Donald Trump and West Virginia: Star-Crossed Lovers


Franklin Norton

President Donald Trump speaks Thursday during a campaign rally at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. (Franklin Norton | The Parthenon)

The excitement was palpable as the crowd’s eager anticipation was met with a tune familiar and cherished by West Virginians–John Denver’s, “Country Roads.” It was to this song that President Trump walked out from under his ‘Make America Great Again’ banner to an adoring crowd. The president relished in his walk to the podium, taking his time to stop and wave to his supporters. Before getting to the podium, he grabbed a sign from the crowd, holding it up to deafening praise: “Trump Digs Coal.”

West Virginia was the most Pro-Trump state in the 2016 presidential election, with 68 percent of its voters choosing Trump’s name on the ballot, according to state election data. That is two out of every three voters. The people of West Virginia are enamored with this commander-in-chief, and that was made abundantly clear during his visit to Huntington.

The mountain state is used to being last. The most recent Gallup well-being index puts West Virginia at the very bottom, with the state falling behind when it comes to having purpose, physical and financial well-being. Trump sings a tune that gives hope to many, and has many singing along, that if America can be great again, maybe it will finally be West Virginia’s chance.

“I love the people of this state,” Trump said to the crowd in Huntington. “I love your grit–your spirit. And I love your coal miners, and we’re coming back strong.” He went on to say that, “as president we are putting our coal miners back to work. We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We’ve stopped the EPA intrusion.”

If anything is clear, it’s that Trump makes West Virginians feel relevant. West Virginians are a people who have felt forgotten by recent administrations. The President complimented West Virginians, calling them, “hardworking people who are the absolute backbone of this country.”

That type of recognition is not one people of the Wild and Wonderful state are used to receiving. Moreover, the President congratulated the West Virginian crowd by announcing a 3 percent economic growth in the state.

“You’re leading the country’s average,” Trump praised. “When was the last time you heard that, West Virginia? I’m so proud of you.”

Former Marshall University Football Coach, Bob Pruett, was among Trump’s most dynamic supporters, giving a speech before the president’s arrival.

“He said he would help our state. He’s the first president I know who’s come to our state twice in less than two weeks who’s not running for election,” Pruett said. “We’re relevant again.”

Although this event was in fact a campaign rally for the president’s 2020 campaign, Pruett’s words captured the hearts of so many West Virginians: a desire to feel known and rescued by the President of the United States.

Pruett’s words and the remarks of the other speakers at the campaign, including the President himself, began to reveal the source of why so many West Virginia are so fond of the 45th President. President Trump makes a state who is used to staying near the bottom of every positive ranking and the top of every negative one, feel useful and understood.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, a democrat running for U.S. congress in 2018, said he thought West Virginians embrace the President so much because they feel like a forgotten region.

“We might disagree on most things, but when he came out and he had that coal sign, if I would have been there and I’d had access to him and Secret Service would’ve let me, I would’ve hugged him,” WIlliams said. “That was him saying, ‘I know you, I acknowledge you, and you’re important.’”

With this in mind, however, Williams expressed his concern that the president has never specifically stated what he plans to do to help West Virginians.

“Frankly I think he could have riled up the crowds immeasurably with some specifics, but it was a ‘Greatest Hits’ review” Williams said.

Trump has had arguably some of the most turbulent weeks of his presidency in recent news, with an approval rating hitting historically low numbers. It would make sense for him to go the place he is most favored. He recycled his talking points about building the wall, illegal immigration, jobs and the stock market, Russia and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Trump boasted numerous achievements, including adding hundreds of thousand of manufacturing jobs, which is not exactly true, with the number being about 70,000 manufacturing jobs since January.

Trump also boasted how he’s responsible for getting people back to work, when in reality unemployment has been steadily declining since 2011, according to the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When it comes to coal jobs, it is true that the nation’s mining jobs have opened up in the industry under the Trump administration, and FactCheck puts it this way:

 “The number of coal mining jobs has increased by a net of 600 jobs between January and July, going from 50,000 to 50,600, according to the BLS. The most recent jobs report, which was released Aug. 4, shows a drop of 200 jobs between June and July.”

 The president can speak West Virginians’ language. Trump’s popularity rests not only in making West Virginians feel relevant, but also because he enforces their traditional values: safety, patriotism and religious conservatism.

“We believe in God. We believe in family. We believe in country,” President Trump said.

 A favorite topic for many in the crowd was Trump’s discussion of the wall he plans to build along the nation’s southern border, along with his newly proposed “ RAISE Act”, a merit-based immigration system that will favor those who, “can speak English” and will prevent new immigrants from receiving welfare benefits for five years.

“Our plan supports immigrants who can speak English—“;the crowd erupted before Trump even finished his sentence.

The President briefly mentioned Huntington’s opioid epidemic, a struggle devastating the state. Trump said his proposed wall along the southern border would aid in the state’s fight against the epidemic, implying that drug dealers and criminals are illegal immigrants.

The people of West Virginia are scared of the things Trump promises to remove and can’t let go of the things Trump promises to protect. The audience’s hopefulness was nearly tangible as Trump discussed topics such as climate change, favor of the second amendment, healthcare reform, support of veterans and his infamous travel ban.

“We only want to invite people into our country who love our people and share our values,” Trump said. He places West Virginians’ values back on the map.

“Your dreams are my dreams. Your hopes are my hopes. And your future is what I’m fighting for every day,” the President said, like a lover whispering sweet nothings. “We love you!” replied an attendee.

West Virginians in the arena rejoiced because they think with this president they won’t have to be afraid anymore– afraid of terrorism and criminals, of high taxes and of their voices silenced.

Trump won every county in West Virginia by making promises that appeal to traditional, Appalachian values. Thursday, two banners hung behind the President: one read “Promises Made,” and the next, “Promises Kept.” Around 9,000 West Virginians celebrated, danced and cheered with hope in their hearts and joy in their eyes because they believe Trump has kept his campaign promises to West Virginia.

Trump closed with a series of loose promises that would resonate with West Virginians and their values. “We will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again, and we will make America great again.”

As Trump exited the stage, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blasted throughout the arena. Crowds slowly filed out and happily sang along that, “if you try sometimes, you find you get what you need.” The question remains: Is Donald Trump what West Virginia needs?

Franklin Norton can be reached at [email protected]

Lydia Waybright can be reach at [email protected]