Hours after his former confidants Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort were cut down by the strong arm of the law, President Trump took the stage in front of a group of supporters in Charleston, West Virginia. Trump spoke for well over an hour, although he didn’t spend as much time addressing the Russia investigation as is custom at these rallies. He didn’t mention Cohen or Manafort, either. Instead, he retreated from the afternoon’s twin bombshell developments and focused on what he does best: lying about a great many topics, most notably what he’s done for the people of West Virginia.
From the president’s perspective, there is a single, indestructible, carbon-rich core around which the welfare of West Virginians revolves. It’s called coal, or, as Trump put it Tuesday morning, “CLEAN COAL!!!!” It was no coincidence that before all hell broke loose Tuesday afternoon, the White House released a plan aimed at reviving the terminally ill coal industry. To herald the news, Trump praised coal’s resilience relative to clean energy sources in the face of military aggression, a bizarre hypothetical that mirrored comments he made while speaking at a fundraiser last week. “We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal,” he said Tuesday. “And you know, that’s indestructible stuff. In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills, they fall down real quick. You can blow up pipelines, they go like this. You can do a lot of things to those solar panels, but you know what you can’t hurt? Coal. You can do whatever you want to coal. Very important.”
How does Trump think coal becomes electricity, exactly? It's a lot easier to bomb a coal plant than it is an underground pipeline pic.twitter.com/HTe4y2xCi5
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) August 21, 2018
The administration’s plan essentially involves scrapping President Obama’s Clean Power Plan while dramatically overhauling emissions regulations. It’s a slap in the face of both environmentalists and pretty much anyone living in the nation where coal producers will now be able to freely pump CO2 into the atmosphere with little to no oversight. According to Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency, the hike in pollution will lead to 1,400 premature deaths per year. The president cares about the environment, though. “I want clean air,” he assured supporters on Tuesday night. “I want crystal clean water. And we’ve got it. We’ve got the cleanest country in the planet right now. There’s nobody cleaner than us.”
Nothing about this statement is remotely true. Neither was Trump’s claim that “the coal industry is back.” Though he boasted that his administration is “putting coal miners back to work,” there isn’t much that can be done to save the industry as a whole. Coal mining jobs have been declining steadily over the past 30 years as natural gas and renewable energy have emerged as more sensible sources of power. West Virginia coal production has seen a slight uptick since Trump took office, but the bump should be short-lived. As Bloomberg pointed out Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration projects that American coal production, consumption and exports will all decline in 2019. Even the front page of Tuesday’s edition of the the Charleston Gazette-Mail portended a grim future for the industry.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 21, 2018
In addition to quoting a number of experts rebuffing Trump’s optimism, the article cites a recent West Virginia University study examining the state’s coal production through the year 2040. It found that though export demand has buoyed the industry over the past two years, West Virginia coal production is expected to decline three percent annually over the next two years. Output will then drop by 12 million short tons between 2020 and 2030, and another 7 million between 2030 and 2040. “That’s something that’s going to be hard to overcome, even with a regulatory response like this, the market realities are still going to be right there,” Brian Lego, the study’s author, told the Gazette-Mail. “And to try to flip that on its head, I don’t know how it’s going to be overcome, in most cases.”
This is all irrelevant to Trump, who is more concerned with detailing a hopeful narrative than working to address what is actually happening. To add to the con, the president boasted about what his administration has done for the state’s economy. “When I came here originally, West Virginia, frankly, was down and out,” he said. “It was not doing exactly well. One of the last. Do you know that a few months ago, it hit where West Virginia is, on a per capita basis, one of the most successful GDP states in our union?” This is a lie. As the New York Times points out, West Virginia ranked 47th out of 50 in per-capita GDP in 2017, and the state’s overall GDP ranked just 37th out of 50 in the first quarter of 2018.
All of this unregulated smoke Trump blew into the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday night was ostensibly in service of the state’s Republicans up for election this November. Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey came onstage to praise Trump, as did Governor Jim Justice, whom Trump described as “the largest, most beautiful man” while erroneously claiming he was 6’11”. Together they slow-roasted the state’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who will be running against Morrisey this fall. Though Manchin is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, he supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, which was all the ammunition they needed. “Manchin even called Hillary warm, compassionate, engaging, tough — can you actually believe that?” said Morrisey at the tail end of a rant. You can probably guess how the crowd responded.
“LOCK HER UP! LOCK HER UP!”
“DRAIN THE SWAMP! DRAIN THE SWAMP!”
WATCH: Hours after former Trump aides are convicted and pleaded guilty in federal court, crowd at Trump rally in West Virginia shouts "drain the swamp!" and "lock her up!" pic.twitter.com/GtFOmf3z7S
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 21, 2018
The irony of calling for the swamp to be drained mere hours after members of Trump inner circle went down on a variety of financial and fraud charges seemed to be lost on everyone in the room, including the president. As the chants rang out, he stood swaying at Morrisey’s side, smirking proudly before delivering a fist pump. Meanwhile, back in reality, Michael Cohen’s attorney was preparing to tell Rachel Maddow that his client has information pertinent to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and is willing to cooperate.