Deep in Trump country

He may have had a rocky start but US leader's base is happy and wants to give him a chance

In the tiny town of Paw Paw amid the rolling hills of West Virginia clothed in woods of sycamore, spruce and oak, United States President Donald Trump is almost a hero.

While rights organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are preparing lawsuits against Mr Trump, and relatively liberal, progressive cities have seen large protests, his supporters in Paw Paw, a town of barely over 500 people, recognise that he is a disruptive force. But that is why they voted for him.

"I'm happy. We needed a change," said 80-year-old Barbara Norton, one of a group of women at lunch at Paw Paw's senior citizens' centre. Of the six women there, all but one voted for Mr Trump. The sixth voted for neither Mr Trump nor his rival Hillary Clinton.

"Everything was going down the tubes as far as I was concerned," Ms Norton told The Sunday Times.

"I was glad Trump got in there and I'm hoping he will turn it around, and I'm hoping they let him do it. Now they seem to be putting roadblocks up for him. I wish they'd just give him a chance.


Accident, Maryland, is big-farm and coal-mine country. A Republican enclave in an otherwise Democratic state, it is home to typical Trump supporters - white conservatives in rural towns whose livelihoods have suffered from free trade and what President Donald Trump has called ''job-killing environmental regulations''. ST PHOTOS: NIRMAL GHOSH

"We need to get some factories back, so people can get off welfare and go back to work, and have some respect for themselves."


In another Republican enclave, Paw Paw, West Virginia, nostalgia is thick in the air, a yearning for a once-great America echoed in Mr Trump's campaign.

A couple of hours west, in Annie's Country Kitchen in the small town of Accident, Maryland, Vietnam war veteran and former truck driver Bob Burow, 72, appreciates that Mr Trump "tells it like it is".

It was about time someone took on the Washington establishment, he said, nursing a coffee mug at the favourite breakfast place of a group of local Republican men.

This is big-farm and coal-mine country, a Republican enclave in an otherwise Democratic state.

Trump - a force for change and chaos

KEEPING HIS WORD

The most satisfying thing is he is doing what he said he would do and he's doing it quickly.

MR GARY KASMER, 65, a retired engineer in Cleveland, Ohio, on Mr Trump.


WIPING OUT JOBS

That's a huge deal around here... My family are coal miners. I grew up in it. It's our livelihood.

MS BRITTANY ABE, 28, saying that environmental regulations crushed coal mines.



HOPING FOR CHANGE

Everything was going down the tubes as far as I was concerned. I was glad Trump got in there and I'm hoping he will turn it around, and I'm hoping they let him do it.

MS BARBARA NORTON, 80, an ardent Trump supporter.

In many senses, these are typical Trump supporters - white conservatives in rural towns whose livelihoods have suffered from free trade and what President Trump has called "job-killing environmental regulations". The coal mines and orchards that sustained a few generations in towns like Paw Paw have fallen silent.

But wealthier urban Trump voters are also still rooting for him, after what can only be described as a rough first few weeks in office.

It is not blind support.

"His lack of political experience is kind of coming through these first few days," said lifelong Republican Greg Rettman, 58, on the phone on the eve of a cruise to the Caribbean to escape Missouri's sub-zero temperatures. "I feel he will get a little bit more refined as time goes by."

But, on balance, it was "refreshing", noted Mr Rettman who is from Kansas City. "Trump did make some pretty specific promises and it's appeared from Day 1, he's 100 per cent committed to fulfilling those."

There was nothing unreasonable in building a wall on the porous Mexican border or President Trump's executive order to temporarily stop citizens from seven countries - all of which are predominantly Muslim - from entering the US on security grounds. It had just been rolled out too quickly, he said.

"His game plan is probably something that's never been tried before," he added. "One of the reasons he is bringing businessmen (into the Cabinet) is that they are going to start running these departments in a business-like manner."

Retired engineer Gary Kasmer, 65, also used the word "refreshing" to describe Mr Trump.

"The President executes what he promised to do," said Mr Kasmer on the phone from his home in Cleveland, Ohio. "He has surrounded himself with very good businessmen, so I believe that he will run the country as a business. I welcome that.

"The decision to ban refugees is a little harsh but it's not surprising. The most satisfying thing is he is doing what he said he would do and he's doing it quickly."

Real estate investor Danny Fox, 56, from St Louis, Missouri, said it was no surprise that President Trump had had a rocky start.

"I think change is difficult not just for the establishment, it's hard for everybody," he added.

"I'm a social moderate and a fiscal conservative so I'm not a typical right-wing conservative, but I still like everything he has done. I think we need our borders secure."

Back in Paw Paw, nostalgia is thick in the air, of a yearning for a once-great America echoed in Mr Trump's campaign cry Make America Great Again.

The reasons his supporters voted for him are many. They range from feeling the pinch of jobs lost to offshoring and cheap foreign products taking over the markets to old-economy industries like coal being wiped out by new environmental regulations and a feeling that pro-life values are slipping away.

Not all Trump supporters are old or middle-aged. Ms Brittany Abe, 28, believes that environmental regulations are "crushing the farmers and engineers, and it's crushed the coal mines". "My family are coal miners. I grew up in it. It's our livelihood," said Ms Abe, who helps to cook the US$2 (S$2.80) lunch for the senior citizens at the centre in Paw Paw every weekday.

Across the border in Accident, Maryland, another 28-year-old, Ms Stephanie Casper, who makes doughnuts at a bakery, said she is happy with Mr Trump.

A few hours later in an e-mail, she added that she had not been articulate enough in her interview. "My biggest support of Trump's is that he is pro-life - which I stand behind 100 per cent," she wrote. The single mother said she had been "bashed" by anti-Trump voters "for supporting a man like him or allowing my son to grow up with a bully as a role model". They say how "uneducated" Trump supporters are.

But, all the while, "they are being no better then the bully they are accusing him of being".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline ' Deep in trump country'. Print Edition | Subscribe