In this column, now five months ago, I wrote that Donald Trump was liable to be elected President of the United States. Very rarely do I get mail. But I got a lot of feedback after that column ran. Many believed that I, a lifelong Democrat, had turned coat, lost my mind or otherwise had been turned. But if you listened you could hear it the wind of change beginning to blow.
Appalachia comprises that range of highlands that runs on the continent from Western Pennsylvania South and West to Northern Alabama. The call us Appalachians at polite times, but we are known most other times as Hillbillies. All the national pundits were obsessing on what various ethnic groups might do. They, as late as election evening, were saying that the Hispanics had turned out in record numbers to vote against Trump.
But as it turns out, the ethnic group that influenced this election more than any other in memory was the Hillbillies. For a century now, the mountain folk have been migrating , normally North, to find wage paying work. From Western Pennsylvania, down through Southern Ohio, through Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Georgia and Alabama, the strongest support for Trump was in those areas classically known as rural Appalachia. They voted as one and favored Trump by at least twenty percent.
If there is anything left (pun intended) of the Democratic Party, they had better pay attention or it will happen again, and again. Those well paying jobs that folks went North to get and the Southern factory jobs? Well, since NAFTA and its aftermath, those jobs have been in Mexico and China. The Carhartt pants I am wearing just now were made in Mexico. The Georgia Boot shoes? China. Those items were made, in America and at a profit, only a few years ago by men and women who earned a living wage doing it. But the MBAs said the owners could make even more overseas and hell with American labor.
When I came to the mountains about 1980, there were workers sewing Levi and Lee brand jeans in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and Bristol, Tennessee. They made shirts in Middlesboro, too and tents in Knoxville. If you could sew, you could make a living. But a reasonable profit was not enough for a corporate establishment run by MBAs, who believe that you must squeeze ever drop of profit out of every transaction . The reason for this appears to be so you can rob your employees of their hope and dignity and make huge bonuses.
These corporate leaders created the Clintons and the Clintons did their bidding as has every President since. All the while, the Hillbillies were seething, hating NAFTA and all the trade giveaways that followed. Those folk were hiding from the push pollsters of the modern media and hating on agreements that stole their jobs. They were hating on the world the MBAs made, that refers to workers as “units of labor,” just like Karl Marx. And those people turned out and voted for anything besides what we had.
In the run-up to this election, Bernie Sanders “got it.” Trump “got it.” But the only pundit in, yes, the liberal media who got it was Van Jones, from CNN. He is the African-American commentator, fired from the Obama administration when it was discovered he had once protested against NAFTA back when it was first being considered. Jones calls the election “Whitelash” and understands it. Before this is over a lot more people will understand. Hillbillies are private people, who don’t want to be pinned down. Raised in company towns all over the range, they are careful. But they have been the backbone of every army ever raised for this nation. And they will fight. The war has begun and if Trump is much of a general, he’ll have an army as long as he wants it.
Thomas Carlston, the great Irish Patriot said, at his execution, “Someday, when Ireland is a nation again, we will be treated fairly.” Hillbillies feel that way. They helped build this nation, with coal and timber, labor and blood. They have come knocking at the door. So far, they aren’t carrying pitchforks.
And as I wrote, Trump can pass the Democrats on the left on healthcare, on the right on trade and with little more, be discussed in the same terms as the Roosevelts. It is his moment. He has the following.
A View From The Mountain is an op-ed column written by Bill Hayes, attorney, writer, former prosecutor and appeals judge. Hayes was raised at Ashland, , and has practiced law in Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee for 30 years. He, his wife Charity and their two children live in Middlesboro, Kentucky, at the Cumberland Gap.