The Trump Voter's Disappointment is Real

Richard Ojeda, our endorsed candidate running in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, supported Donald Trump in 2016. Like millions of other Trump voters, he has grown disillusioned with the President. Below is an OpEd he wrote explaining his journey from voter desperate for anyone who would promise to help West Virginia to candidate opposing Trump and his policies.

The old saying goes that when people are desperate, they do desperate things. They ignore their own moral compass. They make hard decisions they may not be happy with.

Most people would agree that the 2016 President election was unusual. Between the ‘lock-her-up chants,’ the jokes about the size of a candidate’s hands, and a huge wave of support for ideals that are seldom discussed on a national level, most Americans felt tired at the end of the election cycle.

But West Virginians felt hopeful.

In my home state, coal is a way of life. The county where I grew up and live now with my family, Logan County, is one of the largest coal producing counties in the state. The people here are born and raised with coal in their veins, and over the past decade we’ve watched as our communities have turned into ghost towns . Men that once made nearly six figure salaries without a college education, and in some instances a high school education, were now waiting in line at food banks with tears in their eyes. They were ashamed, scared and angry.

And then came Donald Trump, a man finally telling West Virginia coalminers that he was going to put them back to work. Not long after, every yard had a Make America Great Again sign. Every coal miner donned a red hat with white letters. Every family was excited about what the future held if a man who really wanted to help us was elected. I was like everyone else: I wanted to believe.

As a Democrat, the choice was difficult. If my grandfather knew I supported a Republican in the general election, he would smack me. Maybe he would have been justified. But as a coal miner, I think maybe he would’ve understood. For southern West Virginia, the election was not about national issues. It was not about the ridiculous, hurtful and vulgar things Donald Trump said. For southern West Virginia, this election was about putting food on the table. Even though I am not a coalminer, these men are my family, my brothers, my best friends and my neighbors.

Yes, I heard the awful things Trump was saying about women, the fights he picked with minority groups and the divisions he caused between Americans. But I had a choice between a candidate who swore he would help and an opponent who guaranteed more of my friends and family would lose their jobs. So in this election, I chose to vote Republican and give Donald Trump a chance. Now, he’s blowing it.

Coal jobs in West Virginia have increased since President Trump took office. More men are going back to work, coal trucks are on the move and families are starting to rebuild. In the beginning, this was enough for most people to still support President Trump. And don’t misunderstand me here, thousands of West Virginians are still aboard the Trump train. But this is where I have to get off.

One of the things I learned in the United States military is that successful leaders surround themselves with intelligence. Donald Trump’s cabinet and staff are filled with campaign donors, Wall Street bankers, CEO’s and family. Betsy Devos, Ben Carson, Steven Mnuchin and many more lead significant departments without any prior experience in the field. Judicial nominees struggle to answer questions that are learned in the first year of law school.

We expected infrastructure. For West Virginia, metallurgical coal is our lifeline and it is used to make steel. When we hear infrastructure, we hear jobs.

We expected lower taxes for middle class families and instead the President pushes a tax bill focused on corporations and our nation’s wealthy.

We expected better and less expensive healthcare and were blindsided by a bill that would cut 23 million Americans out of the insurance market, resulting in thousands of deaths.

President Trump boasted about not cutting Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare, but now he and his party propose “reform” that is really going to mean deep cuts. They have allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire without so much as a word. The 50% of West Virginia children who depend on Medicaid or CHIP are no longer on the President’s mind as he focuses instead on feuding with the NFL.

Recently, the Trump administration announced it was considering weakening a regulation that was created to protect coal miners from black lung disease. The Respirable Coal Mine Dust Rule was implemented to combat this terrible disease that has killed thousands of miners and left millions of otherwise healthy adults unable to walk 50 feet at a time. Without that rule, more men working in mines with higher levels of coal dust will be more likely to suffer with this disease.

Again, these are my people. These are my friends and my family members. I backed President Trump because I thought he would help them. But I am beginning to realize that the only people he backs are just like him: wealthy, powerful, with no regard for people living paycheck to paycheck.

I’ve never been someone who gets caught up in partisan politics. I don’t judge people by the letter beside their name. But I am someone who stands up for the people in my community. I would rather fight than eat when it comes to seeing the people of southern West Virginia prosper again.

Any politician who makes that commitment will gain my support and the support of other West Virginians. Any politician who abandons us will see that support replaced by disapproval – whether that politician is a Democrat, a Republican or the President of the United States.

The People's House Project