This Land: A lot of resolutions are needed for 2017

This time of year, many people start thinking about New Year’s resolutions: promises we make with the blank slate of a fresh calendar to transform ourselves into better people. We want to lose weight, quit biting our nails, exercise more, read more, lose weight, be kinder to others, lose weight. You get the idea.

I’ll be making a few of those resolutions myself, and I hope to be working on them well after the crowds at the gym dissipate in February. But you know what? It’s really more fun to make resolutions for other people — people who need a lot more improvement than we do.

I’ve got a few ideas. If you have more, tweet them to our Twitter handle (@appalcenter) with the hashtag #resolutions. If we get a decent response, we’ll collect them and post them here.

President-elect Donald Trump should make a number of resolutions: He should resolve to learn to be more presidential, read the Constitution, grow thicker skin, think before he speaks, obsess less about women’s bodies, spend less time in a tanning bed and accept whatever is going on underneath that awful hair with a bit more grace.

But, of course, his No. 1 resolution ought to be this: Get off Twitter. It’s just weird to have a president-elect tweeting out insults to late-night comics, obsessing about his popular-vote loss, criticizing the U.N., defending his corrupt foundation with blatant lies, terrorizing American corporations, announce earth-shattering changes to U.S. foreign and nuclear policy, and otherwise lobbing out whatever thoughts cross his mind — like this recent gem:

“The world was gloomy before I won — there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!”

Stop it, Donald. Just stop it.

Members of Congress should resolve to take a legislative version of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. Don’t roll back environmental protections. Don’t repeal Obamacare unless you have a solid, legitimate plan to replace it (which you don’t). Don’t phase out Medicare or privatize Social Security with no mechanism to protect retirees. Don’t gut worker safety laws.

Members of the West Virginia Legislature should resolve to, at long last, seriously address the need to move beyond a coal- and extractive industry-based economy. Many have been advocating preparation for a post-coal economy in the state for decades.

I wrote columns about it in the 1990s when I worked at The Charleston Gazette, and I was far from the first. Even West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney recognized that coal was a finite resource in 1992, saying, “There’s got to be something after we finish mining the coal in West Virginia. I don’t know what that is. Once the coal is gone in McDowell County, what the hell is going to create jobs in that county?”

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the answer to that, and it isn’t pretty. McDowell County is the poorest county in West Virginia, and among the poorest in the nation. Drug addiction is rampant, fueled by literally hundreds of millions of pain pills shipped in by pharmaceutical firms.

The population, once near 100,000 during the boom times, is down to about 19,000. Most businesses are shuttered and the average home in the county is worth about $35,000.

The same pattern is repeating in counties across central Appalachia. Legislators should have been working for decades to diversify the economy, hold coal companies responsible for pollution and other environmental damage and prepare the workforce for 21st century jobs. That can’t all be fixed in a year, but the Legislature should resolve to get started.

West Virginia’s Gov.-elect Jim Justice should resolve to help in that effort. The coal billionaire should also resolve to surprise critics by working hard to protect the environment and aid displaced miners.

The rest of us? We should resolve to treat each other kindly, respect our differences, keep a sharp eye on the people we elected to represent us, and hold them accountable when they don’t act in our interests.

Radmacher is former editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette and The Roanoke Times. This Land is a weekly column produced by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.