False promises & betrayal
Of all the false promises made in the race for president, the cruelest came from Donald Trump in an effort to gain the support of struggling coal miners and their families.
“Coal — clean coal, clean coal. We’re bringing it back,” Trump promised during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh.
And even for folks who knew better, those words gave them a wisp of hope, and they gave Trump the votes that he needed.
But now, in some of the poorest coal towns in America, those Trump voters are nervous. And it began with the nomination of billionaire Wilbur Ross for secretary of Commerce, an insult to many of the coal families that supported Trump.
In 2006, 12 miners died in a West Virginia mine owned by one of Ross’ companies.
The Sago mine had hundreds of safety citations and a history of dangerous roof failures and electrical problems. Ross told ABC News that, while he knew there were violations, “Every mine in the country has violations.”
It was an oddly casual response to a devastating tragedy.
Critics say those miners would still be alive if the company had stopped production and invested in safety. But production continued, along with the revenue.
Whether Trump will now add injury to insult depends on which Trump you believe when it comes to ObamaCare.
One Trump continues to call for a complete repeal, and another Trump promises to save the “good” parts, without any hint as to what parts are “good.”
A repeal of ObamaCare will also repeal the only lifeline left for many coal families.
Before ObamaCare, every miner had to fight the coal companies for black lung benefits, most dying before proving their cases.
Now, if miners have black lung after 15 years in the mines, there is a presumption that it was caused by their work.
That entitles the miners or their widows to monthly benefits, often the difference between making it or not.
As one widow told Eastern Kentucky’s Mountain News WYMT, “If ObamaCare goes away, we’re gonna be in a world of depression.”
Another widow, who cobbles together Social Security, a small pension and black lung benefits, said, “It’s not a large amount, but it’s enough to pay the bills.”
Stunning ignorance may be the problem.
Stephen Sanders, director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, told CNN, “President-elect Trump promised people that he was going to restore mining jobs. I don’t think he thought about what the Affordable Care Act might mean to miners who are applying for black lung benefits.”
“(P)residents make at least a ‘good faith’ effort to keep an average of about two-thirds of their campaign promises,” according to the FiveThirtyEight political blog. But most Americans do not expect presidential candidates to keep all or even most of their promises.
Coal is not coming back, and Trump can put that in the column of broken promises. But those coal families remain. If Trump makes their lives harder, put that in the betrayal column.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick.com).