WAYNESBURG, Pa. — More than 600 feet underground in the Appalachian region of southwestern Pennsylvania, it’s almost like John Morecraft, a 45-year-old history teacher turned coal miner, is back in a classroom.
Several of his former high school students work in the mine, still calling him Mr. Morecraft, or coach. Some of the older men who never got much of an education look to him to explain current events. And when it comes to presidential politics these days, in the words of another miner, “It’s pretty much Trump all the way.”
During the grinding impeachment process, Morecraft said, the miners were “watching it very closely. They’re passionate about it. And angry about what’s going on.” On the surface, that’s no surprise. In 2016, Trump won a whopping 68% of the votes here in Greene County, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 28%.
But as recently as 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain split the vote evenly in the county, which has a total of four working coal mines and a population of about 36,000. And before that, the area was a dependable Democratic stronghold in the state.
What lies beneath the enormous shift over the last decade — and its endurance despite Trump’s mostly failed promises to bring back coal — contains a somber warning for Democrats, and not just in coal country.