Glen Dale, W. Va. — Bad news travels fast. Good news, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to travel at all.
Last weekend in Beijing, as part of his 12-day trip to Asia, President Trump announced that the US and China had signed an $83.7 billion memorandum of understanding to create a number of petrochemical projects in West Virginia over the next 20 years.
If the agreement holds tight, it is an economic game changer for the state.
And yet, speaking to the locals here, you wouldn’t even know it had happened.
“I am surprised I heard nothing about it on the national news, nor in my local paper and newscasts,” said Jerald Stephens, 67, a West Virginia native and union rep, who has been a keen observer of local politics for as long as he can remember.
The BBC and CNN covered the news in their business sections, while The New York Times picked up a short story by The Associated Press on the deal. The stories’ headlines were muted; their placement low-key.
“One would have suspected that the prospect of an investment this large — nearly three times the total annual budget for the department of energy — would have been front-page news,” said Paul Sracic, political-science professor at nearby Youngstown State University.
So far, the details about how China Energy will invest nearly $84 billion in West Virginia — the biggest of several deals totaling $250 billion signed by Trump in China — are scant. The first stage is reportedly scheduled to begin in the next six to eight months with the building of at least two natural gas-fired power plants likely located in Brooke and Harrison counties, both of which have suffered substantial job and population losses, as well as wage stagnation, over the past 30 years.
It’s significant that this solid-red state, which Trump doesn’t need to woo for reelection in 2020, will benefit.
West Virginia and the areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio that border the state represent our coal and natural-gas country. But while voters in all three places matter, they matter a lot more in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania where Electoral College votes can decide an entire election.
“We really have no influence or power here, so that is interesting to me that he still kept his promise to us, something I suspect he will likely get little credit for in the national news,” said Stephens, who voted for Trump.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic US senator from West Virginia, said he has yet to be briefed on the terms of the deal, but he is both thrilled about its possibilities while remaining cautious about its execution. He wants to ensure that the state doesn’t sell off its assets and properties to China as part of the agreement, which could enable the communist country to own part of our power grid. “We have to make sure it is good for the economy of our state, that the workers of our state get the benefits of the jobs, and that the nation is secure,” he told The Post.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has insisted that the state hasn’t offered any sweetheart deals to China Energy in return for its investment, nor have any tax breaks been extended to date. Those in West Virginia who end up getting hired, meanwhile, are not going to complain about working for an Asian superpower.
The media has often mocked Trump’s promise of jobs to the Heartland as empty campaign rhetoric. How, they asked, will his voters react when they find out he can’t deliver?
This deal suggests that Trump hasn’t forgotten what really matters to his base, but few are giving him props for it.
Stephens finds the lack of coverage telling. “I can guarantee you if anyone not named Trump had made this kind of deal for West Virginia, it would have at least been a panel discussion or two on a cable news channel.”
Once again, the media is missing a story that matters to the American people outside the liberal echo chamber.
He did it last year when he brought jobs back to the Carrier plant in Indianapolis even before he was president and tweeted out his victory, leading to blanket media coverage. This time, he failed to celebrate a win and the news was happily ignored. Trump needs to remember that his megaphone isn’t just for the haters, but for the voters who are desperate to finally see real change.