Editorials

Who we pick for president will do little to change coal mine, steel mill fates

Will Donald Trump save coal? Will Hillary Clinton save steel and protect unions? Neither can rescue or kill either industry in a global economy and in a nation of checks and balances.
Will Donald Trump save coal? Will Hillary Clinton save steel and protect unions? Neither can rescue or kill either industry in a global economy and in a nation of checks and balances. Photo illustration

If you are a coal miner, you likely believe that Hillary will kill coal with environmental regulations and The Donald will save coal by rolling back rules and opening the markets. If you are a steelworker, you likely believe that Clinton is about protecting you from dumped Asian steel and Trump will take away your union rights and make the bosses richer.

These two industries have since the 1800s shaped the economy of Southern Illinois. They matter for the well-paying direct jobs — $50,000 for a steel mill worker and $80,000 for a coal miner. But they also support many other local transportation and manufacturing and service jobs.

But here is an ugly truth: Without manipulation, sooner or later many of those jobs are going away. We’ve seen the rise and now the fall of both industries.

One candidate may push the accelerator, another may put on the brakes, but these two industries are hurtling downhill to the end of their life cycle. Their demise is inevitable — unless they both reimagine themselves, or market conditions change dramatically, or technology leaps ahead — but even then they will be a percentage of what they once were.

So the issue at hand is whether Clinton or Trump is better for our region’s economic future. The answer seems to be neither, and that’s not all bad.

Many predict doom and threaten to move to Canada if one or the other is elected. Neither is trustworthy or very likeable. But 240 years of history through 43 different presidents has failed to wreck our democracy. It seems pretty resilient.

So beware pundits who predict that either Trump or Clinton is your industry’s angel or devil. Market forces and our nation’s checks and balances severely limit any one person’s ability to determine the future of coal and steel, or even the country.

Cost and creativity will be significantly more important than Republican or Democrat.

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