Would you vote for a person who promised to destroy your educational opportunities, job prospects, and access to affordable healthcare? Most of us would unequivocally say no. So how exactly do we explain the phenomenon we saw in the 2016 election, when millions of lower class people in some of the most economically depressed regions of the country did exactly that and cast their ballots for a predatory real estate developer like Donald Trump?
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has some ideas on why Trump was able to secure the votes of Americans who have next to nothing. And he uses the promise Trump made about returning coal mining jobs to states such as West Virginia to illustrate his theory.
No state, Krugman explains, is truly truly dependent on coal for its economic livelihood:
“Coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.”
Currently, one in six West Virginians works in the fields of healthcare and social assistance, both of which are largely supported by money from the federal government. So why in the world would any resident of West Virginia cast a ballot for a man and a party who talk about cutting federal spending to the bone? Krugman writes:
“‘Coal country’ residents weren’t voting to preserve what they have, or had until recently; they were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more. Their Trump votes weren’t even about the region’s interests; they were about cultural symbolism.”
And that, Krugman concludes, could have catastrophic consequences for the entire world:
“Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future. Over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.”
This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org