Last week, Bette Midler tweeted that the people of West Virginia are “poor, illiterate and exhausted.” Donald Trump should send her a thank you.
Right-wing populists – who pretend to honor working-class voters while serving the interests of the richest Americans – pound the electorate every time an urban elite denigrates the rural working population.
Midler’s West Virginia cartoon is not all snooty; it is wrong. We’d like Midler (who later apologized for her tweet) to meet Brandon Dennison. A few years ago he did Coalfield Development Corporation to prepare miners for jobs in the solar industry and other sectors. His efforts have brought hundreds of miners back to work while also helping diversify the local economy.
We would also like to introduce Midler to Stephanie Tyree, director of the West Virginia Community Development Center. For more than a decade, the hub has enabled small towns and cities to revitalize their communities by supporting local leaders, nurturing entrepreneurs, and mobilizing investment. Many of these communities are building new, more diverse economies after the devastation wrought by the rise and fall of the coal industry.
Anthony is fortunate to know these innovative people – and many more like them – because he lives just across the border in southwest Virginia, a region that has also been vilified as impoverished, ignorant and addicted to drugs. There is no doubt that Appalachia and other rural areas have our share of problems, mainly caused by decades of economic policies that have destroyed manufacturing, family businesses and small local retailers. But scornful contempt for vast parts of rural America casts leftists in a negative light and turns against what those derogatory lefts are promoting.
Classical contempt violates the dignity of the working people. And it often reveals a deep ignorance about the life and livelihood of the rural population. If that Daily Kos expresses sadistic joy that miners will lose their health insurance; When Taylor Swift’s music video hits toothless, bigoted hillbilly folk with misspelled characters; When a Panel of CNN Experts pokes fun at the southern accent and alleged ignorance of Trump supporters; When Bill Maher treats the mutilation and death of seven workers in a granary as a joke; the incessant excavations and potshots send a clear message from Blue State 1 percent to Redneck America: They only exist for us as a laugh line.