See, the thing is, a lot of people around here seem to think Trump is their solution and salvation, the key to turning what's long been a struggling county around and back to what is was in its prime. And I think those people are wrong. I think that for a variety of reasons I won't get into today.
For now, NPR has run a story on the expectations people have of a Trump presidency, particularly in little ol' Uniontown. One of the things they mention is that for the first time in 20 years, Pennsylvania went red and voted Republican, something that seemed to surprise pundits and I suspect the politicians themselves--but it didn't surprise me, and I can't imagine it surprised many other residents, either. The flip from blue to red has been brewing a long while. I've mentioned on this blog in the past that I noticed during Obama's first run in 2008 many more yards had McCain signs than Obama, and having spent my whole life living here, I was fairly confident that had a hell of a lot more to do with skin color than it did policy. Even other Democrats bought into the unfounded rumors that Obama was born in Africa and his father was a terrorist.
Similarly, in my new location of nearby Washington and all the way down 40 to Uniontown, Trump signs dominated. While Fayette and Washington counties certainly aren't representative of the entire state, they seemed to reflect the attitudes and opinions of a lot of other people in the state, and while pundits seemed to speak of Pennsylvania as though it were a guaranteed blue state, I was skeptical. Like I said, in the end, we went red, and I wasn't surprised in the slightest. I wasn't alone, either.
Community members of all political persuasions came out for the event including Fayette County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Davis.
In the spring, Davis was trying to raise alarm bells to his party. He told NPR that he was concerned about the large Republican turnout in the Pennsylvania primary and he that he was seeing Democrats in his country switch their party registration so they could vote for Trump in the general election.
The writing was on the wall.
"We didn't want to see it," Davis says. "We didn't want to accept it but ... it was obvious."
Part of that has to do with the desire to see the coal industry make a comeback, and it's hard to argue with people who are feeling the impact of that loss. There's even a post back lurking in the archives of this blog dedicated to the impact the loss of the industry had on the area. It's pretty evident, really. The thing is, I think these hopes that Trump is going to bring it back are unrealistic. For one, I think he's barely aware of the county's existence, and on top of that--and this is one of the many reasons I couldn't vote for him--he doesn't seem to have a true understanding of how to fix our problems. The best example of this is evident in the fact that he promised to help both the coal and natural-gas industries, both of which have business in Fayette County. But the problem is the two compete with each other, making it impossible to truly help both. In the end, it'll be one or the other.
As much as I understand why people are holding on to the hope that coal will be saved, maybe it's time for Fayette County to move on. Maybe it's time for us to take a look at what else we have to offer and how we can rebuild our economy in another way. Take Pittsburgh, for example, which is becoming known more and more for sectors like technology and medicine. Even a look at the Waterfront will show you how the city is moved past its steel history--the area now boasts shopping, dining, and even entertainment, with places like Dave & Busters or the Improv comedy club, plus the Carnegie library/music venue up the hill. That's what we need to strive for--not a revival of an industry that truly doesn't seem like it's coming back or a president-elect full of empty promises, but rather an alternative to pick us back up again.
In the NPR article, Davis says something similar:
Davis believes the Democratic Party has to reinvent what they stand for in order to win back blue-collar voters and stop putting social issues at the forefront of the party. Democrats, he says, have to start talking about things like how to bring decent jobs into places like Fayette County.
"Not a job that pays $8 an hour with no benefits, but a job that can pay a reasonable wage with benefits that a man can raise his family, can hopefully buy a house and send his children off to college, maybe state school, but college," Davis says. "That's the kind of thing we've got to start talking about."