Deep in the belly of an Appalachian mountain, a powerful machine bored into the earth, its whirring teeth clawing out a stream of glistening coal. Men followed inside the Maple Eagle No. 1 mine, their torches cutting through the dank air. One guided the machine with a PlayStation-like controller; others bolted supports in the freshly cut roof.
They were angry. The coal industry that made West Virginia prosperous has been devastated. Every day, it seemed, another mine laid off workers or closed entirely. Friends were forfeiting their cars, homes and futures.
For these men, this season’s presidential campaign boils down to a single choice. “I’m for Trump,” said Dwayne Riston, 27, his face smeared in dust. “Way I see it, if he wins, we might at least stand a chance of surviving.”
Few places in America offer such a simple electoral calculus as the rolling, tree-studded hills of West Virginia.
Trump remains on solid ground here with his promise to “bring back coal.” The fact that his Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, said in March, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” has helped, too.
But this is not just about economics. West Virginia’s coal country is part of the broader white, working-class vote that has coalesced around a single candidate, Mr. Trump, like never before. His support here stems from a profound, decades-in-the-making sense of political and cultural alienation that has left people feeling distant from their leaders, and even from fellow Americans.
“I kind of feel that people are looking down on us,” said Neil Hanshew, a miner, voicing a common sentiment. “They’re looking at us like we’re a bunch of dumb hillbillies who can’t do anything else.”