When Democrats think about so-called “Trump Country,” they see a land of hopeless Trump-loving racists who insist on voting against their self-interest. Republicans see the kind of older, whiter electorate that can be led like sheep if you just say the magic words: coal, guns, abortion. Cable news networks see only what Trump happened to Tweet about within the past hour.
All of them are wrong.
By the thousands, a grassroots army flooded the Capitol in Charleston yesterday, chanting: “We’ll remember in November!” and “Tax your friends!” Oh, and they’re coming back today, and they were there last week, and they’ll be there next week.
Let me just be clear about the type of folks who showed up to protest. Imagine the world’s largest PTA meeting sprinkled with some dudes with tattoos in camo hats. This wasn’t some hippie, lefty, Berkeley-looking group. And they certainly weren’t bused in from out of state, as some on the right suggested. They are ordinary West Virginians who have the support of their communities and are disgusted with the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Jim Justice, a coal company owner who is one of the state’s few billionaires.
So, note to Republicans: Yelling “War on Coal” may not be enough to keep you in office this November. And while West Virginia isn’t the most diverse place in the world, what diversity it has was on full display, with black and white standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, demanding better. I suspect plenty of my friends on the left would be a bit surprised that a massive action could happen in the Mountaineer State that didn’t involve Confederate flags and David Duke.
If you polled the teachers who showed up to protest, odds are good that the majority voted for Trump and don’t regret it. At the same time, the hero of their movement is a Democrat named Richard Ojeda, a state senator who is running for Congress (my organization has endorsed him). Let this sink in, the Trump-loving voters of West Virginia are having t-shirts made with Democratic Sen. Ojeda’s face on them and chasing him down for selfies like he’s Justin Bieber.
In fact, this same week in “Trump Country,” voters in one Kentucky House district went right from voting 73 percent for Trump to giving nearly the same percentage to Democrat Linda Belcher. Perhaps it’s time cable news outlets rethink their one-dimensional storylines about how citizens have become partisan automatons who just do whatever their team tells them to do.
Actually, let’s just dispatch with a view of our country that centers everything around this cancer of a president. There is no “Trump Country.” As it turns out, people in the heart of this alleged Trump-centric nation are not just sitting around worshipping the dear leader and waiting for a job in the coal mines. This week, for example, every county in West Virginia came together to make sure kids were fed while schools were closed. And today, I spent the entire day in the Capitol with thousands of West Virginians and did not hear the name “Trump” once.
West Virginia is not “Trump Country.” It’s part of OUR country. And like the women who marched on Washington and the students in Parkland, Florida, West Virginia teachers have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Krystal Ball is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia. A former candidate for Congress in Virginia and host on MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” she is a video host for the soon-to-be-launched Hill.TV project. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.