The Economist sends its correspondent up the Ohio River to try to find the chief of the Inner Station, with harrowing results:
A FEW DAYS before the 2016 election, when the nature of Donald Trump’s appeal to his supporters was a matter of hot debate, Lexington joined a local builders’ union boss on a tour of construction sites in Youngstown, Ohio. Most of Rocco DiGennaro’s—male and almost exclusively white—“Local 125” members intended to vote Trump, despite many having only ever voted Democratic before. Your columnist wanted to know why.
By far their most common explanation was a hatred for Hillary Clinton. Nearly all the workmen said the Democratic candidate was dishonest and corrupt. By contrast, many expressed weaker or less defined feelings towards Mr Trump. They said they liked his tough talk, especially on immigration, and that he was a businessman. Many thought he could sort out Washington, DC, and the economy (though Youngstown’s construction industry was already booming). Those perceived qualities duly won Mr Trump a record share of white working-class votes—and thus the presidency. Even so, it was not obvious back then that his supporters would develop the ironclad allegiance to him many now profess.
Their devotion was apparent during a re-run of your columnist’s tour around Youngstown, again in Mr DiGennaro’s entertaining company. “You’re going to hear the same again, only more intense,” the burly ex-builder had predicted. He wasn’t wrong. Interviews with a score of workers on a large development project at Youngstown State University, involving several construction companies and sites, did not suggest Mr Trump had increased his local support. As in 2016, perhaps a third of the workers claimed to have no interest in the election. Yet almost all who had voted for him in 2016, even if tentatively, now vigorously endorsed him.
“He’s done a great job, he’s got everyone back to work. I’m pretty much 100% for him,” said Kyle, a 30-year-old electrician. “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest,” said Jason, a pipe-fitter, who said he especially liked Mr Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. “He’s done more for our country than the past ten presidents put together,” said an older builder, Jeff, skimming wet concrete on a new road. “He’s made—who is it, China or Japan?—pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. He built the wall.”
What can you even say any more?
While Pizzagate, QAnon et. al. are insane conspiracy theories, at least they make sense in their own deranged terms (If the Democrats were actually running child sex slave rings I would definitely be opposed to that). Stuff like this — in which completely non-controversial public facts are not merely denied but actually inverted — is in its own way even crazier.
Against my better judgment, I’ll engage in some speculative hermeneutics regarding how this sort of “knowledge” is acquired in Trumpland:
(1) “He’s got everyone back to work.” Formal unemployment was extremely low before the pandemic. Of course it was extremely low in the last years of the Kenyan usurper, but OK, this one can be chalked up to selective blindness.
(2) “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest.” This is the classic logic of the critics of political correctness and cancel culture: if you say horribly offensive things, that just means you’re telling it like it is. Trump of course says horribly offensive things while also telling unlimited numbers of lies — often doing both things at the same time — but again I can just barely see how this particular delusion could be acquired by the common clay of the ungovernable tribal regions.
(3) Mr. Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. Hey, this one is easy: Republicans are the ones against big government! Just look at any profile in the Liberal Media ™ of deficit hawk ™ Paul Ryan from about fifteen minutes ago if you doubt this.
(4) He’s done more for our country than the last ten presidents put together. Meaningless hyperbole. Also actually true for certain values of “more.”
(5) He’s made one of those Oriental countries pay our farmers billions of dollars. I assume this one is something that’s been repeated a few thousand times in some form or another by Lou Dobbs et. al. Still, I confess this one is harder to credit as something that even white working class morons in the Worst State Ever could actually believe.
(6) He built the wall. Again, right wing scream machine repetition no doubt gets the credit here, plus this one is actually not 100% false — only 99%.
(7) He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. OK for this one I got nothing.
Exterminate the brutes.
J/K . . . just outvote them, even though the whole system is rigged to make their votes count a lot more than yours!