four or eight years,” Danny Maynard, 59, said after a Bible study at the Chattaroy Missionary Baptist Church. Mr. Maynard lost his job at a coal company last year. “But I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “He wants to make America great again.”

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SOURCE: SHERYL GAY STOLBERG 
The New York Times