Real reporting for a divided country

A post-election message from our publisher.

Shot-up stop sign at the crossroads
Crossroads in the 'dobes
Paul Larmer
Yesterday, the day after an election that, to the shock of many, landed Donald Trump in the White House, I drove the main highway through our rural county here in western Colorado. It was dusk, and there were just a few headlights on the road. As I passed the shuttered lumber mill, the drive-in movie theater (still operational!), and the well-lit Wal-Mart, and headed into the comfortable darkness of cornfields and the canyons beyond, I couldn't help but think about what the red and blue election maps showed so clearly: that there remains a profound divide between rural and urban people in this country. My county, Delta, voted 70 percent for Trump, as well as for the conservative congressman who represents our district. Delta County is one of the most impoverished counties in the state, with an average per capita income of $23,890. Two of the three area coal mines have closed in the last couple of years.
 

I often get asked why High Country News, a magazine that covers environmental and social issues, is based in a place like this. Why not Boulder or Portland? Because, I say, you can't really understand the West, or the nation as a whole, if you don't understand its rural communities. And you can't really understand rural communities unless you live in one.

The incoming Trump administration will be the ninth High Country News has covered since we began in 1970. The first was Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican who ironically passed the most significant environmental laws in history. They included a Clean Air Act that made western Colorado’s relatively clean coal marketable to Eastern and Midwestern utilities, providing thousands of miners and their families, some of them my neighbors, with good-paying jobs for decades.

What will a Trump administration mean for the West and the country? Can he bring back the coal mining jobs being lost to markets that favor natural gas and renewables? Will he accelerate oil and gas drilling on the public lands to pay for badly needed infrastructure projects? Will he rescind historic climate change compacts and national monuments forged by the Obama administration? Will he build a bigger wall on the Mexican border and drastically change our immigration policies? Will protest movements blossom as never before?

Wherever the storyline goes, HCN will be there, because we are in this for the long haul. Over the coming months and years, our dedicated reporters will monitor the changes a Trump administration brings, digging into the nitty-gritty details and examining how the new government plays out in our communities, both urban and rural. We will provide you with all the context we can muster, so you can understand not just what is happening today, but why. And we will continue to follow stories of progress on the ground, many of which have little to do with the machinations of administrations and Congress, but instead rely on the creativity and perseverance of Americans like you.

Delta County landscape
On the road to Delta, Colorado
Paul Larmer

Despite Trump's campaign rhetoric – much of it laced with meanness, bigotry and bravado – we know from our history that the things that presidents say they will do are quite different than what they can actually do. Even Ronald Reagan's apocalyptic Interior secretary, James Watt, and George W. Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, could not reshape the public lands to fulfill their extraction-heavy dreams. Bedrock environmental laws and a citizenry vigorously exercising its constitutional right to speak and protest tempered their wilder proposals. 

As I pulled into town at the end of my drive, a single light winked high on the dark mountains; normally, you don't see any lights on the national forest. But then I remembered that it is rifle season, and no doubt some hunters were returning to their camp after a glorious day in the public's woods. There's a chance these hunters and I had different views at the ballot box, but there's an even better chance that we share more values in common than not. It is my hope that we'll all move forward on protecting those shared values. 

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