We asked two neighboring communities in Ohio what they make of the president’s first 100 days in office. Their answers paint a disparate picture
By Ed Pilkington in Warrensville Heights and Chardon, Ohio / The Guardian / April 27, 2017
How did Donald Trump do in his first 100 days as US president? The moment you step out into the beating heart of America, you realize that’s the wrong question.
How did the Donald Trumps – plural – do in their first 100 days? That’s the better line of inquiry. And no, it’s not a reference to Donald Jr, busily engorging the family business while his father makes America great again.
The question to ask is: how did the two Donald Trumps do? One man, two entirely contrary public figures. There’s Donald Trump, champion of the white conservative religious masses of rural and small-town America, the man bringing change to Washington, reviving the nation’s pride, teaching a lesson to foreigners with a well-targeted bombing raid or two.
And then there’s Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of urban America, minority communities and progressive voters. This president is utterly incompetent, criminally corrupt, or both, is only interested in himself and his rich buddies, and has turned the White House into a reality TV show.
It’s not hard to track down people who subscribe to one of these Donald Trumps. There are millions of them, scattered unevenly across the United States.
In some places, the polar impressions co-exist side by side in their own hermetically sealed bubbles. Like in Ohio, where two neighboring communities straddling a county line have been following the progress of quite different Donald Trumps since the inauguration on 20 January. .
To the west of the county border is Warrensville Heights, a city of 14,000 people that is 94% African American. It lies on the outskirts of Cleveland in Cuyahoga County, one of the key strongholds in this crucial swing state for Hillary Clinton, with 66% of the county voting for her on election day.
To the east of the boundary is Chardon, in Geauga County, where a commanding 61% voted for Trump. Chardon’s 5,000 residents are as white as Warrensville Heights’ are black, even more so in fact, with the 2010 census recording a 98% white population. “We’re Anglo-Saxon, God-fearing Republicans,” as one resident put it.
Twenty miles and that county line between them. But when it comes to the 45th president, it’s as though these two communities are seeing him through alternate realities.
‘He’s a puppet for rich folk’
We invited residents of Warrensville Heights, who voted Democratic in the presidential election, to tell us the word that came into their minds when they heard the phrase: “Donald Trump’s first 100 days”.
They came up with:
Then we put it to Trump voters in Chardon. They said:
So what did they mean? Why, for instance, did Kim Williams, 47, an African American woman who works at a loans and lottery company, Cash2Go, in Warrensville Heights, say “stress” when Trump’s 100 days was evoked?
“I say ‘stress’ down to how he’s handling things for the people,” she said. “Truthfully, I think he’s a puppet for rich folk.”
She checked off Trump’s travel ban for visitors from Muslim-majority countries, his deportations of non-criminal Latino immigrants, and his failed attempt to scrap the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as evidence of his discrimination against minorities and in favour of the wealthy. Then she used a vivid metaphor to describe how she believes the president has been duping the American people.
“He offers us with real nice food – steak and fries – but when he comes to give it to you it’s presented on a trashcan lid.”
By similar measure, why did Ward Lawrence, 81, a white salesman in Chardon, come up with “bold” when given the Trump test? A clue perhaps was that he’d just spent three hours listening to Rush Limbaugh’s rightwing talk radio show.
“Bold? Look at what he’s done. I think he’s doing what’s best for America … the Keystone pipeline, he threw out Environmental Protection Agency regulations, he told companies not to move jobs out of the country.”
No worries about climate change? “That’s a fabrication,” he said. “Entirely made up by people who benefit financially from it, starting with Al Gore.”
Lawrence has no doubt that 97% of Chardon – his figure – would vote for Trump again. “Oh yes, absolutely.” And he, too, has a ripe metaphor for why that should be so. “We suffered for eight years kissing Obama’s ass because he was black. Now Trump says it like it is.”
‘We are the forgotten people’
Trump expended much of his energy on the campaign trail last year, and a good deal of it since he entered the White House, talking about his devotion to the “forgotten” people. That was barely concealed code for white working-class and middle-class Americans.
The strange thing about Ohio is that the equation is reversed. If anyone has been forgotten in these neighboring communities, it is the poor black inhabitants of Warrenville Heights.
The area around Jack Racino, a horse racing and gambling casino in the center of the city, has a desolation epitomised by the local super mall that has closed and is being razed to rubble. Letters from its welcome sign, Randall Park, lie in great plastic shards in puddles of oily water where a couple of geese paddle forlornly.
Life is tough enough for the residents of the “friendly city”, as Warrensville Heights styles itself. Median income for a household is $33,000, compared with $54,000 in white Chardon. Infant mortality rates in Cuyahoga County are 11 deaths per 1,000 live births, twice the national average.
Despite such hardship, Trump is proposing to make life worse for the folk of Warrensville Heights. It’s not just his ongoing efforts to scrap the ACA, also known as Obamacare, which would disproportionately impact poor families.
He is also attempting in next year’s budget to cut back on meals for wheelsservices for elderly people, and free transport for them to hospitals. That’s why Gregory Gaines, 49, a building worker whose mother-in-law is dependent on such assistance, thought of the word “horrible” to sum up Trump’s 100 days.
“Trump’s ethics aren’t right,” he said. “His thinking seems to be to take from those who have not, to give to those who have.”
But the president says he is on the side of the forgotten people. “Forgotten people?” Gaines guffawed. “We are the forgotten people. I’ve yet to see him do anything for the black community.”
Kay, 58, who runs a school for hair and nail beauty stylists, chose the word “clown”. She said: “I believe Trump’s so used to being on TV that’s how he’s running the country like a reality show. He says things he knows aren’t true, like the crowd size at his inauguration, but wears a mask that makes him look as though it’s true.”
Kay said she thought the assault on funding for the women’s health network Planned Parenthood was especially reprehensible. She was derisive also about the senior White House team, namely adviser Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer – “they talk about fake news, but I heard more fake news from them than anybody” – and daughter Ivanka –“could I get a job description, maybe?”
Across the road, Darius Smith, 29, responded to the Trump test with the word “money”. He gave a simple reason: “I think Donald Trump bought his way into the White House.”
Smith is a gold buyer, which sounds more glamorous than it is. Local residents bring their broken jewelry to him to pawn or sell. A glass showcase in the store is entirely bare, while Smith works at a counter behind iron security bars.
Like most others in Warrensville Heights, he voted twice for Obama before backing Clinton in November. So how does he think Donald Trump has done in his first 100 days? “He hasn’t done anything yet. The travel ban didn’t go through, and that was a horrible idea.”
‘At least he’s doing something’
After a half-hour’s drive to Chardon, the outlook switches dramatically. There’s nothing forgotten about the town’s quaint square, with its pretty redbrick courthouse dating from 1869, or the well-appointed shops serving the surrounding area’s prosperous farming community.
Stalls are going up for the 88th annual maple festival this weekend, with bumper cars, a haunted house and “old-fashioned” lemonade and hot dog stands. It takes little imagination to get the size of a place that proclaims on its official placard: “Chardon’s square and proud of it”.
Here in all-white Chardon, Donald Trump has metamorphosed into action man.
“Action” was the word conjured up by Tim Overberger, 47, a carpet installer shopping in the square. Wasn’t that quite a glowing review to give a president whose key policy efforts have come unstuck at the hands of the courts or his fellow Republicans in Congress?
“I think he’s done stuff,” Overberger protested, though he was hard-pressed to provide details. “He’s signed some bills, though I don’t pay attention to that small stuff. He said he was going to bomb, and he did.”
Ed, 71, a car mechanic, used the word “fast” to describe what he thought had been a highly productive start to Trump’s term in office. “I like the fact that he’s sticking it to these other countries, like North Korea. At least he’s doing something.”
Jeanne Lose, 56, is that rare animal in Chardon, a resident who is not a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. An independent, she voted for Trump in November, but that was the first time she had backed a conservative presidential candidate in her life. The decision was motivated in part by having been repulsed by Hillary Clinton’s surrogates. “Beyoncé,” she said. “I really don’t like Beyoncé.”
Lose chose as her word “illegals” to signal her approval for Trump’s tough stance on deporting undocumented immigrants. “I’ve got a son lives in Denver, he’s a plumber, and there are a lot of illegals out there taking work away from him.”
She liked the travel ban too, buying Trump’s line that it would protect the nation from terrorism. “I just feel so bad for France, they are, like, getting beat up,” she said.
And so it went. The two Donald Trumps stayed doggedly in their respective bubbles, with virtually no common ground between them. Was there no hope of any communion after these first 100 days, no coming together of any description?
‘He’s doing a great job’
In Chardon, the only Trump voter to give an inch was Caroline Mansfield, 53, chief deputy at the Geauga county treasurer’s office. “Filter” was the word that came into her mind, because she said the president could sometimes do with using one to moderate his public comments.
She also conceded that Trump had found it very hard in his rookie days to achieve his objectives. But she quickly qualified the point: it was not his fault.
“He’s doing a great job. But there’s been so much opposition to him that it’s very difficult for him to get anything done. It’s time for us to unite and let him be the president.”
The only person truly prepared to cross the metaphorical county line between Trump and anti-Trump sentiments aptly chose the word “surprising”. Kendell Long, 27, walking home in Warrensville Heights with his three-year-old son, Kendell Jr, said he was finding the new president hard to pin down.
At first, everything Trump said or did horrified him. He hated the damage the president’s cuts would do to public services, such as Cleveland’s world-class hospitals, and he loathed his intemperate outbursts on Twitter or TV. “There seemed like there was no control to what came out of his mouth.”
But over time Long, who studies psychology at night while holding down a day job at a Valvoline instant oil change franchise, was forced to reappraise, he said. “I think Trump’s starting to think through what he says and does, way more than when he was running.”
Didn’t he worry about how his peers would respond if he stood up, even just a little, for the president? “I don’t care about what someone else feels, I only care about what’s good for me and my son,” he said, holding Kendell Jr in his arms. “As long as Trump’s not bringing trouble down on us, like wars and stuff, he’s not always such a bad thing.”