In the craven debacle that is U.S politics in the Trump era, coal miners played an important supporting role for a while.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to “get those mines open” and bring back a lot of coal-mining jobs. Famously, at a rally in West Virginia, he put on a miner’s helmet, imitated a miner shovelling coal and brayed: “For those miners, get ready, because you’re going to be working your asses off.”
It worked. In Kentucky, for instance, he won every county with a history of coal mining by huge margins. In the larger scheme of things, the oft-repeated declaration of advocacy for coal miners and steelworkers transmitted a devotion to working men and women in declining industries.
They in turn voted for him. And once in office, he signed executive orders erasing many of the Obama-era climate-change policies. “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” the U.S. President said in 2017.
Coal’s Deadly Dust (Tuesday, PBS Frontline, 10 p.m.) is not about climate-change policies, or indeed about Trump’s cynical support for coal miners. It’s a sobering must-see about the job of mining coal and mainly about a horrific increase in the level of black-lung disease among miners.
It’s a joint PBS/NPR investigation based on years of studying the rate of the disease in the coal fields in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. What it finds is that the disease now strikes miners at a younger age and it takes a more aggressive form.