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sábado, 19 de noviembre de 2016
What Trump Voters Want Now
The blue-collar workers who put Donald Trump in the White House are ready for him to deliver. How much time will they give him?
JOHNSTOWN, Pa.—The night of the election, in this dying little city stuck in the hills of mostly rural, depressed western Pennsylvania, Joey Del Signore dozed off in his recliner. The 60-year-old catering company owner and lifelong resident woke up around 3 a.m., opened his eyes and focused on the words stripped across his television screen: President Donald Trump. “My dream come true,” Del Signore said the other day.
In Portage, 20 miles outside of town, Pam Schilling, 59, a retired grocery store meat wrapper whose son died in April of a heroin overdose, sat in her living room, alone except for her tiny Yorkie named Rudy, glued to the news. She stayed up all night. “I was so excited,” she said.
And at his house half an hour north, Tim Byich, a 57-year-old technician and manager at a manufacturing plant, watched the coverage “like it was a football game,” he said, wired by the surprise reversal and a few too many Genesee Lights. “I got toasted,” he admitted.
They had earned the right to celebrate. There are, easy to say now, many reasons Trump won, but high on the list are people like Del Signore and Schilling and Byich. Trump’s road to the White House ran through Cambria County, where once steel and coal let people with high school educations buy houses and take vacations and lead relatively want-not middle-class lives—and where it doesn’t work that way anymore. In this Rust Belt notch, where peeling paint, vacant storefronts and the dark hulks of shuttered mills are reminders of all that’s been lost, Trump’s mantra of Make America Great Again sounded not like a ball-cap slogan but a last-ditch chance—to reverse an economic decline that has been choking this region for decades.
“Your government betrayed you, and I’m going to make it right,” Trump told a boisterous crowd at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena less than three weeks before Election Day. “Your jobs will come back under a Trump administration,” he said. “Your steel will come back,” he said. “We’re putting your miners back to work,” he said.
The people here who voted for Trump want all that. They want him to loosen environmental regulations. They want their taxes to go down and their incomes to go up. They want to see fewer drugs on their streets and more control of the Mexican border. They want him to “run the country like a business.” And they want this fast. So now comes the hard part for Trump—turning rhetoric into results. Four years ago, the largely Democratic voters in Cambria County flipped on President Obama, disgusted that he had not made good on his promise of change. What’s clear from a series of interviews with Trump supporters here is that they will turn on Trump, too, if he doesn’t deliver.
Donald Trump rallies supporters at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown in October 2016. | AP Photo
All the talk about the “white working class” creates an impression of a monolithic and homogenous base of support. But in one conversation after another, voters revealed meaningful distinctions about what issues they most want solved. Some might want a wall sturdy enough to stop the drug traffickers, but others are paying much closer attention to whether there’s a bump in the payroll at the last coal mine. And that variation—plus the urgency expressed by those who swung so passionately for Trump—suggests less a permanent bloc than an anxious and impatient coalition that could fracture as quickly as it formed. It’s only 10 days after this oft-overlooked, tucked-away part of Pennsylvania helped put Trump in the Oval Office—and the clock is ticking.
“I think you’ll start seeing improvements in six months,” Bill Polacek said in his corner office at JWF Industries, where he’s one of the owners of one of Johnstown’s last manufacturing plants.
Dave Kirsch stood in the parking lot of Himmel’s Coal Yard in Carrolltown, where he drives a truck, and expressed optimism and preached patience—not, though, that much patience. “My boss, he’s a pretty smart man,” Kirsch told me, “and he said it can’t change overnight, but he said give it six months to a year.”
Maggie Frear, a retired nurse, told me toward the end of our meeting one evening in her home that the changes Trump pledged would “take him at least a couple months.”
A couple months?
“Or probably even two years,” she said.
Four years tops, though, she assured me.
At top left: Tim Byich, 56, works at JWF industries in Johnstown. At top right: Maggie Frear, 74-year-old retired nurse and lifelong Democrat who switched parties this year to vote for Trump. | Scott Goldsmith for Politico Magazine
“If he doesn’t do what he said he was going to do, in four years I won’t vote for him,” Frear said, holding open her screen door, as I stepped out into the dark and the cold of the winter on the way. “If he doesn’t do what he said he was going to do, in four years he shouldn’t even run.”
The New York Times published a story out of Johnstown about massive steel plant and coal mine job losses due to increased global competition. It included comments from industry experts acknowledging that many of these jobs were gone forever and from residents fearful about the economy and the future. This was in 1982.
Terry Havener, 63, a retired union carpenter, met with me this week at an empty luncheonette called Missy’s Place and said he was laid off from Bethlehem Steel, long since closed, after a flood devastated this city in 1977.
“That,” he said, “was the nail in the coffin here”—39 years ago, well before the advent of the job-sucking trade deals that animated blue-collar workers across the Midwest.
So this year, as the divisive, repellent 2016 presidential campaign came to a head, Cambria County—whiter, poorer and less educated than the nation as a whole—was ripe for Trump’s blunt, populist message. The most important word in his catchphrase, for people around here, was not make or America or even great. It was again. They changed their party affiliation in droves.
Terry Havener, 62, a retired union carpenter, pictured with Johnstown in the background. He was hoping for Bernie. He voted for Jill Stein. | Scott Goldsmith for Politico Magazine
Politico Magazine visited Cambria County this past summer, and listened to people in a longtime Democratic stronghold who were already putting Trump signs in their yards. It was just after Hillary Clinton had secured the Democratic nomination—finally outlasting an opponent whose message of economic inequality had proven extremely attractive in parts of the country a lot like this. The story, written by Keith O’Brien, was an early alarm bell for the Clinton campaign, or should’ve been. For Trump’s campaign, though, it was an affirmation—an invitation.
In Trump’s appearance at the War Memorial Arena on October 21, a rally that drew an estimated 4,000 people—in a place with a population of less than 20,000—he delivered a laser beam of an appeal to those desperate for some semblance of a return to better times.
“The iron and steel forged in your mills formed the backbone of our nation … This was the town that people flocked to from around the world to make their American Dreams come true,” he told them.
“If we win,” he said, “the change you’ve been waiting for will finally arrive. You must get out to vote. We will win. We will shock the world.”
Watch it now, and what happened on November 8 feels far less surprising.
A few days after Trump’s election, when I called some of the people who were quoted in O’Brien’s story from the summer, I heard a fair share of justifiable told you so.
“We knew something was in the brew,” said Dave Pancoke, a 54-year-old unemployed steelworker trying to make do on odd jobs.
“Hillary said the ‘deplorables’ didn’t count,” Kirsch said, referring to Clinton’s comments at a tony fundraiser in September in which she described “half of Trump’s supporters” as “the basket of deplorables.”
“Well,” Kirsch said.
He laughed into the phone.
But for Kirsch, who’s 53, who’s lived in this area his whole life, who’s hauled coal for three decades, and who voted for Obama in ’08, for nobody in ’12 and for Trump last week, the comment from Clinton that irrevocably did her in wasn’t “deplorables.” It had come six months earlier, actually, during a town hall on CNN. The context was more complicated and less incriminating than the widespread takeaway, but the phrase Kirsch heard, and couldn’t and wouldn’t forget, was this: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
“She basically said she was going to take away our jobs,” he told me. “How could I vote for her after that?”
There were a lot of Davie Kirsches.
“All the rurals are happy,” he said.
Top: Pam Schilling, mother of 32-year-old Chad Schilling who overdosed on heroin in April. Bottom left: Joey Del Signore, Jr., a successful local caterer and businessman who was a lifelong Democrat who voted for Trump this election. Bottom right: Dustoff Tactical gun store, next to the United Steelworkers Local 2632 in a small complex. | Scott Goldsmith for Politico Magazine
For Schilling, the biggest reason she backed Trump was her son. Chad Schilling was 32 when he overdosed on a couch in his grandmother’s house in the spring, a few weeks before the Pennsylvania primary. His mother tied his demise to that of the area overall. When I visited her one morning in Portage, she showed me newspaper clippings about his exploits as a high school football star, telling me he wasn’t “book smart” for college but that all he wanted to do was work in the mines, like his grandfather. First he had to go to West Virginia. Then he got laid off in 2013. “He wanted a life I think he didn’t think he could strive to get,” she said. Sore knees from football led to pain pills, which led to heroin, which only got worse after he got let go. She found syringes and spoons stashed in the pockets of his old miner clothes.
“This,” Schilling said, “is why I hope our new president is going to make a change for us. We need a change. It’s just been a nightmare.”
And when Trump talked about building the wall on the Mexican border, she told me, she didn’t think about stopping people from coming into this country nearly as much as she thought about stopping the drugs. The heroin that killed her son. I heard the same sentiments from others about the drug scourge here, wrought by pervasive hopelessness.
“People in this area have just had enough,” Schilling said.
And their unanimous antipathy for Clinton, I heard over and over, along with increased skepticism of the press, contributed to a willingness to look past or brush aside Trump’s antics and comments from the campaign trail, and from his past, too.
His disparagement of John McCain for having been “captured,” of the “face” of Carly Fiorina, of the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife, of the Muslim Gold Star mother and father; his non-stop name-calling, his pandering taco bowl tweet in which he professed his affection for Hispanics, his ludicrous implication that Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK; “torture works,” “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” “grab ‘em by the pussy,” “just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?”—all of that, or at least a lot of it, mattered to them, they told me. Just not enough. Not enough for them to vote for her instead of for him.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Del Signore said.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Schilling said.
They are pleased, though, they told me, by what they see as his “toned-down” and more “presidential” demeanor through his first week-plus as president-elect. They don’t mind at all that he’s backed off details or softened his stance on some of his signature issues from the campaign trail. The wall. Repealing and replacing Obamacare. Putting Clinton in jail, or trying to “lock her up,” as the rally chants went.
“He’s not backpedaling,” Polacek told me. “He’s just trying to bring the country together.”
He chalked up such rhetoric from the trail as “marketing.”
Prosecuting Clinton? “I hope he doesn’t do that,” he said. “If he went to lock her up,” he explained, “you’re creating more divide.”
“Did I ever think he was going to build a big wall?” Frear said. “Hell no. That would be ridiculous. I don’t care—as long as he protects America.”
“He’s already backing off,” Del Signore said. “Fine by me.”
In his transition so far, Trump has done the opposite of backing off, not least with the controversial appointment of Steve Bannon—whose Breitbart News has become a champion of the “alt-right” movement that trafficks in anti-Semitic, misogynist and racist rhetoric—as senior counselor and chief strategist in the West Wing. Trump’s pick has fueled furious pushback and concern from civil rights groups, Democrats and even many traditional Republicans. On the ground here, though, I heard nothing of the sort.
“I’m not familiar with him,” Schilling said.
Neither was Frear. I mentioned Breitbart. “What’s that?” she said.
Bill and John Polacek hand out turkeys to all of their employees during a shift change, an annual tradition. Bill is the taller of the two with darker hair. | Scott Goldsmith for Politico Magazine
At JWF Industries, which does a lot of defense contracting, Polacek said he knew of Bannon. But he said the selection made sense when coupled with that of Reince Priebus, the outgoing head of the Republican National Committee and the incoming chief of staff. “I think you need to create that balance to be the president for all people,” he said.
In my conversation with Polacek in his office, I put it to him directly: did it bother him that Trump’s candidacy derived the energy and the support that it did from white nationalists and white supremacists, people who explicitly reject the notion the president should represent all people equally?
“It makes me uncomfortable that people interpreted what he was doing to empower a white movement,” Polacek said. “I think that’s not who Donald is. I think he just has to be adamant about that: ‘I don’t support that.’ Because it’s not appropriate. It’s not acceptable.”
Polacek singled out as particularly troublesome what Trump said about the judge of Mexican descent presiding over the Trump University fraud case. “That’s not appropriate,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any racism.”
“He was talking to us,” Byich said. “I felt like she was talking down to us.”
After my conversation with Polacek, I met with Byich, down a hall in a conference room. Byich, unlike most of the people I talked to here this week, hasn’t changed his party affiliation. He’s still a Democrat. Trump, though, was an easy choice over Clinton, he told me. “He was talking to us,” he said. “I felt like she was talking down to us.” I asked Byich, who was wearing a hard hat and a Trump shirt, the same thing I had asked his boss. Does it make him uncomfortable that some of the supporters of the candidate he also supported are white supremacists?
“It’s America,” he said.
“As long as you’re not a violent person,” he said, “it’s freedom of speech, you know?”
Freedom of speech?
“I can take you out there,” he said, nodding in the direction of the factory floor, “and introduce you to my black friends. I’ve called them the N-word, and they’ve called me the N-word. It’s reality.”
He asked me if anybody had ever called me that. I’m 39 and white. I told him no. He seemed surprised. “You ever heard them on a rap song?”
I was not expecting our conversation to have gone this way, and my facial expression must have suggested as much. Byich tried again.
“Ever pick up a dictionary?” he said. “Read the definition of a N-word. It’s an object that does work for another thing. Google it.”
So I Googled the word, and up onto my screen popped the definition: “Noun. Offensive. A contemptuous term for a black or dark-skinned person.” I slid my phone across the table.
Byich put on his industrial-strength safety glasses.
“Really?” he said. “Are you serious?”
He used his fingers to scroll.
“I’ll be damned,” he said softly. “You know how many times you hear that? I mean, they use the N-word more than we do, black people. It doesn’t offend me, and it doesn’t offend my friends. My black friends. It’s just goofing around.”
Byich changed the subject.
“I’m going to give the media 70 percent credit for Trump’s victory,” he said. “What was all that biased shit, man?”
We wrapped up our conversation shortly after that. Before leaving JWF, though, I asked him to turn around so I could see the back of his Trump shirt.
“DEPLORABLE VOTES MATTER,” it said.
So do the promises Trump made.
It’s all so new, said Del Signore, the caterer. “We’ve been going to hell in a handbasket for years,” he said, “so he’s not going to fix it in a week or a month.”
But that doesn’t mean he has forever either. Del Signore echoed the timetable of the others.
“Six months to a year,” he said. “Steel may never come back, but we’re sitting on a ton of coal. We’re also sitting on a ton of natural gas. He’ll create jobs.”
Kirsch told me he will be watching in particular the employment numbers at Rosebud Mining in nearby Kittanning. It’s the largest coal company left in the area, he said, and it has about 500 employees. If that number starts ticking up, he said, that will be his indicator that Trump is keeping the promises he made.
“He’s just got to follow through with what he said he’s going to do,” Schilling said in her house filled with the old football stories about her son.
People here I talked to who didn’t vote for Trump—and there are some in this county where Democrats still nominally outnumber Republicans—are hoping for more jobs as well. But they aren’t so optimistic.
Havener, the retired union carpenter who met me at Missy’s, had said over the summer he would vote, albeit unenthusiastically, for Clinton. In the end, he did not. He voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. “I wanted to see someone who wasn’t another one in the royal, so to speak, progression,” he explained. He saw things, he said, in Clinton’s character that didn’t “sit well” with him: “It’s like win at all costs. I feel like she’d do anything she could to get there.”
Trump, though, he said, was even worse.
“He’s a car salesman, in my eyes,” Havener said. “He’s going to say what you want to hear.” Your jobs will come back. Your steel will come back. “I don’t see steel coming back,” he said. “Not at the scale or anywhere near the scale it was. He sold everybody cars. Will he deliver on those cars? Can he deliver on those cars?”
At left: Jeff Rininger, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2632. At right: The sign outside Dustoff Tactical Store. | Scott Goldsmith for Politico Magazine
One morning this week, I drove out to the office of the United Steelworkers Local 2632. Next to the union’s office was a gun store, Dustoff Tactical. On the gun store’s marquee was a giant Trump sign and black capital letters with an unsubtle message: “HILLARY STILL SUCKS!” Inside the steelworkers’ storefront, where a much smaller Clinton sign and the local newspaper’s endorsement of her remained pinned to bulletin boards, I met with the local union president, Jeff Rininger, and the financial secretary, John Daloni. They both voted for Sanders in the primary and for Clinton last week.
“I’m f--king depressed as hell,” Rininger announced.
“The members of our union are probably the ones who pushed it over the edge in favor of Trump,” he said—and he was livid about it. Rininger, who’s been the local union president since 1988, read to me passages of an email he had sent to his roughly 350 members, a message in which he chastised those who voted for Trump—he couldn’t be sure how many of them there were—for going against not only his recommendation but what he saw as their own self-interest. Trump is a “union hater,” he said in his email, and the Republicans “want to eliminate us.” He predicted “tough times ahead for this union.”
“God help us persevere,” Rininger had written.
“God help us is right,” Daloni said.
Rininger said he had heard back from one Trump-voting recipient of the email who had angrily responded to not tell him how to vote. Rininger saw him this week at work, he said. “I told him, ‘F--k you. You hurt our union.’”
But beyond flared tempers in the immediate aftermath of this ugly election, said Rininger and Daloni, the larger point is that this isn’t going to work. There’s next to no way, they believe, that Trump can deliver on his promises.
“The infrastructure for the steel is all gone,” Daloni said. “It just doesn’t exist anymore in Johnstown. It did used to be a steel boomtown, but it was long before Obama was elected. It was decimated, really, before Bill Clinton was elected. The mills were going down in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
The Trump voters say they want change, but Daloni and Rininger say the change has happened already. And despite what Trump promised at the downtown arena a month ago, they believe there’s a real chance that Trump’s solutions could make things worse. Incomes won’t go up—they’ll go down. “I make $32 an hour, with good benefits, and that’s because I’m union,” Rininger said. “I wouldn’t even be f--king close to that if I wasn’t union.”
And jobs, they worry, won’t come back—they’ll disappear faster. And before long, they said, the only work in Cambria County will be minimum-wage counter jobs at the familiar collection of ring-road fast food-joints. “The service industry, I’m afraid,” Daloni said.
“If Trump starts trade wars,” Rininger said, “you hurt us. You hurt our plant”—which is owned by Swedes, with a CEO from India. And the steel the workers do still make, Rininger said, is sold to Brazil. It’s sold around the world.
It’s 2016, he said. “We’re a global operation.”
Keith O’Brien contributed to this report.