Angela LeJohn is 49, has worked at a local energy company for nine years, and loves it. A registered Democrat, she never once voted for a Republican and never expected to entertain such a thought—not even in a local election—until this year.
“The short of it is that I am looking at this election through self-preservation,” she explained. “I love my job, I love that I only live three miles from work, I love that who I work for contributes to a stable life, and I love that my community is holding on because of the trickle effect Lee Supply Company’s impact has on the region.”
LeJohn will vote for Donald Trump for president and for incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey in November, she candidly admits, not because she loves either Republican candidate but because “they have my back.”
She was among more than 60 employees who attended an informal voter-registration effort conducted by Secure Energy for America, a non-partisan trade association that has visited energy vendors and suppliers in key counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, and Virginia. It hopes to mobilize energy-industry workers, along with their relatives and neighbors, to vote in November. Officially, the effort is non-partisan. Yet for most energy workers in Pennsylvania, voting to preserve their industry means voting for Trump and Toomey.
The registration drive gets to the heart of the election in Western Pennsylvania. Democrats in these small communities want to hold on to their way of life; they feel their communities have as much value as those of their more-cosmopolitan Democratic cousins, and they cannot reconcile themselves to a national Democratic Party that they feel is working against them. They are the voters whose simple motivation to vote outside of the party they were born into has fallen under the radar of the national press and the polls.
But the energy industry has noticed. “This kind of endeavor is terrifically impactful with voters,” said Ron Sicchitano, the Democratic Party’s chairman here in Washington County. “I’ve got to hand it to them.” Sicchitano, a coal miner, says anti-coal statements by President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have had a “tremendously devastating” impact on voters in a county that has been reliably Democratic in the past.
The reality is that coal jobs are not coming back. Ever. Finding something to replace them is difficult to say the least. At the same time, these are real people with families and bills and pets and houses and problems like the rest of us, only the industry that kept their communities going is on its deathbed. They want to believe Trump can put $100k a year mining jobs back on the menu, when the diner is closed.
But the reality too is that these "life-long Democrats" are making the choice to turn to Trump, despite his obvious racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and other fun garbage down in that Basket of Deplorables, and at some point these folks have to be held accountable for enabling Republicans to destroy them.
Yes, I understand the impulse to say these folks are being conned, that they are the victims of Trump's rhetoric and that it's easy to blame the Dems for wrecking the industries that put food on their table. I get that, believe me. I grew up in small-town NC when the industries that left due to NAFTA were textiles and manufacturing moving overseas in the early 90's. Believe me, the people where I grew up immediately blamed the Democrats and the Clintons especially and have made the foothills of western NC blood red ever since.
But it's exactly the people who feel like they have the choice to support Republicans like Toomey and Trump, despite their hideous rhetoric, that are the problem in this country. They enable the racism and hatred and look the other way because "Trump has their back". That's a nice luxury to have, but the rest of us are going to fight these assholes tooth and nail, and if it means we have to scrap your coal mining community, well, you'll survive. We did 20 years ago, and back home we're finally seeing more high-tech jobs move into NC (well until HB2 came along, but that's what happens when you enable Republicans because you're afraid of those people taking your jobs.)
That's the way it works here in America: the voters decide. The electorate is changing. Technology is changing and moving forward. Fighting for "how things used to be" is never going to work.