CHARLESTON – Since election night when the impossible first started appearing possible, I've seen countless questions of "How did this happen" (often in all caps on social media). The answers given are more confused than the question.
"Never underestimate people's stupidity." "They're misogynists." "They're racists." "They were tricked by fake news on Facebook."
Most voters had an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump and were troubled by his comments. Many voted for him anyway. If you think the fact that he won makes even less sense I'll explain here why the reason for his victory is clear. The reason it happened in West Virginia is essentially the same as why I believe it happened everywhere else. And why it should it matter to you no matter where you live.
This is stream of consciousness, so bear with me. I'm typing through a lot of frustration as I see voters in places like West Virginia called everything except informed. Before you assume anything this is not a defense of Donald Trump or an assault on Hillary Clinton. I'm a pragmatic guy and I'm only telling you why this happened in places like where I live, which is to say most of America.
In the places with the most confusion we're now seeing riots. I know the reasons are sometimes complex. Some protesters are angry over social issues. What I'm writing about revolves around people's financial well-being. Many protesters keep reminding us how well the country is doing under President Obama's economic plan.
That's likely only true where they live. Our current "recovery" has only taken place in large urban areas. Every other type of county in this country has lost jobs since 2008. That kind of thing has never happened before.
Now look at the county by county results on any election map. Hillary Clinton dominated large urban areas. Donald Trump won everywhere else, i.e. in most of America. What's happening right now in those large cities reminds me of Veruca Salt (from the movie, not the band) throwing a fit because it wasn't good enough that she had all the golden eggs, she wanted the whole goose.
I don't say that as a joke because none of this is funny. As a general rule, large urban voters have seen their lives get better the past eight years. That may not mean you personally, but it's true for most. Urban voters have more jobs and more money. They either ignored or don't care that most of the rest of the country did not share in this turnaround.
Do you believe Hillary Clinton's loss is partly or wholly grounded in rural misogyny? If so let me ask you this: Does it matter to you that in the places where Trump won women's life expectancies have decreased since 1987? This is also generally true for large areas of the Appalachian population, male or female. In urban America you are building new shopping malls. Where I live people are dying younger than their parents.
Political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote a piece in the New York Times this summer that stuck with me as I tried to figure out this election. I kept remembering this simple sentence while Trump continued to defy the odds, "Economic performance is measured in the lives of individuals, not aggregates." This is exactly why Trump won.
But Hillary Clinton offered to help small communities, you may say. It's true, she had a $30 billion, 10-year recovery plan for Appalachia. The problem is $3 billion per year is not a lot of money for a region stretching from Georgia to New York. That's especially true when the value of one coal company alone was $20 billion just a few years ago. That company is now bankrupt.
On top of that her program involved job "retraining." In other words, I'll give you some money to help you move someplace that actually has jobs. Kiss your parents and grandparents goodbye before you go. Let's hope your kids make fast friends at their new schools.
But the market caused your problems, not government you may add. It's true that in places like West Virginia cheap natural gas and economic slow downs in India and China are part of our problem. However, any honest observer also has to admit that our government manipulated the markets to make fossil fuels, coal in particular, less competitive.
Let me tell you a not-so-secret secret – people in West Virginia would love to build solar panels for a living. This is especially true if it paid as much as mining jobs. Take a look at this BLS report on the wages of all coal mining related occupations. You see all the median wages toward the right? Those are pretty high numbers. What you'll also see is there are lots and lots of jobs associated with mining that don't involve being a coal miner.
None of this includes the indirect jobs associated with the industry. Equipment manufacturers. Machine shops. Gas stations. Mom and Pop restaurants. The teachers who instruct the kids. The people who lead the houses of worship. In some places we call that a "community."
Urban America has seen a recovery. Many of the rest of us have seen our population flee, our schools hemorrhage teachers and with the loss of our tax base a huge budget shortfall. There has been no recovery out in the political hinterlands.
But it's your fault for being too dependent upon one resource, you may say. It's true our politicians have been very short-sighted. However, we've also tried transitioning to cheaper and cleaner natural gas, which we have an abundance of. Hillary Clinton poured cold water all over us on that one, too. We can't mine coal, we can't drill for natural gas and when the government uses our workers' income taxes to subsidize a $500 million federal guarantee to Solyndra they build the damn manufacturing facility in California.
You still don't understand why most of the country didn't vote for Hillary Clinton? You should be able to figure it out when you concede that voters in most of America were asked to subsidize industries that usually wind up in the coastal Blue states. We helped pay to create the new economy. I know the new economy then helped pay for our resultant unemployment, Social Security and healthcare but, trust me, we'd prefer the jobs.
Of course a shift in domestic jobs is often our best case scenario. This assumes the jobs aren't lost overseas due to NAFTA and the looming TPP. I know everything isn't bad about trade deals but everything also isn't good about them either. Feel the Bern if you don't believe me.
Bill Clinton's former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argues that the national Democratic Party made a major miscalculation 20+ years ago when it started pursuing urban and corporate money at the expense of blue collar workers. Whether you believe him or not it's hard not to believe deals like NAFTA and the TPP are basically the Democrats' version of trickle-down economics.
Global interests are supposed to make more money so the rest of us somehow benefit, usually just in the form of cheaper goods. However, none of the rest of us can directly participate in those deals, which exist in the ether. We just have to cross our fingers and hope they make our lives better.
If you're an urban Hillary voter who wants the rest of us to vote like you next time around then I promise you it's possible. If we have jobs. If new economy titans like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg really want to effectuate change they'd build stuff in places like where I live. That would impact voter habits almost as fast as a Google search.
Call this anecdotal if you want but there is a world-class Toyota engine manufacturing facility not far from my house. There are a lot more Toyota trucks around here than there used to be. We love the jobs that a foreign company entrusted to us. Even if it means not always buying a Ford or Chevy.
When I buy spark plugs I always go with those made by Japanese manufacturer NGK. You know why? They have a world-class facility 15 minutes from my house. This is coming from a guy who had to read the labels as a child to make sure whatever present I could afford to buy my union member Dad was made in the U.S.A. Oh yeah, that same Dad has done a lot of contract work at the local Toyota plant. He bought a Toyota truck one time because of how much he liked the place.
Do you still argue that most Americans were focused on xenophobia or racism? That doesn't explain states like Michigan. In 2012 Obama only registered less than 40 percent of the vote in 10 counties there. In 2016 Hillary Clinton registered less than 40 percent of the vote in a whopping 60 of those same counties. I have a hard time believing a blue state that voted for our nation's first black President suddenly became a raging hotbed of racism and misogyny four years later. Michigan native Michael Moore tried to warn you. These shifts happened all over America.
We don't have an immigration problem in my state but it's talked about, like it is across most of the U.S. For us it mostly centers around national security and, again, jobs. We have a very high per capita veteran population. They fought to keep their country safe and by all that's good and holy they expect it to stay that way. If anyone claims immigration has nothing to do with national security then Hillary Clinton disagreed with you when she voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006.
If places like West Virginia don't have large numbers of immigrants then you may think the job correlation is false. You're wrong because that worry very often comes from who should be safe Democratic voters – Union members. West Virginia recently became a right-to-work state and the anxiety by many, real or perceived, is that we will either see foreign workers putting pressure on our already fragile job market or lose those domestic jobs altogether.
In an awesome piece of unexpected theater conservative commentator Ann Coulter went after the Koch Brothers this year by claiming they only opposed immigration reform because they, and the Wall Street wings of both parties, want to maintain an influx of cheap labor. Do you know who else is perceived to be in the pocket of Wall Street? You don't have to say it out loud. You know. Bernie successfully tied that anchor around her neck. And she helped him.
People in the places where a lot Trump voters live are not bad human beings who voted out of malice. Did you know that even though West Virginia is usually around the second poorest state in the country, the area where I live is ranked the 4th most charitable? We have the second least amount of resources but we give the fourth most of what little we do have.
Last year West Virginia voted down a Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill. I didn't see urban America praise us for it. Instead you just made fun of Mississippi for passing their own. We are charitable and decent. It therefore rings hollow to some when told they shouldn't have voted for Mr. Trump on perceived moral reasons versus his proposed economic plans. We are good people but we've lived in a very bad economy for a very long time.
In places like where I live, all across America, we don't hate women. In January 2017 three out of our five state Supreme Court Justices will be women. We will vote for women to lead us. Our most popular state politician is a female U.S. senator. However, our women are dying younger than yours and, frankly, no one outside of where we live seems to care.
We don't hate immigrants. In the county neighboring mine the voters just elected a first generation Mexican-American woman to our state Legislature. It probably doesn't hurt that she changed her name to match that of former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Either way, she still has a Mexican accent and came to this country as a child with her parents. She won a local election.
We just want to keep our jobs so that we don't have to continue to see our schools fail, our young people leave and our towns crumble. Our current immigration policies have been successfully linked to Wall Street. Hillary Clinton was seen as Wall Street's candidate mostly because of what happened during the Democratic primary.
I'm not saying you are personally rich and aloof. You may be financially struggling as well. If you've read this far you are probably a decent, introspective person. I know lot of Trump voters make more than a lot of Hillary voters and lot of Hillary voters are good people regardless of income level.
The touchstone is the difference in our communities. I can't say it enough. You have new buildings and cranes in yours. We have empty store fronts and moving vans in ours. You at least have the hope that President Obama talked about. To us that's just a slogan.
Don't think what's happened to coal miners and auto workers can't happen to you or, at least, your community. How will the nation's two million truck drivers react if they lose their jobs due to self-driving technology? I'm not arguing that we must stop progress or deny the inevitable. What we must do, however, is ask that our government work proactively if it is going to favor one commodity or one type of job over another.
Let's use the Affordable Care Act as an example. One of its stated goals was to keep us proactively healthy. If the government is going to sicken coal, or any other industry, then it's hard to ask for votes if that same candidate helped cause the symptoms. Hillary Clinton could only offer to treat a dying patient. By then it was too late at the ballot box for much of America to agree to her treatment plan.
I don't blame her or President Obama for all of our ills. It's been a long time coming over multiple administrations. However, we were essentially offered more of the same if we voted for Mrs. Clinton. She is as far as you can say this in today's world, a fairly predictable choice. A lot of voters across much of America voted for something different than they'd ever seen before because they didn't want more of the same.
Middle America will embrace your new economy jobs if we are allowed to participate BEFORE you decimate the old economy jobs we have now. Coal miners used to be called heroes for mining the coal that made the steel that made the weapons that won world wars. Now they are blamed for causing global warming.
We'll make solar panels and wind mills the same way we help make Japanese cars and trucks. And we'll do it as well or better than anyone else. What we won't do is watch as you shut down the only jobs we do have and then vote for you after you've done it.
If we're only talking jobs, if you think most of America is stupid for voting for Donald Trump those same people may offer you the definition of insanity if they'd voted for Mrs. Clinton. That doesn't mean those voters have blind faith that Donald Trump can fix everything but, again, they rejected more of the same.
In my State every county voted red in the Presidential race. We were one of only two states to do so. By 7 percent we still elected a Democrat as our Governor. It was not a wedge issue campaign. Our Governor's race was a campaign mostly about jobs and the drug epidemic that continues to increase as our employment decreases.
For us, and most of the America that Hillary Clinton lost, it's not about which party you belong to. It's not about whether you're a man or woman. It's about whether we believe you are for us. If you are then we are with you. That's all there is to understand.
Around here we mean it when we say God Bless America. I pray in four years we've found more common ground than we did in 2016.
Akers is an attorney and Charleston's city clerk. He owns Akers Law Offices PLLC.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: To read the original version of this column, with more hyperlinks, visit the website of Aker's firm.)