Voices: I’m from West Virginia and I’m angry — at Joe Manchin and Bette Midler

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Joe Manchin
    United States Senator from West Virginia
Congress Manchin (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Congress Manchin (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Joe Manchin has, once again, made it a rough week to be West Virginian.

The former governor and current senator makes decision after decision that stand in stark contrast to anything remotely helpful for his constituents. His current and most egregious fumble includes shooting down the Build Back Better bill, which aimed to create millions of jobs for working- and middle-class citizens, as well as tackle the climate crisis and provide affordable healthcare to older and disabled Americans.

“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” Manchin wrote in an official statement supposedly explaining his actions. He added some nebulous references to “geopolitical uncertainty” and “rising tensions” with Russia and China for good measure.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s response statement was blistering: “Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine.” It should be noted that Manchin’s daughter, former CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan, was famously responsible for the astronomical increase in EpiPen costs between 2005 and 2015.

To fully grasp the frustration of a born-and-raised West Virginian like myself — someone who leans heavily left and lives in New York City not by choice, but by financial and career necessity — you shouldn’t just look at Manchin’s shoddy conduct. You should also look at Bette Midler’s tweet from yesterday:

These words aren’t unique, or even surprising — but, coming from someone I’ve idolized since seeing Hocus Pocus in theaters as a child, they are upsetting. I left West Virginia in 2013, and there is not a single week since then that I haven’t experienced an offhand comment about my accent, my lineage, questions about whether my dad is also my brother, and other deeply unfunny bullshit tossed out by northern liberals – mostly white, mostly very privileged – who believe Deliverance is a documentary and someday I’ll open up my maw and swallow them whole. We’re simultaneously too stupid to wear shoes, but so evil we’ll murder anyone who looks different. We are, as Bette so gracefully puts it, “poor, illiterate, and strung out.”

West Virginians know you see us this way. And thus, a pattern of defiance emerges. Because we are largely fed up with Manchin’s ability to plant his ass on whichever side of the fence will make his pockets fatter, but we’re also unlikely to side with a liberal contingency of hateful snobs who dehumanize us with every thoughtless outburst and subsequent by-the-numbers apology written by a PR agent.

Midler’s comments indicate a deep misunderstanding of how systems of power oppress those inside them, likely because she’s been richer than God for so long she’s forgotten how it is for families living below the poverty line. Alas, many of us are partially illiterate, my own father included. It’s not embarrassing to admit that a broken education system failed him and so many others.

We are poor, and the only way out of generational poverty in West Virginia is usually to go to work for the mines. It’s not embarrassing to feed your family, but does every person want to sign over their life for companies that see them as expendable? Of course not, and even many who do remain poor.

We are also — so many of us — strung out, yet pharmaceutical companies are allowed to get off scot-free with flooding the state with billions of pills that soothed the aching psyches of starving and battered people who, once the pills ran dry, turned to heroin and let it kill them. Dozens of my friends and acquaintances are among those dead, because such a death is desperately mundane where I come from.

How can I explain that neither Bette Midler nor Joe Manchin sees my state for what it really is? I don’t have an answer for how the people of West Virginia can escape this cornering, nor how they should hold their politicians to account. I wish I did.

But for now, I have to pack up and drive home for Christmas amid another crushing pandemic wave so I can attend another addiction-related funeral on Christmas Eve in an N95 mask, then try to air-kiss my dad on the cheek for the first time in two and a half years, just in case he catches Covid again and the half-missing lung in his chest gives out for good.

I am as West Virginian as they come, and we all deserve better from Manchin, Midler, and everyone on either of their sides who quite simply has no clue about who we are and what we deserve.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting