In coal country, putting faith in Trump’s economic promises

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FILE PHOTO --  The massive Big John dragline works to reshape the rocky landscape in some of the last sections to be mined for coal at the Hobet site in Boone County, West Virginia, U.S. May 12, 2016.     REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo - RTX2RU18

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a special series this week on the hopes and economic realities of many of those Americans who voted for President Trump.

Three reports will take us to Erie County, Pennsylvania, Central Valley, California, and the coal towns of West Virginia. The president made economic promises in each of these places that helped him win.

Filmmakers with PBS’ Frontline went to those areas looking for personal stories.

Our first report is set in coal country in West Virginia, and profiles two miners we spoke with after the election.

It is part of How the Deck Is Stacked, NewsHour’s collaboration with Frontline and Marketplace, in conjunction with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

DAVE BOUNDS, Retired Coal Miner: I have been registered Democrat all my life, but I crossed over this year. I voted for Donald Trump, because he promised to help the coal miner. And, for this region, we need help.

There’s good men out here just walking the streets. Their families are getting desperate. Welfare can’t keep people forever. These men need to go back to work.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I just left parts of Virginia, and West Virginia.

And the coal industry is decimated. The miners are out of work. They are totally out of work. I mean, there’s — there will be no such thing as coal in this country pretty soon. What we’re going to do, folks, is going to be so special. We’re going to bring back our jobs.

We are going to be America first. We are going to make America great again.

DAKOTA HALL, Coal Miner: I really want to be a coal miner, always have been, ever since I was in high school. Everybody had their dreams about being a basketball player, football player. I always just wanted to be a coal miner.

The only thing that I really have given thought about is Trump getting in office and going back to work. My American dream would just be to watch my kids grow up happy and healthy. That’s the only thing I could ever ask for.

I didn’t have anything very long, you know, not a whole lot anyway. Didn’t make enough. Didn’t work long enough. They said that things went dry. It made it really, really hard to take care of a baby and a wife.

ROGER BALL, Owner, B&B Mine Safety: Since the election, a lot of lights have came on in mining.

Most of them have a job waiting on them, or they wouldn’t be here to spend that money.

Getting outside with nobody hurt, now that’s what pays the bills, and pays it the right way. We don’t want no blood on that coal. Nobody does.

MAN: What year is this truck?

DAKOTA HALL: Fourteen.

MAN: Fourteen?

DAKOTA HALL: I just got it two months before I got laid off.

MAN: So, you need to hurry and get back to work, don’t you?

DAKOTA HALL: I guess I basically seek it because it’s hard work. And I have always been a fan of hard work. It’s the way I was brought up, a family man, I guess.

What are you doing, buddy? Callie, she’s 4 days old. She was just born on Friday. Colton (ph), he’s — he will be 2 in February. My father never was really there through the picture, you know? I only got to meet him twice.

I never would let my kids down. I always told myself that. Coal mining, I don’t think it’s that risky. My family’s done it for generations. But I think it’s well worth it. You know, there is risk in everything you take.

ROGER BALL: Respirable dust is on the test. You can’t see that with your naked eye. The dust you see, you will cough up. It gets caught in your throat and in your nose and in your mouth. If we will do our job, we can eliminate black lung. It’s something you don’t want as part of your check.

DAVE BOUNDS, Retired Coal Miner: I hate to take such big breaths, but I really need to sometimes.

DAVE BOUNDS: Coal mining is a rough job. I was very seldom off. I worked six days a week, and sometimes seven. I worked 16 hours a day, instead of eight. When I first went in the mines in 1969, the risk factor of black lung disease wasn’t mentioned a whole lot.

I was one of them young coal miners. I would never get it. No, not me. I mean, it happens to a lot of these older miners, but not me. That’s what I thought.

The doctor told me, he said, you have contracted. Now you need to do something about it.

But buying a home, buying two automobiles, I had my daughter in school. You couldn’t go out and just quit work and go hunt a job somewhere in another field that you wasn’t even trained for. So, you just had to keep working. You had to keep going, until, one day, you realize, hey, I done went too far.

Our new administration is talking about repealing Obamacare and doing away with Obamacare and starting a new one. And one of our greatest fears now is, if you take the provisions out for the coal miners — I spent four-and-a-half years in litigation to get my black lung benefits started.

I wouldn’t want my wife to spend four-and-a-half years trying to get her started, if something were to happen to me.

I realize a lot of coal mines have shut down. They have filed bankruptcy. But taking a man’s benefits shouldn’t be part of it. And everything that was promised unto him to go to work should be there waiting on him when he gets ready to retire, without any controversy. He earned that.

I thought I was 10-foot-tall and bulletproof. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t. Now I find myself as a 69-year-old, broken-down coal miner.

I think it’s going to be the one to take me out in the end. They can say, well, this man died of black lung.

DAKOTA HALL: If it picks up and it starts booming, that’s probably all I will do for the rest of my life, until I retire anyway. I would love to do that, be a coal miner, support my family, make good money, you know, have something in life.

DAVE BOUNDS: I cherish the days I got to spend with my dad and worked with him. I miss him. I really do.

Those memories, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t want taken away. And if I could give any advice to any young miner right now, I would say run. Find you another occupation. When you see a coal mine, turn around and go the other way. You just got to leave.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For a look at the full-length film, you can go to the NewsHour Web site. That’s at pbs.org/newshour.

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