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A steep price for ignoring working Americans

| Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
In this Nov. 15, 2016 photo, a mechanized shovel loads coal from an 80-feet thick seam into a haul truck at Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek mine near Decker, Mont. Coal from the mine is shipped to power plants for generating electricity. President-elect Donald Trump's vow to revive coal country is met with measured hope in Appalachia and even out West, where mines stand to gain the most. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Congress returned last week, just in time to digest a prescient election post-mortem from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. In a New Year's Day dissection of his party's November collapse, Bourdain blamed “privileged Eastern liberals for showing utter contempt” for working-class America.

As Bourdain sees it, when media and pop culture figures “mock them at every turn and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good.”

Bourdain could well have been describing coal country when he recounted his various travels in what he calls “God-fearing America.” There he found “nice” people doing what everyone else in the world is doing: “the best they can to get by and take care of themselves and the people they love.”

There's a belated message here for an administration that has been arguably tougher on coal states than on some of our foreign enemies.

Clearly, even state pollsters missed the impact that alienated blue-collar America would have on the election. As The Washington Post's Dave Weigel noted recently, local pundits called it one way throughout the industrial heartland. Yet the people voted the other way. It must be time, then, to change the bait when Republicans can capture the Kentucky legislature, while the Democrat standard-bearer draws only 26 percent of West Virginia voters.

So how do Democrats bring the economically marginalized and politically disenfranchised back into the fold? It's a pressing question, since 10 Senate Democrats are less then two years away from re-election in states carried by Donald Trump.

One way to win back blue-collar workers is to stop groveling before the Sierra Club and the “privileged Eastern liberals” who fund it, and instead propose policies that treat working Americans as real people rather than deplorable abstractions.

For example, there is scarcely an interest group whose regulatory agenda has been more systematically hostile to economic growth and blue-collar America than “keep it in the ground” activists. After losing the midterm elections across the board, President Obama decided to fulfill the Sierra Club's fantasies via a string of executive orders and regulations. But this only accelerated the steady erosion of working-class support that had helped to bring him into office.

The result: The environmental left has managed to pit the traditional party of working men and women against working men and women, costing miners their jobs and Democrats their seats.

The election proved there will be scant penalty for elected officials who ignore the demands of the Sierra Club and the spring break Bolsheviks who swell its ranks. Elected officials can win by offering more responsible environmental solutions — ones that respect the interests of working people and their need for affordable energy.

If a celebrity chef from New York can see this, maybe the DNC intelligentsia can, too. So here's to a reboot of the political landscape, with the interests of coal miners and factory workers featured more prominently.

Luke Popovich is vice president for external communications for the National Mining Association.

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