West Virginia went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in November — in fact, he beat Hillary Clinton by almost a three-to-one majority. And it may seem obvious why: The state is the heart of coal country, and Mr. Trump promised to bring coal jobs back by eliminating Obama-era environmental regulations. So at first glance the 2016 election looks like a political realignment reflecting differences in regional interests.
But that simple story breaks down when you look at the realities of the situation — and not just because environmentalism is a minor factor in coal’s decline. For coal country isn’t really coal country anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time.
Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?