Shocked by Trump’s election, some reporters have taken up the task with genuine curiosity, others with mockery in their hearts. As Trump’s star lifted like a rogue blimp in 2016, David Brooks of The New York Times turned his humble search for the soul of middle America into a public rite of penance.
With Inauguration Day at hand, other reporters in this issue are writing about the fears Trump has aroused, along with other Inauguration Day thoughts. I set out to learn what Trump voters are hoping for.
My editor gave me the assignment, but it took the words of Abraham Lincoln, as spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger, to get me in the mood.
“Ve are not enemiece, but frientz,” Shwarzenegger said, quoting Lincoln in an online video last week. (He made fun of his Austrian accent first, so it’s OK.) “Ve must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break argrhh bonds of affection.”
Lincoln, of course, was talking about the Civil War. Shwarzenegger was reacting to the president-elect’s tweet on Jan. 5, crowing over Shwarzenegger’s poor ratings on Trump’s old show, “The Apprentice.”
Pumped up by the all-American triple play of Lincoln to Trump to Shwarzenegger, I trundled off to Potterville, about 20 minutes’ drive southwest of Lansing, past shining Lake Interstate.
Differences and quirks
At the heart of Main Street in Potterville is Joe’s Gizzard City, a local institution, famous for its deep-fried chicken gizzards.
I ran into a woman outside the place, but she didn’t want to talk about the election.
“I have to work in this town,” she said. Potterville went for Trump, 654 to 452, as did surrounding Eaton County, 27,609 to 24,938.
At about noon last Friday, Joe Bristol, the owner, was in the kitchen, pressing a hissing chicken breast into the grill with a spatula. He declined to say whom he voted for, but he threw me a bite of philosophy.
“We need to be willing to accept each other’s differences,” he said. Bristol is also vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
Bristol was happy to talk about anything but politics. This spring, he is rolling out a new dish: a hot-dog-shaped tube of hamburger, nestled with a strip of pre-cooked bacon into a peanut-butter-covered bun, coated in batter, deep-fried, impaled on a stick and slathered in chocolate sauce.
Bristol agreed that the Peanut Butter Not Dog was a story for another day. He kindly gave me the go-ahead to pester his customers about Trump.
In the dining room, Jerry Kramarz, a genial, self-described “lazy Polack” and his wife of 18 years, Katherine, were soaking up the atmosphere. They drove to Potterville from Dearborn, drawn by the restaurant’s national TV exposure.
“We go to Hamtramck for pizza, Frankenmuth for chicken,” Jerry Kramarz said. “I thought, what the hell, let’s go have some gizzards.”
Both are enthusiastic Trump supporters.
“I do look forward to the next four years, and hopefully it will be a whole lot better than what we had in the past eight years,” Kramarz said.
He and his wife held hands as they talked.
“I lost $30,000 a year in wages because of some of the policies Obama had,” he said. “I finally just said, "The hell with it’ and I retired.”
Before his retirement, Kramarz was a construction supervisor based in Monroe County. “[Obama] got in, I got laid off and the work dried up,” he said.
What does he hope will happen in the next four years?
“Getting rid of Obamacare, which I thought was a total disaster,” he said. “An increase in our place in the world, rather than kowtowing to every — ”
His wife picked up the thought. “Back to being the power we should be, and that our fathers and grandfathers fought for,” she said.
A server arrived with a generous platter of gizzards for him and cheesy French fries for her.
“Wow, is that what they look like?” she said, looking at her husband’s gizzards At the other occupied table, three women were digging into three salads. One of them, a stern 50-ish woman, was angry about Obamacare, complaining that her premiums tripled in the past year.
“Hers too,” she said, pointing at the woman on her right.
“I would have voted for any other Democrat but Hillary, but Hillary — no way,” the stern woman said. The trio declined to talk any further.
Potterville’s Main Street has a relaxed, off-the-beaten-track feeling. There just weren’t many folks around, even at noon. Along faster-paced Lansing Road, with its fast food and strip malls, Charlie’s Bar and Grill was bustling with lunch customers.
Behind the counter was Trump supporter Ashlyn Coates of Charlotte, in her early 20s. (Charlotte, too, went for Trump, by a margin of 1,948 to 1,584.)
“I’d like to see strides in health care, and I don’t know how to word this, put I’d like us to work on the race war we have going on right now,” she said. “Those are big ones for me.”
At a nearby table, two young women chatted as they waited for lunch. Both were Trump voters.
Andrea Pakkala of Charlotte, 25, didn’t consider Trump the lesser of two evils.
“I was hopeful when I voted,” she said.
“I’m glad it happened. I hope he gets rid of Obamacare. Better border control.” She politely pointed to her beer with a smile, as if to excuse the brevity of her answers.
Across the table, Breanne Place of Charlotte, 21, said jobs were her main concern.
“That will help us out in the long run, for sure,” Place said. “That’s what I really hope for. I voted for Trump and let’s hope.”
A deep dish pizza arrived.
“That’s yummy,” Place said.
Before digging in, she admitted it bothered her a little to vote for Trump.
“I guess you can’t have everything in one person,” Place said. “I kind of just went for my gut on that one and voted for who I thought would be better. Don’t get me wrong. He has his quirks.”
A few miles from Potterville, near the blinker light at the heart of Dimondale and two blocks from a second Charlie’s Bar and Grill, two men in overalls were working at a sawhorse. Sawdust sprinkled onto the ice at their feet.
Smiling, red-cheeked Sam Hardy and a crusty-but-friendly co-worker, Pat Granger, were building a ramp for the disabled next to a new business that is due to open in the spring.
Both men voted for Trump.
They asked me not to name their client. They feared that an association with Trump wouldn’t please the building’s owners, who are Democrats.
Last November was the first time Hardy voted. He is 29.
“I wasn’t informed enough [before], and they say an uninformed voter is worse than not voting at all,” Hardy said. “I tried to follow it, not on mainstream media, because we are citizens, and —“
“It is a right,” Granger cut in.
The church bell rang 1 o’clock.
In the next four years, Hardy is hoping most of all for a cut in the small business tax. “And I hope health insurance gets straightened out,” he added. “I haven’t been on any insurance because the premiums skyrocketed. Being self-employed, either you make too much money or not enough, and it takes six months to sign up. It’s just been a headache. It used to be affordable but now it’s gone through the roof.”
“Now you got us riled up,” he said, still smiling. “You’re pretty brave to go around asking these questions.”
Granger looked up from the sawhorse.
“You can get all worked up. What’s it gonna do?” he shrugged while measuring and marking a board. “It just raises your blood pressure.”
Hardy handed him the circular saw.
“Now you can take a picture of me cutting my finger off,” Granger said. He lopped off another board.
Hardy didn’t mind Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.
“Some of it, I think the media blows it out of proportion,” he said. “He does say some stuff he probably shouldn’t, but we need somebody to stand up. I put my foot in my mouth every day.”
“Me too,” Granger said, bending over the walkway, which was growing board by board. “Don’t we all do that? Although not on the political stage,” he added, thinking out loud. “But you’re right, somebody who stands up.”
“Hopefully he cleans house and switches it around,” Hardy said.
Back in Lansing, I called Trump supporter Kevin Schoen, founder and CEO of Lansing-based Internet provider ACD, for a white-collar perspective.
“I hope for prosperity, mostly,” Schoen said.
Schoen called himself “extremely liberal” socially but fiscally conservative.
He had some blunt words about Trump.
“You take a classic developer, a large percentage of them have traits like Trump — they’re basically jerkwads,” he said. “He’s a caricature version of one. I’ve built a lot of vibrant buildings in developments and every single one of them have traits like Trump.”
But Schoen likes that.
“Real estate people know how to invest in infrastructure,” he said. “That’s what I’m optimistic about with Trump. The best thing you can do with people with money is force them to invest in hard assets rather than stocks and bonds.”
Schoen was sanguine about Trump’s belligerent rhetoric.
“Unfortunately, a more combative atmosphere may be necessary in order to get things done,” he said. “What we’ve been doing for a long time hasn’t worked.”
A big thing on Schoen’s policy wish list is decreased emphasis on the university system and more investment in primary and vocational education.
“In our industry, IT and broadband, almost nobody we employ has degrees in those fields of study. It’s mostly self-trained and self-taught. We really need more people being better trained in high school and middle school.
We should rebuild inner city schools.”
Overall, Schoen said he’s optimistic about the future.
“I voted for Obama eight years ago because the theory was change,” he said.
“That’s what I bought into but it didn’t happen.”
God and country
The small town of Williamston is home to a historic movie theater, a drama troupe, antique shops and an interesting mix of boutiques and red-meat businesses, owing to its proximity to both MSU and the surrounding farmland. Along with meat-and-potatoes work clothes, the local Carhartt store has a big display of the pricy flannels and Stormy Kromer caps favored by hipsters. Williamston narrowly gave the edge to Hillary Clinton, by about 50 votes, but almost everyone I ran into on my sojourn voted for Trump.
At Cash-Way Lumber on the outskirts of town, Dave, who didn’t want to give his last name, was working hard behind the counter.
“Finished pine?” he asked a customer.
“Clear, No. 2.”
“That gonna do ya?”
“I hope so.”
Dave waited until there were no customers to help and began to muse aloud.
“I’d like the next four years to be better than the last four years,” he said.
In what way?
“If it’s better in any way, it will be better, for every human being in this country,” he said.
“I sure did support Trump,” he continued. “I know things I sometimes I wish I didn’t know. We’ll just leave it at that.”
He could tell I was baffled and took mercy on me, explaining that he was recently back from nine years in the Michigan National Guard.
“I survived two tours overseas, in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “I find it hard, now that I’ve been able to grow this back” — he touched his beard — “to keep my mouth shut. For one who’s seen the other side of the fence, the grass isn’t always greener there. There’s people here who need to see that.”
A co-worker interrupted him with a correction for an order. When that was straightened out, Dave finished his thought.
“There’s two things I enjoy about someone like him,” he said. “He’s not afraid to tell you how he feels and he’s a businessman. You and I don’t get to write bad checks. The government does.”
Closer to downtown, across from the Williamston Sun Theatre, Alexis Scott was shampooing a client, Jamie Raymond of Fowlerville. Both women voted for Trump.
Scott runs a month-old salon with a stable and livery theme, Alexis Grace Lash & Hair Gallery.
“I just opened my business here, and I’m a fan of small business,” Scott said. “That’s something I’m excited about changing.”
“Trump’s already changing it,” Raymond said. “He’s threatening big fines for to companies that ship jobs overseas.”
“She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” was playing on Trace Atkins’ Y2Kountry Throwback program.
Last summer, Scott rehabbed the small space with the help of her husband and some relatives. The interior roof is a shiny sheet of corrugated metal meant to go on top of a barn. The sign hanging outside the door cites Proverbs 31:25. (“Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.”)
“It’s time for a little bit more God in America, whether it comes from Trump or the people he selects,” Scott said.
“I feel the same way she does,” Raymond said. “We need someone who will put God back into things instead of taking God out of everything.”
Webberville, where Scott lives, is Trump country. Leroy Township, home to Webberville, went for Trump by a whopping 1,108 to 576. Scott said all of her family and friends backed Trump in November.
“I can’t support someone who supports abortion, especially partial-birth abortion,” Scott went on. “We’re both mothers and it’s extremely important.”
Before Raymond left the salon, they huddled near a shelf packed with Aveda products to discuss the merits of various curling creams. Meanwhile, Scott’s sister-in-law, Anna Musolf, got into the chair.
Scott twirled Musolf’s hair, holding a huge brush in her left hand and a dryer in her right, alternately turning the brush in the direction of the hair and perpendicular to it. It looked like hard work.
Before long, Musolf’s hair began to resemble the shining mane of a white mare in a huge painting on the salon wall.
I asked Musolf how she felt about Trump.
“I’m pretty much with Alexis,” she said. “She hit the nail on the head.”
In contrast with Scott’s fledgling, month-old salon, the Tonsorial House Barber shop around the corner on Putnam Street has been a Williamston mainstay for over 40 years.
Owner Rahn H. Wright, 75, was sitting and talking about the health care issue with a longtime customer — we’ll call him Sam—when I walked in.
Wright has a spectacular white moustache and bristles with opinions as well. He and Sam both voted for Trump.
“We were just talking about politics,” Wright said.
Wright said he didn’t agonize much over his vote.
“You know how Don is, he’s blustery,” Wright said. “He ranted and raved and raised hell and it worked. I liked his enthusiasm.”
Wright said November’s results came as a surprise to everyone, including, he guesses, Trump himself.
“Most all the guys I’ve talked to in here, there was damn few of ‘em that figured Donald Trump would win, including me,” he said. “I think he’ll do a good job for us — I hope.”
Wright cited a long list of national goals, from better race relations to paying down the national debt.
“We have to get tougher internationally and do some kind of cleanup on this immigration thing,” Wright said.
Wright also hopes Trump will “pull our nose out of everybody else’s business, [and] straighten that deal with Iran, support Israel, because they’re hanging all alone out there.”
He wants to see more people working, or, if necessary, put to work.
“My dad and my uncles were in the CCC,” he said, referring to part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps. “If we’re paying all these people, sitting on their asses, maybe we ought to have something like that. You could plant trees, fix the roads, whatever needs doing.”
“It’s so complex, I have my doubts,” Sam said.
There was a lot more to the conversation, which ended this way, as Sam walked out the door.
“If we’re not careful, we’ll end up like Scandinavia,” Sam said.
“Socialism,” Wright added.
I walked across the street to the hardware store, where I met the sole person on my informal strolls through Potterville and Williamston who admitted he didn’t support Trump, a hardware store staffer named Andy (not his real name).
Andy was not happy about the new president, but he said it’s not that hard to get along in what he called a “pretty conservative town.”
“Most people are polite about it,” he said. “There are three or four that come here and give you a piece of their mind. I just let ‘em sound off. That’s kind of what this country was founded on.”