Report From Trump Country

ngaere-smithNorth Carolina locals tell NZ migrant why they like The Donald

By Ngaire Smith

New Zealander Ngaire Smith, whose parents live in Paraparaumu, is married to an American and lives in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina — an blue-ridge-parkwayarea which voted for Trump. She’s been talking to some of the locals about how they voted and why…

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the western sliver of North Carolina boast the kinds of scenery that photographers crave – bush-clad hills, dramatic waterfalls, and spectacular sunsets.

faqll-coloursblue-ridge-mountainsViewing the Fall colours

Every October, visitors travel for hundreds of miles to view the “Fall Colours,” as leaves turn gold, orange, and crimson across the massive Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

This tranquility belies sharp divisions within the region that reflect American society at large.

With the exception of progressive Asheville, Western North

Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina

Carolina voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump on November 8.

Haywood County, a large rural North Carolina county most famous as the setting for Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, exemplifies the growing divide between rural Americans and their urban neighbors.

Historically a railway and manufacturing hub, Haywood County’s two main towns Waynesville and Canton include fewer than 5 000 people each, with the remaining 50 000 living in rural areas outside town boundaries.

Like residents of small towns everywhere, people in Haywood County tend to know each other’s business. Gender roles are stuck in the mid-twentieth century, and many residents organize their social calendars around church (overwhelmingly Protestant, mostly Baptist).

Though the Western Band of the Cherokee Indian Reservation is just one county over, Haywood County’s population is overwhelmingly white.

Cherokee on NC reservation
Cherokee on NC reservation

Where many Americans see progress (rapid urbanization, globalization, increased emphasis on tertiary education, de-industrialization, secularization), many Haywood County residents see unwelcome intrusions.  

Industries close

With the closure of a manufacturing plant in Waynesville in the late 1990’s, and a focus on marketing Haywood County as a tourism and retirement destination, the demographics of Haywood County began to change.

People from down-state North Carolina, Georgia and Florida came for the mild mountain climate and the cultural attractions of Asheville, 50 km down the road, while young people left for jobs in Charlotte or Raleigh.

Blue Ridge Paper Products factory
Blue Ridge Paper Products factory

Those who stayed could no longer necessarily rely on good manufacturing jobs. Though tourism created some hospitality industry jobs, the largest employers in Haywood County remain the public school system, Blue Ridge Paper Products (owned by New Zealand’s richest man, Graham Hart), and Haywood Regional Hospital.

Jillian has realigned her politics

Jillian Downey, a 32 year old Wildlife Technology student, came to Haywood County with her husband because she liked the area.

Growing up in Long Island, New York, Jillian long considered herself a moderate Democrat, although she had never voted before the 2016 election.

A four-year veteran of the US Navy, Jillian gradually realigned her politics, and was excited when the Republican Party selected Donald Trump as the presidential nominee.

trumpShe believes that Donald Trump can restore America’s greatness, which she sees as rooted in a manufacturing economy and a spirit of hard work and self-reliance.

In America “we used to make things, we used to work in factories. We don’t do that anymore,” says Downey.

“We’ve sent a lot of our jobs overseas,” says Downey, who believe that Donald Trump will bring them back. She trusts in his ability to lead America because “running this country is a business.”

When asked whether a billionaire like Trump could relate to working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, Jillian seemed unconcerned. She believes that “either you understand people or you don’t.”

Greg was looking for a strong candidate to get things done

Greg Glenn relocated to Haywood County in the 1990’s to work in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, having previously lived in Florida and Mississippi.

Currently studying Information Technology at a local college, Glenn looked for a political candidate who focused on security, illegal immigration, the economy, and shrinking the size of government. 

Donald Trump appealed to Glenn because “the country went so liberal,” explains Glenn. Without a strong conservative president “we would have lost the America I was born into.”

Too much part of the establisment
Too much part of the establishment

Glenn viewed Hillary Clinton as corrupt and too wedded to the establishment to make any real changes. Donald Trump on the other hand “is not a professional politician,” which “scares the hell of out of other politicians.”  

Glenn believes that as president, Donald Trump will build the wall he promised along the US border with Mexico. “I don’t mind people wanting to immigrate,” says Glenn, “but they need to do it legally.”

Having worked near the Mexican border, Glenn pointed out that at certain places you can literally just step across the border.

The wall would stop much of this human traffic (although immigrants might still use tunnels or turn to smugglers with access to trucks and vans).

Despite his background in the National Park Service, he expressed little concern for the animals such as javelinas, jaguarondis, big horn sheep, black bears and pumas that such a wall would isolate. Glenn did note that there are ways to build access for animals into the wall.

So far, Glenn is unhappy with at least one of President-Elect Trump’s decisions; his choice of Jess Sessions, senator

Senator Sessions with Trump
Senator Sessions with Trump

from Alabama and former Alabama United States Attorney as Attorney General.

Jeff Sessions (Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General) I really don’t care for. He’s part of the old establishment no matter how you look at it,” says Glenn. He would have preferred Trey Gowdy, a Republican firebrand from South Carolina who spearheaded the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2012 attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

At the other end of the spectrum …

At the other end of the political spectrum, Greg McLamb, a history teacher and college liaison, describes his shock upon discovering that Donald Trump had won the election.

“I had to go through the stages of grief,” he said. McLamb doesn’t believe that Trump can fulfil his campaign promises, particularly not his promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the USA because “those jobs, that America, that thinking, are not coming back.”

Greg doubts whether Trump can bring back the lost jobs
Greg doubts whether Trump can bring back the lost jobs

He believes that Trump’s cabinet picks “show just how much of an outsider Trump is while also showing how beholden to Republican policy he is.”

Though many people voted for Donald Trump because of his status as a Washington “outsider, “none of these people have any reason to change the system,” says McLamb.

McLamb’s biggest concern about Trump’s presidency is foreign policy because Donald Trump “sees most things as personal slights.”

He points out that “you’re dealing with a man who in his business makes a decision and then the entirety of his organization makes that happen.”

McLamb, who is currently finishing up a PhD in American History, stresses that diplomacy is not like a business.

The number one word is compromise. McLamb says that Trump “destroyed the World Football League trying to make it better than the NFL.” What this means for America remains to be seen.