July 25, 2017
Why the Rust Belt just gave Donald Trump a hero’s welcome
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — This town was on fire.
By 1 in the afternoon on Tuesday, every main thoroughfare downtown was filled with happy people heading toward the Covelli Centre. Folks dressed in red, white and blue crisscrossed the main grids as vendors sold “Make America Great Again” ball caps, American flags and bottles of water.
Thousands had filled the gravel parking lot to wait until the doors opened at 4, license plates revealing they had traveled from as far as Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see the president speak directly to them in this Rust Belt city.
Music played on almost every corner as Donald Skowron, a retired Youngstown police officer, drove his green pickup truck up and down Champion Street — in the back, a 6-by-8-foot homemade wooden Trump-Pence sign straddling the bed of the truck, with two large Trump flags flowing from the top.
“I am very happy with the president’s performance so far,” said Skowron. “He has set the exact tone I was looking for, although I’ll be honest, I wish he didn’t tweet all of the time, but that is hardly anything to complain.”
Skowron said he is encouraged by reading about Trump’s constant meetings with industry leaders as well as union and trade members in trying to understand how to create jobs: “We have a president invested in trying to navigate between the people who create jobs and the men and women doing the jobs and how repealing regulations help both.”
Six months after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, he received a hero’s welcome in this town. The festive scene made a counter-visual to the daily nonstop press reports about investigations into members of his inner circle, Russian interference in last year’s election and the debate over ObamaCare.
Trump’s approval rating, according to Gallup, is 39 percent. Youngstown is the 39 percent.
On Monday, police said the advance ticket request of over 20,000 had exceeded the 6,000-seat capacity of the center, prompting the event coordinators to put a large screen outside the center for the overflow crowd.
Dave Torrance, from Hermitage, Pa., had left early in the morning with three of his friends to see Trump. Torrance, 71, wore a blue ball cap with “American Patriot” embroidered across the top and a navy T-shirt with an American flag across the front.
Torrance, who is black, says he gets his fair share of criticism from folks when they find out whom he supports. He got more when he told them he was driving to see him in person at the rally.
“They don’t understand why I think he is doing OK,” he said. “They don’t think because I am black that I should support him. I am polite about it, but I tell them that politics isn’t about color, it is about accomplishments, and I think Trump is doing the right things.”
Torrance finds Trump’s approach to governing “refreshing.”
He is disappointed in people’s reaction to Trump’s presidency.
“I don’t care for the hatred directed towards him or the people who supported him. There have been plenty of presidents I did not vote for, but I always want them to be successful so that our country is successful,” he said.
Exactly six months in, Torrance is happy with the choice of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, the repeal of regulations that hurt industry and the overall feeling of “being part of something bigger than myself,” he said.
His friend Roxanne Jewell, of Orangeville, Ohio, is tired of all the news focused on Russia.
“Yes, of course we need to look into things, but I am tired of the information being delivered in a way that says to me the only reason you voted for Donald Trump was because the Russians interfered,” she said. “That is so far from true. I had made my mind up on my own, not by any misleading internet ads.”
Jewell says she too would like to see people give him and his ideas a chance and get past his tough veneer. “He is exactly who we wanted, someone fresh, different, not a politician. He says things that people don’t want to hear, and that, I think, has been the biggest adjustment for the people who didn’t vote for him,” she said.
Youngstown is a good representation of the towns that have felt left behind in America for the past few decades. Trump has punctuated that in the three previous visits he has made in Mahoning County since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination.
Each time he comes here, he has drawn supporters from nearby Ohio cities, as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania — all areas filled with struggling former manufacturing towns down on their knees but not down for the count.
“Trump has shown that he is interested in these people, they represent the people of the Youngstowns across the country that he connected with during the campaign and still connects with today now that he is president,” said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University, who was standing in the crowd watching the festivities.
“This is like a tailgate before a Steelers game,” he said.
“Coming here is not just about Youngstown. This is a small city, but Youngstown symbolizes sort of that blue-collar working-class community that has seen better days. When Trump comes here, he’s not only talking to voters here. He’s talking to similarly situated voters across the country,” Sracic added.
A very similar approach to the one Bruce Springsteen took with his blue-collar ballad “Youngstown” or Billy Joel with “Allentown” — out-of-work steelworkers, their family members and their communities across the country saw themselves in those ballads.
“The struggles of those voters and the theme, the division between the wealthy and Washington and the working class, are universal to those experiencing the impact,” said Sracic.
The big story in Youngstown goes beyond the loss of jobs. It is the loss of the next generation to remain here and continue the American dream that their parents and grandparents started.
“What really bothers people is the connection between jobs and community,” Sracic added. “The Youngstown community has been falling apart because there aren’t enough jobs here to keep the kids here. In Trump, they finally got somebody who seems to get the fact that this is a problem.”
Sracic said for Trump, there is no downside to taking time out to give a speech in eastern Ohio.
“This makes complete sense from all aspects of politics; this is the kind of place that Trump needs to be,” he said. “This is his base of support and these are the voters that he stole from the Democrats in November of 2016.”
Trump did not win Mahoning County last November, but he made it shockingly close; Hillary Clinton received 49.3 percent of the vote to Trump’s 46.4 percent. He didn’t make the country red, but he took a solid blue county and turned it purple.
Barack Obama won here big in both 2008 and 2012; he beat Republican nominee John McCain by 30 percentage points in 2008 and Mitt Romney by 28 points four years later.
“For Trump to come under two points of beating her is an incredible swing away from the Democratic Party in a county that hasn’t gone for a Republican since Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972,” said Sracic.
Sandy Gall was spending her 60th birthday at the Trump rally. The Pittsburgher, who lives in an upper-middle-class suburb with her husband, Michael, a financial planner, was huddled with friends inside the Covelli Centre hours before the event started.
“I was so excited, I have been up since 6 a.m. and ready to get here,” she said.
The Galls find their support for Trump has only grown.
“I can’t believe that I would like him more, but I do,” she said.
Michael Gall concurred.
“I don’t think that people who did not support him understand that. They still haven’t accepted he won, then they watch the news and they think, ‘Oh, well, we have come to our senses,’ ” he said. “The truth is, we see him through a different filter than them. We are still hopeful, optimistic and thrilled with his leadership.”
As the last stragglers made their way toward the center, a handful of protesters with loudspeakers shouted in their ears as they passed by. There were no confrontations; in fact, most of the attendees smiled at them.
One of the last people in line before the event began was Annie Rose, 16, with her mother, Mary.
“We traveled all the way from Defiance, Ohio,” she said of the four-hour trip across the state.
“My daughter wanted to see the president,” Mary said. “She is so excited about him and politics, I thought it was important.”
They both slipped quickly into the event, the daughter’s jeans hand-decorated neatly with Ohio, America and Trump decals, two broad smiles on their faces.
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