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Editorial: Mountain State transformation

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Gazette Page:

West Virginia’s remarkable switch from mostly Democratic to mostly Republican is lamented in a New York Times commentary by a longtime political expert.

A leader of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 victory in this state, Charles Peters left Charleston to help lead President Kennedy’s new Peace Corps. Then, he founded the liberal Washington Monthly magazine. For years, The Charleston Gazette printed his “Tilting at Windmills” column and invited him to speak at Gazette lectures.

“I Remember When Appalachia Wasn’t Trump Country” is the title of his Times reminiscence. He recounts how West Virginia once was a progressive leader in humane efforts, such as school desegregation in the 1960s. In that era, the Mountain State “was characterized by a politics and an ethos of generosity,” he said.

Previously, amid agonies of the Great Depression, West Virginians “supported a government that gave both jobs and hope to the down-and-out and enacted New Deal laws that helped make incomes more equal than they had ever been.”

Bigotry against blacks, Catholics, Jews and other minorities faded, he wrote. However, the state began to lose its progressive values by the 1970s.

“For me, the most maddening failure of the liberal elite was that too many of its members became indifferent to the declining share of corporate income devoted to wages,” he said. “By the early 1980s, you could see clear evidence of their growing interest in accumulating wealth for themselves.”

Gradually, conservatives took control of West Virginia, won most statewide offices and delivered a landslide victory to Republican Donald Trump in 2016. Peters concluded:

“It is not going to be easy for liberals to win back red states like West Virginia. Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and Donald Trump have been too successful in encouraging ugly feelings like the senseless hatred of Barack Obama. But liberals can start on the road back if they stop wounding themselves, advocate fair play for all, and instead of looking down on Trump voters as a bunch of boobs and bigots, listen to their concerns. If we don’t listen, how can we persuade?”


Peters’ message soon will be amplified in his new book: “We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal America.”

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