For many sup­port­ers, Trump is a thing called hope

On elec­tion night, when Don­ald Trump claimed vic­tory in her home state of Wis­con­sin, Shay Cham­ber­lin was so ex­cited she passed out.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Amy For­l­iti and Claire Galo­faro

Cham­ber­lain be­lieves Trump is her saviour, sent by God to save Amer­ica from ruin. She owns a women’s cloth­ing store in this re­mote town; her hus­band runs a con­struc­tion com­pany. They have two chil­dren and barely get by on $44,000 a year, liv­ing pay cheque to pay cheque.

In his vic­tory speech, Trump called peo­ple like Cham­ber­lain and her fam­ily Amer­ica’s “for­got­ten men and women” – the blue-col­lar work­ers in the man­u­fac­tur­ing towns of the Rust Belt and the hol­low­ing coal­fields of Ap­palachia who pro­pelled him to an im­prob­a­ble vic­tory. They felt left be­hind by progress, laughed at by the elite, and so put their faith in the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man with a sharp tongue and short tem­per who promised to Make Amer­ica Great Again.

When Trump first ran, Cham­ber­lain thought to her­self: “That’s the man ev­ery­body has been pray­ing for.” And she now feels vin­di­cated by his vic­tory.

“This is a move­ment,” she said. “This isn’t a can­di­date any­more. This is a move­ment.”

Not all of Trump’s sup­port came from the blue-col­lar down­trod­den. But the Repub­li­can’s over­whelm­ing back­ing among whites with less than a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion is at least partly a re­flec­tion of how lit­tle the eco­nomic re­cov­ery since the Great Re­ces­sion has ben­e­fited them. Their job op­por­tu­ni­ties have dwin­dled and their in­comes have fallen, even as broader mea­sures of the na­tion’s job mar­ket show im­prove­ment. But they also turned to him to hold back the tide of so­cial change: same-sex mar­riage, trans­gen­der rights, and a so­ci­ety grow­ing more racially di­verse.

The white work­ing class, long ig­nored, found an un­likely spokesman in Trump. He promised to build the wall to keep out im­mi­grants. He promised to tear up trade deals that have driven Amer­i­can fac­tory jobs over­seas. He promised to put blue-col­lar Amer­ica back to work and re­store the coun­try to a time when white work­ers felt ap­pre­ci­ated and ful­filled.

“I feel like, not just most, but all Trump sup­port­ers are true

pa­tri­ots,” said 59-year-old Gin­ger Austin, who owns a graph­ics com­pany in a tiny town in Jones County, one of the poor­est places in North Car­olina. “They love this coun­try. But they’re tak­ing our coun­try away, and they’re chang­ing it. They’re just chang­ing ev­ery­thing. All our rights are just slowly be­ing dwin­dled away.”

She’s an­gry at the Repub­li­can Party she has sup­ported all her life. She is an­gry at Barack Obama and the Af­ford­able Care Act. She is an­gry that Amer­ica is chang­ing, and wor­ried that her grand­chil­dren are grow­ing up in a world too lib­eral and too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.

The na­tion woke up on Wed­nes­day morn­ing to learn just how starkly di­vided it has grown: Hil­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote by less than 200,000 bal­lots. But Trump won bat­tle­ground states that had voted for Obama twice. Thou­sands of reg­is­tered Democrats, in­clud­ing many for­mer union work­ers from the mines and fac­to­ries, crossed party lines and sided with Trump.

For ex­am­ple, in Dunn County, where Shay Cham­ber­lin lives, Obama beat Mitt Rom­ney 53 per cent to 46 per cent in 2012, and John McCain 57 per cent to 42 per cent four years ear­lier. But it flipped to back Don­ald Trump, 52 per cent to 41 per cent, over Clin­ton.

Scott Hilt­gen, a 66-year-old small busi­ness owner in Wis­con­sin, called Wash­ing­ton a

“cesspool” of ca­reer politi­cians, aware of and in­dif­fer­ent to the plight of the Amer­i­can worker.

“We are con­sid­ered fly­over coun­try, as you well know, and they don’t care about us,” he said. “And I think it was the silent ma­jor­ity that fi­nally said, ‘Enough’s enough. We want a change. We don’t like the way things are go­ing’.”

Mid­dle-aged white men with only high school de­grees – the core of Trump’s sup­port – saw their in­fla­tion-ad­justed in­comes plum­met nine per cent from 1996 through 2014, ac­cord­ing to Sen­tier Re­search, a data an­a­lyt­ics firm founded by for­mer Cen­sus Bureau of­fi­cials. White male col­lege grad­u­ates in the same age bracket, by con­trast, saw their in­comes jump 23 per cent.

The Great Re­ces­sion wiped out mil­lions of mid­dle-in­come jobs in man­u­fac­tur­ing, of­fice ad­min­is­tra­tive work and con­struc­tion, and those jobs haven’t re­turned, even as the na­tion now has 6.5 mil­lion more jobs than it did be­fore the re­ces­sion be­gan. In many parts of the coun­try, they have been re­placed with lower-in­come work in restau­rants, ho­tels, and in home health care.

This “hol­low­ing out” of the na­tion’s econ­omy has left many Amer­i­cans with high school de­grees feel­ing shut out of the mid­dle class.

Jerry Black­burn, a re­tired county of­fi­cial in ru­ral Vir­ginia, said he feels like peo­ple

from some­place else took all they could from him and his neigh­bours and then left them with noth­ing.

“They took our coal out of here and ev­ery­body got rich on it. And what did we get?” he asked. “We got black lung. We don’t have good wa­ter to drink, we don’t have roads, and we don’t have any­thing ex­cept a bunch of bro­ken down old coal min­ers who have been for­got­ten. But ev­ery­body else got rich on us.”

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, min­ers streamed into a con­ve­nience store on a high­way be­tween one strug­gling, West Vir­ginia coal town and another. From be­hind the counter, man­ager Mary Jones rec­og­nized some­thing she hadn’t heard in years: hope.

They talked about jobs re­turn­ing to this bro­ken-down county. They talked about a chance at a brighter fu­ture. They talked about Don­ald Trump.

“I think we sent a mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton that we’re tired of them sit­ting up there do­ing noth­ing to help the work­ing-class peo­ple,” said Jones, a na­tive of Wy­oming County, where the col­lapse of the coal in­dus­try has left be­hind a string of tum­ble­down houses and a quar­ter of fam­i­lies in poverty.

Coal trucks used to bar­rel by all day and the park­ing lot stayed full. No trucks come by any­more. The store is for sale. She’s not sure she’ll have a job much longer and is cer­tain she won’t find another. They strug­gle to make enough money to pay the bills and write the pay cheques.

She con­sid­ers the bal­lot she cast for Trump as a protest against Clin­ton and ev­ery other mem­ber of the po­lit­i­cal elite.

“Work­ing-class peo­ple built this coun­try and now the work­ing class peo­ple have been for­got­ten,” she said. “It’s about time they paid at­ten­tion.”

But in West Vir­ginia, Jones wor­ries that the work­ing class is too far gone to be saved.

“There are some things you can do as a pres­i­dent. And there’s some­thing you can’t. They all make prom­ises, I just don’t know how he can keep all those prom­ises,” she said. “I feel more hope­ful to­day than I have in a long time. But I’m still scared for the fu­ture.”

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