During the presidential race the stereotype of Appalachia once again reared its ugly head. The national media could not resist taking yet another potshot at the last place they can slander without penalty. The story went that the region’s embrace of Hillary Clinton over Barrack Obama in the primaries had to be based on racism. This despite the fact that polls of many northern states and cities showed that race was a determining factor at a higher rate there than in the mountains. Overlooked was that if a voter primarily chose a candidate based on race that is racism.
Obama’s most significant difficulties in Appalachia were his liberal views about gun rights, early questions about religion and lingering doubts in the mountains that government can fix anything. Our region has embraced many government interventions and programs, including Roosevelt’s New Deal, federal labor rights, and national mine safety and reclamation laws, to name a few, but like most Americans, we are generally opposed to federal intervention and pork unless it helps us directly.
Whatever the nature of our politics, the media misses that when it comes to just plain old living, Appalachia has a lot to offer. Especially the portions not beset with environmental problems created by a century of coal mining; though even these areas are making headway as old abandoned mine sites are being reclaimed and replaced with parks, development sites and reforestation projects. Wildlife abounds and the most biologically diverse ecosystem in continental North America, Virginia’s Clinch River Valley, still thrives in a watershed that is heavily mined and timbered.
Moving beyond its stark natural beauty and wide expanse of open spaces, what are the other advantages of living in one of the world’s oldest major mountain chains? Let us tick off just a few. Unlike the beautiful coast of Southern California, we do not suffer raging forest fires, earthquakes, mudslides or overcrowding. Unlike the Eastern seaboard we have little fear of a rising sea level, tsunamis, terrorists or violent gangs. Unlike the Midwest, we suffer very few killer winds, regional flooding and no early presidential primaries. Unlike the Southern Flatlands, we have fewer bugs that aggravate humans and carry diseases, scant life-threatening water shortages and none of those pesky hurricanes that periodically foist Shermanesque urban renewal upon helpless citizens.
Our temperate climate does not roast people to death in their apartments or freeze solid the udders of cows. Our hardwood forests are varied and abundant, providing shade from the sun and rapturous beauty in the spring and fall. And unlike almost all points north, south, east and west of our mountain retreat we do not suffer from traffic congestion and sprawl.
Just to prove my point, I counted the vehicles I passed on the four-lane road to my law office over the fourteen-mile trip through Russell County, Virginia. I navigated through four traffic lights and encountered approximately one hundred oncoming vehicles before reaching work in twenty minutes. While at work that same day I had buddies stop by just to chat about local politics and deer hunting. An elderly cousin brought fresh cornbread, soup, beans and potato salad to thank me for some legal work. Then my teenaged grandson dropped by after school to hug me and my granddaughter came in to tell me about her day, my clients patiently smiling and benefiting from the interruptions.
Things are not perfect here by any means and the tough issues we face are numerous. The media continue to use our region as the last politically correct place to browbeat with elitist versions of cultural bigotry, a very close cousin to racism. We are, however, one of the most nurturing and patriotic cultures in America and if time has passed us by a click or two that is not all bad.
Note: The author’s Scots-Irish ancestors settled in Southwest Virginia prior to the Revolutionary War and he is active in conservation, education and health care issues in the Virginia coalfields.