Coal Miners and the Parable of the Snake

The election of 2016 is over. There is little left to say that has not been said by others, though the “saying” will thrive for a few months more as the Trump administration takes its full shape.

I had planned a blog post centering on the virtual certainty that the coal miners in Pennsylvania and former steel workers in Ohio, who are counting on President Trump to restore their industries and the related jobs, are going to be disappointed. They are the modern-day Luddites whose aspirations to restore the way of work and life that once thrived will founder on the rocks of technological movement forward, always forward, and from which there simply is no turning back.

They should know better, but they apparently don’t. I feel some sympathy for them, but then I wake up to the reality that they turned to Donald Trump as the leader who will restore them to their “rightful place.” I see the photos of the hypnotized, adoring crowds, many of whom cannot explain why they voted for Trump, but who chose to ignore, or embrace, the bigotry and other evils that he represented during the campaign. I see the data, always the data, showing who didn’t vote at all and showing the women who voted for Trump even as he spit on them. It has been famously said “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”

We are now in the obligatory phase of “let’s give him a chance,” even as he stocks the government with white men, always mostly white men, who are hostile, at best, to minorities, women and, frankly, the values that have, dare I say it, made America great. The Republican Party has finally fulfilled its goal, a bit late, to rid the White House of that black man Obama through obstruction and blind resistance. Now they appear ready to return the country to the conditions that led to the Great Recession and nearly destroyed us. Not going to get those steel plants and coal mines back that way.

When I first thought about writing this piece, I was reminded of the old story about the Indian boy and the rattlesnake. The essence of it is that the Indian boy is doing his solitary preparation for manhood by spending time alone in a great valley. He decides to ascend the mountain and at the top he comes upon the rattlesnake shivering in the cold. They snake begs the boy to take him down the mountain so he can get warm. They boy resists: “you are a venomous snake and will bite me and I’ll die!” The snake implores him to help and promises he won’t bite. Finally, the boy gives in, bundles up the rattlesnake and carries to safety down the mountain. As he unwraps the snake, it strikes him in the chest. The boy recoils in pain and shock: “how could you? You promised me you would not strike if I helped you.” The rattlesnake simply responded “you knew what I was when you picked me up” and slithered away.

I had thought of the irony in the story as similar to what has happened in the election of Donald Trump. People representing a majority of electoral votes, but not of the voting population, have turned to a person they perceive as some kind of latter day savior To check my recall of the story, I consulted the Internet and discovered a video of Trump reciting a poetic version of the rattlesnake story and while the video showed no context, it was clear that Trump was using the story to support his view that helping immigrants enter the United States was akin to picking up the rattlesnake. See http://bit.ly/2fPWcP1. And the crowd chanted “USA! USA!”

I think Trump got it wrong. The rattlesnake here is Trump himself and the coal miners, steelworkers and farmers who saw him as a messiah will soon feel the sting of his bite. And, like the awakening of the Indian boy, it will be too late.

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