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Trump and Coal Miners

Here you go, guys. You get to read my reaction to something infuriating in pretty much real time, with minor adjustments for continuity and for some semblance of grammar.

I was reading the news this morning while pretending to do some work, and I came across this frustrating story.

So ok, like I’d expect, coal miners (as in, workers in a dying industry) in Pennsylvania are being offered training for other industries.

This is something I want. If employees are stuck in the coal industry, which has failed them, and live in an economy that ignored the problem and failed to prepare them for the industry’s death, it makes sense to provide them with at least some semblance of a future. Education seems like the least we can do.

But apparently, miners are generally refusing to be retrained for other industries. Apparently, the president’s promise to bring back coal has convinced them that their jobs will come back and their futures are secure.

What. The. Hell.

And I don’t know what to be more pissed off about- the fact that Trump’s ignorance has so convinced people that this is an option, or the fact that these people are refusing to explore other options for the future.

I think I’m more pissed at Trump than the miners.

Trump, being the leader of our country, has a responsibility to advocate for programs and policies that are well studied. He has the responsibility to be well informed. He has the responsibility to share information that is factual and will encourage productive behaviors among the citizens of the country. The coal miners are just working with the information they’ve been given.

So ok, let me try to put myself into their position, even though I know I can’t actually see the world from their point of view. I can still imagine them complexly, and give them the benefit of the doubt that yes, they are capable of rational thought. So if they believe that it is safer to stick with coal instead of, say, computer programming or healthcare , there has to be something in the information they have that tells them it is so.

Some things that I didn’t consider with my original fury that I’ve found through some googling:

  • Trump’s promises to bring back coal are probably better distributed in coal country. In non-coal-dependent areas,  or at least among my social and influential circle, the arguments and plans to bring coal back are met with little patience. I don’t want to hear Trump winge about bringing back “clean coal” much less hear about his plans to do so. Coal miners, though, would have an extreme interest in this area. I’d expect them to pay attention to it. And simply having news of a plan often makes that plan seem more reasonable.
  • Relatedly, coal miners probably don’t want to hear any of the reasons why coal is no longer dependable. It’s not necessarily wise to avoid this information, but if, for example, it was decided that Net Neutrality was the economically viable way for the future of the internet, I probably wouldn’t be too eager to understand why either.
  • The idea of job retraining is probably alarming, especially if there is no guaranteed job at the end of the training. Nancy Horvath, described in this article, “[has] seen laid-off co-workers invest time and sweat in career retraining, but there were no jobs in the end. “What good is a doughnut if you don’t have coffee to dunk it in?” she asks.”
  • Maybe they don’t want the jobs at the end of the training. In the Business Insider article I linked, the retraining programs include “cybersecurity, truck driving and mechanical engineering.” and to be honest, if the choices were “wait and hope” or “learn to drive trucks”, I wouldn’t be too excited about either. (Especially considering the rise of self-driving cars. We may be years away from ubiqitous autonomous vehicle technology, but with self driving cars would come self driving trucks. Who knows, it may not be the most secure long term industry either. But that insecurity is still probably pretty far down the road, so at least that’s comforting.)
  • Learning a new skill set probably doesn’t feel like much of a boost if you still have to compete with other skilled job seekers who have also received that boost before you. I mean, college kids are out there, already stressed about competing with existing employees. I was just there a year ago. It feels horrible, being told “you need experience to get experience.” Finding a job out of college is miserable. Imagine feeling like the college kids have a leg up. (and yes I realize the irony of that statement. The whole point of college is to give you a leg up in the workforce. shush, you dissenter.)
  • I can’t tell you how many times I had professors tell me “oh you should just move to wherever you find the perfect job, that’s how you’ll get ahead.” But moving is a great risk– and it’s a very lonely one. Hell, I found a job listing with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries that I was super interested in, but it is in Georgia, and moving there would isolate me and my husband from our friends and family. packing up and starting over are just not ideal.
  • Coal miners have been handed a shit situation, and yeah, sure, it’s irrational to not want to think about it, but humans are emotional creatures, and sometimes the emotional stress of a situation that pretty much nobody else in the country truly has to deal with probably gets to you. It’s kinda nice to ostrich (head in the dirt) sometimes. Sometimes, to feel better, you need to just pretend everything is fine.

This Is Fine

(I mean, these are still somewhat artificial roadblocks, and if I were in their position and went to my mother with these arguments, she would call me out on it and force me to think practically, and more, to do practically, because even the sources saying that coal will come back are limiting it to tiny quantities of workers, and in the short term, as in THIS YEAR, as this article concludes: “The coal industry’s problems have not gone away but this year should feel much more positive than the last two years for coal companies and workers.” That is not the kind of industry I would want to rely on, especially if I had a family to worry about.)

Refusing education is an economically stupid thing to do, and I am frustrated with their stubbornness, but I can at least understand why they don’t want to think about it.

So I can have some compassion for the coal miners.

But Trump. He is an issue.

These coal miners got shafted. (ha. pun.)

They happened to be born into a culture built strongly around a single industry- Coal. And this would have worked out pretty well for them…. except that coal is a nonrenewable resource. And it’s horrible for the environment. And it’s really dirty and expensive to gather. And it creates health problems for the people who have to work with it.

From a purely economic standpoint, it’s like those small towns in Ohio that my grandpa talks about fairly often. These towns were built years ago, during the industrial revolution and economic boom of the 20th century, around a single company’s activities. For example, New Bremen, Ohio (and the surrounding area) is sustained in a large part because of the presence of Crown.  And if that company does well, the town flourishes. But if the company doesn’t do well, or if it decides to leave altogether, the town would be crippled. This can and does happen to many small towns across America, especially with the decreased demand for employees in American manufacturing settings.

This is an unfortunate and negative side effect of the increasingly national and later, the growing global economy. Maybe at one time, transportation, communication, and logistics were janky enough that we needed a forklift manufacturer in most states. But as the country’s public transportation and shipping systems grew, one forklift factory could serve 10 states, or even 15, and the other 9 or so factories wouldn’t be needed anymore. They’d leave.

(I don’t actually know if this happened with forklift makers, it’s just an example to make a point.)

((Oh I’ve just gone and googled Crown to make sure that it was indeed the company in New Bremen for a reference a couple of paragraphs ago, and it looks like they actually do make lift trucks. I swear I did not intentionally make that connection. Brains are weird.))

Similarly, coal has declined, and for a number of reasons.

I was having a conversation with my dad (whose job is sustained largely by the natural gas industry) a couple of weeks ago, and he brought up the increased regulations that made it harder for the coal industry, which I hadn’t really considered as a factor until that point.

But government regulations are not the only reason the coal industry has experienced such a sharp decline.  There are a bunch of other reasons. Railroads were deregulated, making it easier to get coal from the west, but also bringing new technology which allowed fewer workers to mine more coal. Natural gas prices went down;  it’s becoming harder and harder to get; the existing easy pickings (mountaintop strip mining) require fewer and fewer workers to collect. The list of reasons goes on and on.

And it would be one thing to say “government regulation has made the coal miners’ transition to other industries harder. We should keep the regulations away until the miners have had time to receive education and training.” I could maybe be ok with taking out pollution control measures if it was understood to be a temporary measure intended as a sort of life-support for miners stuck in a dying industry.

But no, Trump has decided to pretend that coal is coming back. He’s pretended that, even in the face of economic and scientific analysis, which argues that the government has less of a role to play in the energy market than natural gas technology, it was Obama who killed the coal industry, and that now he has the power to bring it back.

For a guy masquerading as a businessman, he really doesn’t seem to understand how to analyze markets.

((I say masquerading, because I’d be willing to bet that his business achievements are due to the work of his colleagues, and that just as he needs an adult babysitter while tweeting from the White House, he probably needed a babysitter of some kind sitting up in Trump tower. His business was probably just better at keeping leaks away from the press (and also people didn’t care back then).

((And I mean, this is all speculation… but is it?

((Honestly, given his patterns in office, I don’t think he even cares about the miners or the coal industry at all (unless he has a buddy who happens to be a coal industry higher-up). I think it’s legitimately just about taking out yet another of Obama’s policies.

((Trump seems like he only ever ran for office because it would be a way to say “fuck you” to Obama. It seems like he only does anything because it kills something Obama did.

((If I had to guess, the motivation to destroy Obama’s work comes from the fact that he lost the whole argument over whether Obama was a citizen. I would guess that loss made him bitter, and made him want to crush everything Obama would do while in office. I say that with less contempt than most of my statements about Trump, because I know there’s a part of me that acts the same way. It’s probably where that prediction comes from.

((And I’m not going to sit here and pretend like Obama was an infallible president. He wasn’t.  No president if. I didn’t really have any strong feelings about him one way or another for the majority of his presidency, it was really only at the end, when his successor was going to be Trump or Clinton, that I really started to think “I’m really going to miss having him in there. I feel like he’s putting a lot of thought into his work, and while I don’t always agree with the decisions he makes, I feel reasonably confident that he’s doing what he thinks is the right thing to do, and I’d rather have a president like that than what we’re facing.”))

So there it is. I’m pissed at Trump.

(This is really groundbreaking, they really should do a story about me and how I’m so unique, being frustrated with our president. I mean, it’s not like half the country also thinks he’s messing things up, right?)

Actually, I’m downright furious.

Because instead of standing up for these workers after they’ve been shit on by their employers, by their local economies, by Hillary Clinton, and literally by the ground itself, he’s touting some false hope instead of adding incentives to get them out of that terrible situation. He’s pretending that he cares about them, when really there is no evidence that the actions he is taking will provide any reliable support to them at all.

If he cares so much about the miners, he ought to pass legislation opening grants for education and job training so that they can seek jobs in a more stable industry. If he really cares about them, he should put together an economic incentive for the workers to follow through with that training, and an incentive for employers to hire coal miners who had been fucked over. He should help them physically move to their new jobs, if necessary.

But no. He’s just dicking around with environmental regulations and pretending that this will bring back an industry that had been dying since the idea of using natural gas was formed in someone’s mind.

And his ignorance and false hope has led vulnerable people to make decisions that will limit their future options.

It is not fair to the coal miners. They deserve better.


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