Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Southerners Who Support Trump

Following a dominant showing in South Carolina, the leading Republican presidential candidate made a pit stop in Atlanta before a crowd of 10,000 fans. Uncommon Journalism spoke with some of the undeniably polarizing - and undeniably popular - candidate's staunchest supporters to find out why the billionaire businessman has struck such a resounding chord with America's oft-ignored working class. 

DOWN WITH 'THE DONALD': Emmanuel Martey, Jr., left, and Peggy Martey show their support for Republican presidential candidate front-runner Donald Trump at a rally in Atlanta Feb. 21. (Photo Credit James Swift)

By: James Swift

Jean Dumeny, a 30-year-old soda company distribution manager, is awestruck.

After an hour or so of back-to-back spins of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the third level concourse of the Georgia World Congress Center begins to bustle. The stereo system pipes up, and the clamant piano notes of Van Halen’s “Right Now” sweeps over the audience – which, by now, has grown to easily 10,000 people.

The Smyrna, Ga., resident stands on his tiptoes, hurriedly trying to snap a photo with his smart phone. It’s no small task, considering the hundreds of people – many frenziedly waving red, white and blue placards – standing in front of him.

Dumeny, alike the other rally attendees, spent a considerable portion of that afternoon queued in a line stretching all the way down to Marietta Street and wrapping around the Omni Hotel. To even make it into the GWCC Building A showroom floor – a cavernous, uncarpeted venue with an enormous black curtain cordoning off almost half of it – he had to pass through two security checkpoints. Just outside the entrance, a small mound of verboten objects – umbrellas, poster boards, the odd metal tool and selfie stick – lay soaking in the rain.

It was a busy day in downtown Atlanta. Wedged in between Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome – side-by-side with its eventual replacement venue, the under-construction Mercedes-Benz Stadium – the Georgia World Congress Center was jam-packed with attendees. Thousands of hair stylists – easily denoted by their turquoise, teal and tangerine coifs – were at Building C for the annual Bronner Bros. International Beauty Show. Thousands more were at Building B for the yearly American Rental Association trade show and conference, where the keynote speaker was NBA great Magic Johnson.

Alas, the occupants of Building C were there for an entirely different kind of attraction – Republican presidential front-runner Donald J. Trump, who a day earlier, collected all 50 delegates at the South Carolina primary.

Attendees waited two and a half hours to hear the real estate tycoon turned reality TV star turned unexpected populist candidate speak Feb. 21. In the downtime, some participated in a singalong to his unofficial campaign anthem – a country-western number titled “Don’t Be a Chump, Vote for Trump.” Many cheered loudly as soon as YouTube stars Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson made their way to the stage for a pre-Trump warm-up. The African-American sisters from North Carolina then gave a spirited speech, savaging the media for what they deemed an impartial depiction of the candidate (which, in turn, led to Trump loyalists turning their signs towards the row of news cameras in the back and showering reporters with boos and hisses.) Just about everybody chuckled when a disembodied voice on the PA system advised them what to do if a heckler tried to disrupt the speech – instead of “attacking” them, they were told to hold signs over the offending dissident and shout “Trump” over and over again until a police official escorted them from the premises.

Hot on the heels of his double-digit win in South Carolina, Trump received a deafening ovation as soon as he stepped in front of the podium – and it didn’t take long for The Apprentice star to begin trumpeting his latest achievements.

“Out of the seven congressional districts, we won all seven,” he stated. “The victory last night was very decisive.”

Whereas other candidates’ oratory takes on a fiery, forceful tone, Trump’s delivery is much more reserved. His modulation remains steady, and he hardly ever shouts. Even speaking about his most controversial policy points – namely his stance on immigration and the War on Terror – he maintains an airy casualness, as if he was chatting it up next to the water cooler instead of delivering an address before millions of television viewers.

He took pollsters who said he didn’t have a chance to task and poked fun at a number of media outlets. He spoke at length about his love of tweeting, saying it was like “owning The New York Times, but without the losses.” He lashed out at a number of prominent Democrats – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and John Kerry, primarily – and aired his disappointment with the $1.1 trillion omnibus bill signed late last year and Iowa’s caucus procedures.

And he promised more victories heading into the critical Super Tuesday primaries March 1. “I love to win,” he said. “Don’t we love to win?”

It’s certainly something Dumeny loves.

“It’s his genuine sense of wanting to help the country,” he said while lining Trump up in the crosshairs of his iPhone’s camera. “Based on where we’re at now, he seems like he’s the best man for us.”

The Anti-Politician

MOMENT OF TRUTH: Jean Dumeny records Donald
Trump as he makes his grand entrance at the Georgia
World Congress Center. (Photo Credit James Swift)
Considering Trump’s staunch conservative views – socially and economically – that the overwhelming majority of rally supporters were Caucasian is hardly unexpected. However, there was a notable black and Asian presence at the event, as well – although to absolutely no one’s surprise, virtually no Hispanic or Middle Eastern “supporters” were in the crowd.

Count 63-year-old Peggy Martey among the African-American faithful. The senior insurance claims analyst said she supports Trump because she believes he has the makings of a “strong president” on job growth.

“We have sons and daughters that are grown and we want to make sure they remain employed,” she said, “and we just think Trump’s the guy to do it.”

Reflecting the sentiments of many Trump supporters, she said she’s a loyalist for “The Donald” because he’s a Washington outsider. “He says what he feels and we can trust him,” she added. “I think the people are really in charge this time and the politicians are not.”

Trump’s aversion to political correctness is a “breath of fresh air,” said 68-year-old Atlanta real estate vet John Stabler.

“He doesn’t have a huge line or backers,” he said. “In fact, he backs himself, which is of the essence of a true candidate. Anybody who has taken money from a lot of different sources has a lot of people he has to pay off before he states his real position on an issue.”

Nick Harbin, an 18-year-old unemployed supporter from Dahlonega, Ga., also praised Trump for being a political outsider.

“He’s not controlled by Super PACs,” he said. “He’s not a part of the establishment, he does whatever he wants and I think that’s what America needs.”

Kevin Lloyd, a 45-year-old machinist from Oxford, Ala., said that while he believes other presidential candidates are seemingly led by other interests, Trump is being guided by his own ideals.

“I don’t think he will be bullied by other people,” he said. “He’s a businessman and America, the country, is a business.”  

His wife, 44-year-old contractor Jeaneth Lloyd, said she greatly admires Trump’s self-financed campaign. “The difference between him and the other candidates is they spend lots of money,” she said. “They are spending and spending and spending and they talk a lot about action. We would like to see the action.”

The Military Vote
SOLDIERING FORWARD: Recently retired Army
veteran Teri West said she supports Trump because she
believes he is committed to military investments. (Photo

Credit James Swift)

During his speech in Atlanta, Trump touted having high approval rates from United States active military and veterans. If elected, he said he would make certain the armed forces had access to the best technology around, not lackluster military equipment in use simply due to defense contractors’ cozy relationships with legislators.

Trump’s emphasis on military investments has a lot of appeal for Charles Crow, a 76-year-old Army veteran residing in Carrollton, Ga.

“We have the worst military we’ve had in 100 years,” he said. “The country, the people overseas, they don’t respect us, they don’t fear us … he is the only one who is going to rebuild our military like it should be.”

Teri West, a 55-year-old McDonough, Ga., resident, recently retired from the U.S. Army, where she has spent the last 33 years of her life. She likewise believes ramping up defense spending is crucial. “The sequestration is ruining our Army,” she said. “Our military is being gutted.”

Kevin Lloyd said he would like to see Trump tackle military benefits, especially health services. “I want him to take care of the veterans,” Lloyd said. “They are mistreated and a lost cause.”

Preliminary polling results from The Washington Post suggest that more than one-in-three voters who identified as active or former military personnel cast their ballots for Trump in the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary. And despite having never served in the military, a 2015 YouGov poll found current and former military members had a more favorable opinion of Trump than John McCain, a Vietnam War P.O.W. and a recipient of the Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third-highest military decoration for valor.

Money Matters

HIS OWN MAN: “He’s not a part of the establishment,"
said 18-year-old Trump supporter Nick Harbin, "he does
whatever he wants and I think that’s what America needs.”
(Photo Credit James Swift)
While the most publicized aspect of the rally was a brief technical snafu involving the stage lighting – which may or may not have been the result of a protester’s meddling – perhaps the most noteworthy takeaway from the speech was Trump’s elucidation of his economic platform.

Deficit spending, he said, has turned America into a “debtor’s country.” One of his proposed solutions to America’s financial woes is a trade policy designed to rein in American companies doing business overseas. Citing high tariffs - he referred to the Chinese government as “grand chess masters” at currency manipulation – he proposed a 35 percent tax on all U.S. companies manufacturing products abroad.

Trump said America is getting a raw deal in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With the U.S. steeped in a $365 billion trade deficit last year, he criticized the Obama Administration for inviting Chinese officials to state dinners. “I’m not a debater, I produce jobs,” he said. “We eat McDonald's until we’ve come to an agreement.”

He had especially harsh words for companies like Carrier, Nabisco and Ford who have shipped U.S. jobs to Mexico. “They’re ripping us off at the border, and they’re ripping us off in trade,” he said.

In terms of education and health care, however, Trump was mum. He made no mention of higher education, only stating a desire to terminate Common Core standards in public schools. While he said he would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act – which he said has had the collateral impact of preventing workers from obtaining full-time employment – he said little to nothing about his plans for Medicare or Medicaid. However, he did touch upon the topic of Medicare Part D, stating that he would like the federal government to have the ability to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. The measure, he said, would save taxpayers $300 billion annually - a sum tantamount to the total amount of spending, public and private, on all pharmaceuticals in the U.S. each year and more than double the current projections for Medicare Part D net spending over the next 10 years.

Immigrants and Islam

Although Trump’s policies have been deemed “ultra-conservative” and even “extreme” by detractors, his platform seems to consist of an unusual smattering of free market idealism and progressive populist proposals. His taxation plan announced in Sept. 2015, for example, runs the ideological gamut, with calls to eliminate both the estate tax and all federal tax liability for workers earning less than $25,000 a year.

Of course, two of Trump’s proposals have overshadowed all of his other talking points: his plan to build a massive wall to deter unauthorized immigration at the U.S./Mexican border and his call to temporarily ban Muslims from immigrating to America in the wake of last December’s deadly San Bernardino rampage.

For rally attendees in Atlanta, the two issues are inextricably linked.

“We don’t need the refugees in the country, believe me, we can’t trust them,” said Jeaneth Lloyd, who is of Filipino descent. “Build the wall … I don’t want the refugees to come here and kill Americans.”

That sentiment is echoed by Emmanuel Martey, Jr., the 68-year-old retired Reverend Professor of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Resurrection Congregation Atlanta in Decatur, Ga.

“Everybody who wants to come here should come through the right way,” said Martey, himself an immigrant to the U.S. “You get a visa, you get screened, then you come in. You can’t just jump in and walk through a bush and come here.”

His wife, Peggy Martey, said she does not believe Trump’s proposals are discriminatory.

“They want to say he’s a racist, but I don’t think so,” she said. “He talks about building a wall, but those are the kinds of things we need. We need borders protected.”

Trump spoke a great deal about his notorious “wall.” He said that if the Chinese were able to construct a 13,000 mile wall before the United States even existed, his proposal for a 1,000 mile barricade is wholly feasible. As an engineering inspiration he cited the nearly 300-mile-long West Bank barrier. “You can ask Israel about walls that work,” he said.

left, and spouse Kevin Lloyd both said Trump's
economic policies are major reasons why they are
supporting the political outsider. (Photo credit
James Swift
Trump remains adamant that the Mexican government could – and would – finance the project, citing the United States' $58 billion trade deficit with Mexico as an incentive. After hearing former Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticize the proposal, Trump promised his supporters he would make the final product 10 feet taller. “See that ceiling?” he said, pointing at the concourse roof. “That ceiling is low compared to the wall I’m talking about, and that’s a pretty high ceiling.”

While Trump said the wall would cost $8 billion – about four times the amount the U.S. spent on a nearly 700-mile fence along the southern border authorized under a 2006 federal law – other estimates put the tab anywhere from $15 billion to $25 billion, with another $2 billion needed each year to handle maintenance and personnel costs.

Still, Trump insists it is a small price to pay to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the country, which some anti-illegal immigration organizations have said costs the U.S. upwards of $113 billion each year.

That tough stance on border security has a lot of appeal to West, who said she has little sympathy for those who would be denied entry under Trump’s proposals.

“People are really, really angry about that, that other people in power have allowed this to happen,” she said. “They broke the law. We are a nation of laws. You can’t just go around breaking the laws.”

In Atlanta, Trump said little about his controversial “Muslim ban.” However, he did say that instead of granting refugees in the Middle East sanctuary in the U.S., he would persuade Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia – who, thus far, have not been welcoming of those displaced by warfare in Syria – to construct safe zones within their own borders.

In terms of combating international terror, Trump – who stated the Iraq War was a gigantic mistake – gave the nondescript declaration that, if he was elected, “we are going to knock the hell out of ISIS.”

Although the statement drew loud cheers from the audience, not all of his supporters were so gung-ho about the pronouncement.

“I really don’t like his whole ‘carpet bomb ISIS’ and not letting any Muslims in America,” Harbin said. “I think that’s a little un-American, but I do believe that’s OK for right now.”

November … and January … Awaits?

Following a commanding win at the Nevada caucus Feb. 23 - in which he won not only 46 percent of the total vote, but nearly half of all votes from the states' registered Hispanic Republicans - Trump is now the heavy favorite heading into Super Tuesday, when 11 states host Republican primaries and caucuses with a crucial 595 delegates on the line. 

In the wake of his dominant Silver State showing, Trump now possesses 79 delegates - a sum that more than doubles the combined delegate count of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates.

"We won the evangelicals, we won with young, we won with old, we won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated," he declared in a victory speech in Las Vegas. "We weren't expected to win too much and now we're winning, winning, winning the country, and soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning."

As inherently contentious politics may be, few public figures with eyes on the Oval Office have ever been as polarizing as Trump. Websites like Salon, Slate and The Atlantic routinely use terms like “xenophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted” to describe his platform; doing away with journalistic objectivity altogether, The Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington issued a diktat in late 2015 to include an editor’s note decrying Trump as, among other things, “a serial liar” and “a misogynist” in all stories bringing up his name. The New York Daily News even went as far as putting a Klansman on the cover of their paper along with the text "Trump for Prez" following the candidate's dubious endorsement from notorious white supremacist David Duke. 

Even the longstanding bulwarks of American conservative thought have determined Trump to be persona non grata. The National Review dedicated an entire issue on the subject of why he shouldn’t be the Republican candidate for president and his beef with Fox News led to a boycott that – in the long haul – has done more damage to the cable news outlet than Trump’s polling numbers. GOP opposition has long questioned Trump’s commitment to conservatism, citing his 180 turn from a steadfast liberal who once proposed the largest tax increase in American history to erase the national debt to an economic nationalist advocating for the elimination of corporate taxes altogether a decade later. Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested Trump is actually a double agent on a mission to destabilize the Republican base en route to an easy win for the Democrats in November.

While Trump is no doubt reviled by millions, Atlanta’s rally indicates that many Americans – perhaps more than polls thus far have indicated – are in agreement with the controversial candidate’s views.

Although Trump and his supporters are mercilessly mocked, ridiculed and condemned in Internet memes and tirades, his popularity at the primaries suggests a major disconnect between online populism and real-world populism. Not once in his oration did Trump mention student debt, criminal justice reform, wealth inequity or race relations. Instead, he kept pounding home a central message celebrating domestic economic development, strong national defense and hardline anti-globalization sentiments.

Lost amid all the pithy soundbites about punching protesters in the face and executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood – not to mention his spat with the Pope and “birther” allegations galore - could the media and Trump’s own political adversaries be overlooking the bigger picture behind his popularity?
THE GOOD FIGHT: 76-year-old Army veteran
Charles Crow said he backs Trump for his national
security policies.  "He is the only one who is going to
rebuild our military like it should be," he said. (Photo
Credit James Swift
To a certain extent, it seems surreal that Donald Trump – the same guy who played Waldo’s dad in The Little Rascals and co-starred alongside Grimace in a McDonald's commercial and publicly feuded with Rosie O’Donnell – could be the next leader of the free world. But is that scenario really any more unbelievable than a B-movie cowboy from California (whose biggest role was playing second banana to a chimpanzee) or a self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” who attended elementary school in Indonesia taking up residence in the White House?

While much has been made about Trump’s supporters not having college educations, such a demographic nonetheless represents 68 percent of the country. The ranks of America’s factory hands, truck drivers, warehousemen and construction workers – not to mention policemen, fire fighters and career military personnel – far exceed the ranks of the nation’s software programmers, academians and nonprofit managers. And while labor union leaders may extol the causes of the left, the nation’s actual laborers more often than not tend to pull the voting lever the opposite direction.

At the Georgia World Congress Center presentation, Trump staffers gleefully handed out posters to attendees emblazoned with the phrase “the silent majority supports Trump.”

“We’re not respected anywhere,” Trump told the masses. “We have a right to be angry. We’ve been sold down the river.”

At that moment, 10,000-plus members of the American proletariat nodded their head. And the convivial atmosphere – if for only a few seconds – gave way to a stern silence.

While Trump supporters are regularly criticized for their ethnocentric vitriol and anger, the overlying emotion at the rally was instead a sense of economic despair.  

“We need people to work, to go out there and dig the ground,” said Jeaneth Lloyd. “We’re not going to vote for anybody unless it’s Trump.”

“He wants to have programs that will get people working and Barack Obama has no programs,” said Stabler. “He hasn’t gotten people back to work – the real unemployment rate is probably closer to 20 percent right now.”

Stabler’s guess is actually a bit too rosy – the nation's real unemployment rate as of Aug. 2015 rest at 40 percent.

“Financially, we’re broke,” West said. “They are taking our resources, medically, welfare, food stamps, it just can’t keep going on.”

Many Trump backers are indeed wealthy, well-educated businessmen. But if Trump wins this November, it will be on the backs of America’s unsung and unheralded lower to middle class workers – the HVAC contractors and powerline repairmen and pressure washer operators and telecom receptionists – and not the big spenders on Wall Street or the suburbanite, RINO country club set.

So far in this election cycle, Trump has been the only candidate to speak directly to that unglamorous and oft-forgotten laboring class. The same way George W. Bush drew evangelicals to the polls in 2004 and Barack Obama won in 2012 via the support of millennials and first-time minority voters, there is a very strong chance Trump may galvanize millions of people who otherwise would not be interested in the democratic process to flock to their nearest precincts in droves this autumn.

And if the turnout in Atlanta was any indication, there might just be enough of the “voiceless” out there to open a new Trump Tower at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. come January. 

Uncommon Journalism, 2016.

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