Donald Trump has now been U.S. president for 100 days. Are his voters happy with what he’s delivering? A visit to West Virginia.
Thomas "Thomas II." Reynolds, garage manager and Trump supporter Photo: Dorothea Hahn
Business is better than ever at "Triple T." In the small workshop on a bend in old State Road 55 at the end of Baker, a shiny black and red 1957 Hudson road cruiser is getting a replacement engine and a rusty pickup truck a new trailer hitch this morning. There are dozens of vehicles sitting around the lot to the next cow pasture that have been repaired but not yet picked up. And in the office, the phone rings every few minutes.
Thomas Reynolds, the boss, used to have idle time every day in between. Now his workshop is constantly busy. "People have confidence in Trump," the 41-year-old says, "they’re spending more money."
Three generations of Reynolds, each producing a new Thomas, work together in "Triple T." Like many other families in the county, they have a second leg in farming, pigs, cows, bees. And they want to get into raising chickens. The pork sausages, jams and canned beans are for their own use. The honey is for the market, as are the fried chicken and veal that have become West Virginia’s main agricultural products.
Last November, the Reynolds voted for Donald Trump as did almost everyone here in Hardy County, 75.5 percent. The contrast between their county, where the average gross annual household income is $31,000, and the billionaire from the gilded skyscraper in New York could hardly be greater. But after eight years of intensely hating Barack Obama, they transferred that feeling to Hillary Clinton and put all their hopes in Trump. From him they expect new jobs, import tariffs, a wall on the border with Mexico and mass deportations.
Blame the others
100 days after Trump’s inauguration, none of that has come. While the president signs decree after decree, he has so far failed to deliver on his big campaign promises.
Connie Reynolds runs the office – and crochets for grandson No. 10 Photo: Dorothea Hahn
But Hardy County voters don’t blame the president for that. "Congress, Democrats and Republicans are blocking him," Thomas Reynolds says. The only thing he really resents Trump for is his "childish personal vendettas" on Twitter. With his own three children and four stepchildren, the car mechanic tries to pull something like that off. But he doesn’t think it’s possible with a 70-year-old: "An old dog doesn’t learn new tricks."
His 14-year-old son, who introduces himself as "Thomas III," listens with a serious face. Like his father and grandmother, he appears older than he is. He buries his hands deep in his pockets. In school, he likes the subject of history – "wars and stuff" – he killed his first bear long before his voice broke, and his favorite car is the same as that of his grandfather, Thomas I: a ’67 Chevrolet Chevelle.
Hardy County in West Virginia is just 280 kilometers west of the U.S. capital, Washington. But it’s a different world. When cars come in for an MOT here, their emissions aren’t tested. Smoking is still allowed in bars. And Thomas Reynolds raves that no one is stopping him from crossing the street with a rifle. "I can hunt and fish here all I want," he says. Connie, the Reynolds’ matriarch, adds, "We have beautiful pastures, mountains, animals, a little piece of heaven."
The 60-year-old with the smoker’s voice runs the office at "Triple T." On her desk is a blue blanket she’s crocheting for grandson number ten, due into the world in May. In the only carefully decorated corner of her office hang a few family photos and – neatly pinned to a black cloth – metal badges of sheriffs, jailers and plantation cops, stickers of the Ku Klux Klan and one that reads, "Negro woman or child only." To Connie, these are just normal collectibles. She doesn’t think they could hurt anyone’s feelings. "Slavery was brutal," she says, "but we can’t just sweep it under the covers."
Lazy and other enemy images
In places in the Triple T office, it sounds as if time has stood still. West Virginia’s population is more than 93 percent white. Unlike the neighboring states with their large plantations that lived off slave labor, there were mainly smaller farms and logging operations here.
Thomas Reynolds is not embarrassed to use the N-word, which is frowned upon elsewhere. He uses it as a synonym for slacker. "I know white niggers, too," he says. His mother says they even run in her own family. His daughter, 18-year-old Dakota, who wears the U.S. flag on her cowgirl boots, contributes a story from her work, sitting at the checkout counter in a neighboring town’s supermarket. She has customers there, Dakota says, "who are able-bodied but pay with food stamps and drive bigger cars than working-class people."
The third generation: Dakota (left) and Thomas Reynolds Photo: Dorothea Hahn
For Thomas Reynolds, unions are also a bogeyman. He considers the legal minimum wage of $8.75 per hour too low, but union-negotiated wages of over $20 are also excessive. "It’s driving up food prices."
So to make such things stop, the Reynolds voted for Trump. The mother wants everyone who is able to work to do so. And the son wants to "deport all the illegals." He suspects the chicken plant in Moorfield, which works three shifts around the clock and supplies fast-food restaurants in the big cities, the main taxpayer in the county. He has no proof. But arguably his own experience of building roads: "When the immigration inspectors come, the illegals go underground."
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In Baker, with its population of less than 1,300, everyone knows everyone else. And everyone knows how each other voted. The few Trump opponents in the community keep their views under wraps as a precaution. But 30-year-old Heather Thompson is new to the county. She moved from Virginia just a few months ago with her husband and child to live closer to her father. She sits at the counter of the Broken Spoke bar, off Triple T two turns up State Road. The wall behind her is painted with covered wagons, horses and settlers heading west.
Cracks are starting to appear
When she hears about fears of a terrorist attack and Trump’s policies against people from Islamic countries, she counters that the "Muslim ban is a perfect advertising tool for IS." And to the hope that Trump will bring jobs back to the U.S., she counters that he even has his promotional caps with the words "Make America Great Again" produced in China. People here call her a "crazy girl."
But cracks have already begun to appear in the harmony between Hardy County voters and Trump. In the county that voted Democratic as recently as the 1990s, social values are different than Trump’s. Voters are serious about new jobs, a majority think health insurance for all citizens is the right thing to do, and Trump’s proposed tax reform is sparking criticism. "It’s way too many tax cuts for big corporations," Thomas Reynolds complains.
Trump opponent Heather Thompson is new to the county Photo by Dorothea Hahn.
He is also unhappy about foreign policy. Russia and Trump’s possible ties to Putin don’t interest him and others here as much. But the military adventures are. Thomas Reynolds blames former President Obama for the 59 cruise missiles fired at a Syrian military airport: "If he had reacted in time, it wouldn’t have come to this. He does not yet have an opinion on the dropping of the "mother of all bombs" over Afghanistan. But in his view, the U.S. has no business in North Korea. "They didn’t attack us, so we should stay the hell out."
Thomas II, the garage boss, and his family will continue to follow closely what the president does. The younger ones on the Internet, the older ones on Fox News. "I give Trump four years," he says. "If he doesn’t deliver on his promises by then, we’ll vote him out."