The Biden administration’s public reaction to Senator Joe Manchin’s refusal to support the Build Back Better bill is to treat it as a shocking betrayal. The betrayal is in the eyes of the beholder, but the move should certainly not come as a shock to a politician as experienced as this president. Manchin is in all probability the very last example of a type Biden knows well, the “Blue Dog Democrat” who represents a state, once part of the Democrats’ “Solid South,” where the majority of white voters turned on the party after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the mid-1960s and vote as reliably Republican in presidential elections as they once did for Democrats. But throughout the 1970s and 80s, white voters in these states did sometimes still elect “moderate” Democrats to Congress, in what turned out to be a transitional phase before they became the “Red States” of the twenty-first century.
West Virginia, however, was actually never a part of the Solid South, having formed in the first place in the cauldron of the Civil War from the Appalachian part of prewar Virginia. The descendants of the Scots-Irish settlers there wanted no part of the great slaveholders’ war and stayed loyal to the Union. In the twentieth century, coal miners in the state fought bloody battles against the mine owners for the right to unionize, which made them a natural part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition. The loyalties forged then proved strong enough to keep West Virginia in the Democratic column right through both of Bill Clinton’s terms. But by the turn of the millennium, the days when the rattle of coal delivery through chutes across America meant a warm furnace throughout the winter were long gone. Neither political party had done anything about the unemployment that resulted throughout coal country, and in the vacuum, the Republican Party’s racial and “cultural” message of resentment began to take hold.
By 2016, the state was ready for the dictator’s empty promises to bring back coal, coupled with his open racism and promises of revenge against an ill-defined elite that had betrayed the one-time miners and their families. This winning formula gained him more than two-thirds of the state’s vote in both 2016 and 2020. These are the constituents that Manchin represents, and were he to cooperate with the usurper of the One True President and cross the dictator’s wholly owned, totalitarian Party, his political career would be over. Moreover, the parts of Build Back Better intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuel are a poison pill for Manchin’s constituents, who still cling to the fantasy that they will once again descend into the earth to contract black lung disease, die in coal gas explosions, or be shot dead by National Guard strikebreakers when the dictator returns and “makes America great again.” Never mind that, even if all you care about is the number of people mining coal in West Virginia, this declined from the 1948 all-time high of 125,669 to 11,561 in 2016—and to 11,418 in 2020. Somehow, it’s still one of the dictator’s “promises kept,” to his devotees.
It is telling that Manchin chose to deliver the coup de grace to Build Back Better on Fox News on Sunday. No doubt many of the dictator’s West Virginia followers are religious watchers of the fascist propaganda outlet, and the middle finger was delivered, not merely to the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party that has been fighting him all along, but to the administration and the liberal establishment wing that has been assiduously courting him. There is no doubt he thoroughly enjoyed the fleeting moment of national influence that gave him, but that moment is over. All that’s left for him now is to appear at the Party’s national convention in 2024, hands clasped and upraised with the dictator’s amid a roar of triumph worthy of Nuremberg, 1934.