This article titled “Trump voters see his flaws but stand by president who ‘shakes things up'” was written by Tom McCarthy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for theguardian.com on Sunday 24th December 2017 18.30 Asia/Kolkata
Every Christmas, Jeff and Denise Fox have the neighbors over. The door stays open all day. People come and go for food, coffee and conversation.
The tradition continued after Jeff, 58, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Even with chemotherapy and the medical bills racking up, the Foxes found reasons to celebrate. This year, those reasons include their son’s transfer from an air force base in South Korea to one in Germany and, they hope, out of harm’s way.
Last year, the reasons to celebrate included the election of Donald Trump. Both registered Republicans, neither Fox had started as a huge fan of the Manhattan real-estate developer. Jeff supported Carly Fiorina in the sprawling Republican primary contest, and Denise, 54, admired Ben Carson, a fellow evangelical Christian.
Their votes mattered a lot because the Foxes live in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, a bellwether county that voted twice for Barack Obama before backing Trump. The area is home to many ageing Democrats whose family politics were forged from the unionized ranks of Bethlehem Steel, once the region’s economic juggernaut, or in the formerly vibrant clothing mills and slate quarries around the Foxes’ home in Pen Argyl.
Almost all of that economic activity is gone, with scant signs of replacement. Some residents now make a long commute to work in one of the new warehouses along the I-78 corridor. Others have sold and moved away. There’s a sense of waiting for something new to happen, and then waiting some more.
By his description, Fox took the Trump plunge out of a conviction that politics as usual was irreversibly broken.
We have voted with our principle and our conscience for all these years, and where has it gotten us? It’s time to vote to shake things up.
As the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration approached, Fox sat in his dining room and reflected on how that decision had played out. He lamented what he said was a decline in civil discourse surrounding politics and intensifying media malpractice. He was not thrilled with tax legislation the president was preparing to sign. He said his personal economic prospects had not improved. And he said the president should “keep his hands off the tweet button, just take the high road and govern”.
But like many bedrock Republican voters across the country, Fox ultimately stood behind Trump, pointing to economic growth, restricted immigration and what he said were other improvements in American life under the president. Fox also thought Trump was providing a service by subverting politics as usual.
“It can be fun to watch – politicians attack Trump, Trump attacks the politicians and the media, it’s like a circus, in a way it’s like ‘Give me some popcorn,’ you know what I mean,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. It’s bringing some things to light. Maybe, is that what we needed, to kind of shake things up and stir the pot a little it? Maybe, who knows.”
The Guardian has been interviewing Trump supporters in Northampton County over the last year to determine whether Trump is living up to his promise, in the eyes of his supporters.
Fox, who switched his registration from Republican to Independent during the election out of disgust with what he felt had become poisonous partisanship, rejected the premise of the question, explaining that his last-minute support for Trump was not motivated by pie-in-the-sky hopes of what Trump might deliver so much as it was driven by a dearth of options.
Trump is not important to me. The direction or the philosophy is more important than the person. It’s not the hill I would want to die on, if you want to put it that way.”
If the election came around again tomorrow, Fox said, he might be lured away from Trump by the right candidate – but certainly not by the likes of Hillary Clinton.
“Given the same two candidates and the same scenario, I would vote the same way.”
‘We lost all of our stuff to China’
Trump appears to be in political danger. Despite a surging stock market, a flood of new jobs and a humming economic growth rate, the president’s approval rating has been stuck in the mid- to upper-30s since May. That’s probably at least 10 points short of where it needs to be for Trump to be re-elected, according to postwar precedent for incumbents.
That’s if Trump makes it to 2020. While it’s a longshot that the special counsel investigation into links between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign would dislodge the president from office, the likelihood of impeachment hearings would increase were Democrats to grab control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.
That possibility drew closer with the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate election in Alabama, and with a weakening in support for Republican candidates nationally. On a generic ballot, Democrats appear to have opened an 11-point advantage over Republicans, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling from December.
The shift was palpable on a recent afternoon inside Detzi’s Tavern in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, where a cup of “housemade Italian wedding” soup costs $3.50 and the draft special was $2 pints of Michelob Ultra.
Inside at a big table were seven women, all former colleagues at Bangor Blouse Company, a mill that had closed for good in 1988 after, one explained, “we lost all of our stuff to China”.
They were catching up and wrapping gifts for the holidays, but when the talk turned to politics, only one would speak up in favor of Trump, in an area where the Republican presidential candidate had dominated.
“They don’t talk to me about it because they’re all for Hillary,” said the woman, who declined to give her name because “I don’t want to be crucified.”
“Most of the blouse mills were Democrats,” she continued. “Because I used to go to all of the Democratic rallies and everything. Because they were for the unions. And the people. They were for us.”
But only Trump would confront the threat of immigration, she said. “All these illegals in, and they’re putting us out. They don’t care about the Americans any more.”
Another woman at the table, Carla DiBernardo, 71, said the 2016 presidential election had represented a tragic missed opportunity – but not for Hillary Clinton.
“Did you see they had Joe Biden on The View?” DiBernardo asked. “And I think he’s a wonderful person. He should have been president. And I was thinking how different it would be, if he had run.”
“He speaks so professionally,” her friend agreed. Everyone at the table thought Biden could have won – and for that matter could win next time.
The big disagreement at lunch, however, was over sexual harassment allegations against the president:
“Isn’t this womanizer thing crazy?”
“No. It’s about time women get the power back. I’m sorry but –”
“Get their power back? They never had it. They were always tossed under the chair.”
‘Santa’s firearms workshop’
The imposing slopes of the Blue Mountain ridge at the top of Northampton County, which is traced by the Appalachian Trail, held snow cover after it had melted elsewhere. People wore gloves outside to smoke. Traffic from the big industrial parks and distribution centers seemed to pick up with a seasonal intensity.
There were other signs of the season. At the side of one highway, a digital billboard for a gun shop featured a picture of Santa Claus holding a semiautomatic rifle. The caption: “Santa’s firearms workshop.”
A local newspaper had published a letter protesting against the billboard, drawing responses that ranged from dismissive to caustic.
“Did you move here from NJ or the city?” asked one. “Stop trying to impose your views on the public.”
As much as it is a national bellwether, the Lehigh Valley is also a place with a deep sense of local identity and a pride built in part on generational memories of blast furnaces that used to glow orange through the night.
Fox’s grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel, as an accountant. Fox’s last job, before he got cancer, was as a salesman at the furniture chain Raymour & Flanigan. One of his daughters has worked for a decade at Walmart.
“The only debt we have is healthcare debt,” said Fox, who receives social security and disability payments. “We’ve worked our way out of everything else. It’s amazing what we do with what we get.
“It would be nice for me to say, I got $40,000 of medical bills, so it’d be nice if someone paid them for me. Some would say, ‘It’d be nice, the easy way.’ But it’s real.
“It’s not the responsibility of the government to pay the bills.”
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