Few places in America loved Donald Trump on November 8 as much as Upshur County, West Virginia, in the heart of Coal County. Just under 76 percent of Upshur County residents voted for the GOP candidate -- and why wouldn't they, after Trump promised "to put our miners back to work" while Hillary Clinton and other liberals were looking instead to a future after coal?
Less than a month after his election, Trump rewarded that vote of confidence by naming as his Commerce Secretary the billionaire former owner of Upshur County's Sago Mine, which collapsed in 2006 -- killing 12 miners -- after a mounting list of safety violations was ignored at what union leaders say was a dangerous, exploitative "doghole mine."
The billionaire, Wilbur Ross, did ultimately pay out $2 million to the families of the 12 men and a 13th survivor, but relatives say it was too little, too late. “It’s easy to throw a couple million afterward instead of spending a few million ahead of time to save men’s lives in the first place,” Kevin Sharp, one of those family members, told ABC News.
Ross, the so-called "king of bankruptcy" who looks for bargain-basement for companies to strip and sell for a handsome profit, had only bought Sago's prior owner after a bankruptcy judge had agreed to squash its union benefits. Two years after the collapse, Ross's firm closed Sago and his International Coal Group eventually sold out, for a healthy profit, to new owners who've laid off many of the remaining miners.
Now, as Commerce Secretary, Ross will be President-elect Trump's point man for using his Midas touch to revitalize the economy and, allegedly, make America great again for coal miners, steelworkers, and other struggling Rust Belt and rural blue-collar voters who formed the backbone of The Donald's winning coalition. I write "allegedly" since there's no actual evidence that Ross or Trump's recent pick to run the Treasury Department -- hedge-funder and former "foreclosure machine" chief Steve Mnuchin -- know anything about actually creating stable, well-paying jobs with good benefits.
What do these billionaires of Trump's swamp-definitely-not-drained Cabinet like Ross and Mnuchin know how to do? Squeeze millions from struggling industries and their workers. Stomp all over pension plans for aging workers. Move jobs overseas if there's an extra dollar or two to be made. Foreclose on mortgage holders at the drop of a hat, or on the basis of a dumb mistake -- especially if the homeowner is black or Latino. Devastate unions that might fight for living wages or affordable health plans.
Look, I know, I know. Trump's voters in places like Upshur County didn't vote for their beloved strongman based on a detailed read of his economic policies. They wanted to send a message to the pointy-headed elites in Washington and New York and all the university towns, people who not only had no clue how to solve the problems of a place like West Virginia but who -- far, far worse -- looked down their collective nose at the people who live in such places.
Message sent...and received. Still, you have to think the people of America's Heartland expected to get some economic benefit out of Trump's election -- except that his new straight-outta-Goldman (and George Soros....imagine that, friendly conservative readers) team only knows how to cut taxes for the wealthy and remove the restrictions on "casino capitalism" intended to prevent another crash like the one in 2008 that walloped states like West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.
There's no way to sugar-coat this: Trump's new Cabinet, when it comes to domestic policy, is made up of wealthy people who've devoted their lives to perfecting ways to screw over Trump's voters. Shocking, isn't it? -- that the man who gave the world Trump University, a boiler-room type operation in which the marks, also known as students, were pressured to max out their credit cards to pay for worthless courses on real estate taught by people who knew little or nothing about real estate, would pull a con job on the 46 percent of Americans who voted for him.
OK, maybe it's not that shocking.
Still, the lack of concern that Trump's money men hold for the "forgotten middle class" is even worse than you'd expect. Commerce pick Ross, who once left one of his homes -- I'm not sure if it's the one in Palm Beach or the one in the Hamptons -- in his purple velvet slippers to the secretive Wall Street fraternity Kappa Beta Phi to sing songs mocking poor people, also once whined that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.
Maybe. Or maybe the 1 percent is getting picked on because of folks like Mnuchin (who really ought to use some of his vast wealth to buy a vowel), a Yale Skull and Bones man who made a fortune at Goldman Sachs (where his dad was also a legendary trader) and for that George Soros hedge fund, then bought a troubled mortgage company that foreclosed on 36,000 homeowners, often in the worst possible ways.
Consider the case of Minneapolis resident Leslie Parks, who thought she was renegotiating her mortgage terms with Mnuchin's OneWest as the winter of 2009 was arriving, only to come home one afternoon during a raging blizzard to fund her home has been padlocked shut. Like so many middle-class folks in the run-up to the crisis, Parks had run into trouble when her banker had steered her family into a much riskier adjustable-rate mortgage, right before the U.S. economy came crashing down.
In a Long Island foreclosure case, a judge lashed out at Mnuchin's OneWest, calling the firm “inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious, and opprobrious” in its actions against homeowners. In addition to non-whites, OneWest foreclosed on a disproportionate number of senior citizens. At one point, protesters camped out in front of Mnuchin's Bel Air mansion to protest -- but it all seemingly fell on deaf ears. As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin is expected to work to undo the Dodd-Frank reforms that were passed with the goal of preventing another crash like the one in 2008.
There's much more that could be said about the awfulness of Trump's choices -- about how Commerce pick Ross stripped North Carolina (which also went narrowly for Trump) of hundreds of textile jobs, or about the thin resume of yet another billionaire nominee, Chicago Cubs owner (sigh) Todd Ricketts -- but the bottom line is clear.
At some point -- maybe not next week or next month, but soon -- the people who elected Trump to vent their frustrations will realize that the 45th president isn't actually working for their interests. And then what? The last embers from 2016's torches and pitchforks are still glowing. What kind of sparks will fly when they learn that America's new strongman isn't strong for the forgotten middle class?