Women’s Marches and widespread criticism of the ‘Muslim ban’ have not dented the loyalty of Trump voters
By David Smith in Hagerstown, Maryland / The Observer / February 4, 2017
Cast-iron hooks, children’s vinyl records, classic food packages, tobacco baskets, vintage-style olive buckets and a rotary-dial telephone fill the shelves at James and Jess’ House of Goods. The antiques store opened two years ago, styling itself as “rustic, hipster, chic” with a twee strapline: “Mostly old with a little new.”
If the House of Goods was in Washington DC, it would be a decent demographic bet that its owners voted for Hillary Clinton. But it is 75 miles away in Washington County, which Donald Trump won handily. And while the capital city has been roiled by protests since Trump moved into the White House, from where James and Jess are sitting he is doing just fine.
“I love Trump,” James Zawatski said. “I give him credit for doing what he said he was going to do; a lot of politicians don’t. I’m 47 and I never voted in my life but I did this year. We needed someone with a set of balls to do what needs to be done. I’m tired of those liberals.”
Trump’s asteroid-like impact on Washington DC has caused bewilderment, consternation, disorientation, puzzlement and anger. Democratic politicians have been knocked off balance by a brash adversary while Republicans are struggling to adapt to an unpredictable ally. The media have rained criticism. Residents of DC – where Clinton beat Trump by 90.9% of the vote to 4.1% – express their mortification and fears. And last month’s Women’s March on the capital was a dramatic statement of anti-Trump resistance.
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But across the frontline of America’s increasingly tribal politics in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, the perspective is turned on its head. Whereas critics see Trump’s travel bans as “un-American” and sowing chaos at airports, supporters see him as keeping them safe; where critics see him blowing up foreign policy as he spars with Australia and slaps sanctions on Iran, supporters see him getting tough; where critics see him firing the acting attorney general and trampling on the constitution, supporters see him boldly smashing the old order. And where activists protest, columnists fulminate and millions recoil in fear of a world spinning towards catastrophe, supporters dismiss them as liberal “cry babies” and praise Trump as the first politician to keep his campaign promises. They see him not as a rampaging rhinoceros but a straight-talking strongman.
His plan to build a wall on the US-Mexico border is one example of this worldview complementarity. “I love immigrants, I love Mexicans, but there’s a way to do it, there’s a procedure,” said Zawatski, himself descended from Italian immigrants. “These people come and they’re entitled to more than me who’s busting his ass seven days a week. We’re a great country but we’re being taken advantage of.
“Personally I wouldn’t spend money on the wall. I’d just shoot them as they come over. Then they wouldn’t come.”
Zawatski had little sympathy with the hundreds of thousands who took part in the Women’s Marches, many of whom wore pink “pussy hats” and carried placards condemning Trump over his past boast about feeling able to grab women “by the pussy”. He does not merely turn a blind eye to Trump’s misogyny but condones it: “What man never grabbed a woman’s pussy? What man doesn’t talk in the locker room about what he did to a woman the night before? Women do that too. We’re all human.” His wife, Jess, 35, agreed: “It’s a guy thing. I know James talks like that among guys. So I don’t hold it against Trump.”
The Women’s March, she added, “was the stupidest thing ever because some were saying they’re being treated unequally. Women can stand up and go after what they want. Men aren’t standing in the way.”
James Zawatski in his shop. Photograph: Chet Strange for the Observer
As Zawatski, wearing tattoos on his arms and a T-shirt with the legend “Tattooed and employed”, spoke to the Observer, a man stole a decorative sphere off its stand (total price $79) from the pavement outside the store. Zawatski spotted him and raced outside, prompting the man to surrender the object without acrimony.
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“Technically this is the hood,” he remarked. “There are a lot of barber shops here that are not barber shops, if you know what I mean.” Comparing himself to Trump, he added: “I tell the police chief, ‘Do your job. Just do it.’”
Hagerstown has a drugs problem and several closed-down shops and cafes stand empty. But it challenges and scrambles perceptions of the map seen as crucial to Trump’s victory. It is neither the Republican-voting deep south nor the pivotal rust belt portrayed in his dark and divisive inaugural address as containing “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” under the rubric “American carnage”.
On the contrary, it sits in Maryland, which Clinton won with more than 60% of the vote. It is an almost pretty city of church spires and historic buildings, boasting a fine art museum, biking and hiking trails, theatres and a tourism office, replete with leaflets about the area’s civil war heritage and Hagerstown’s origins involving an 18th-century German immigrant. On Thursday, students could be seen pouring out of an arts school after class.
Washington County’s median household income is $56,477 (£45,000), above average for the nation – but well below the state average of $74,149. The county voted 64% for Trump, 31.6% for Clinton. It is a red county in a blue state or, as Clinton supporter Al Steinbach, a 64-year-old sales rep, vividly put it: “I call Maryland the vagina map: right down the centre is blue; left and right is red. Welcome to divided America.”
Steinbach, who is “literally afraid” of what Trump might do, reads the Washington Post daily and listens to National Public Radio. “When I turn to Fox News and see what