The stereotype of Donald Trump supporters as angry, drug-addicted losers may be popular with establishment Republican writers, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, according to a fascinating new video by journalist Charlie LeDuff.
In an early March article for National Review, writer and theater critic Kevin Williamson wrote a piece about economically depressed, mostly white working class cities around the country which have generated substantial support for Trump’s candidacy. In Williamson’s words, towns such as Garbutt, N.Y. “deserve to die” along with their way of life, because they are worthless hubs of drug addiction, government dependency, and degenerate morality.
Williamson’s piece was, in part, a rebuttal of a defense of Trump-backing poor whites in The Week by Michael Brendan Dougherty, who concocted a fictional drug addict in Garbutt named Mike to make his case.
“The conservative movement has next to zero ideas for improving the life of the typical opioid dependent who lives in Garbutt, New York, outside of Rochester. Let’s call him Mike,” Dougherty said. “In truth, the conservative movement has more ideas for making Mike’s life more desperate, like cutting off the Social Security Disability check he’s been shamefacedly receiving. It’s fibromyalgia fraud, probably … If the conservative movement has any advice for Mike, it’s to move out of Garbutt and maybe ‘learn computers.'”
Inspired by all this chatter about mythical Mikes from Garbutt, LeDuff of Detroit’s WJBK news station took the novel step of actually visiting the tiny hamlet and looking for a person named Mike to interview for his syndicated news series “The Americans.”
“[In Republican magazines,] they describe Mike as a typical Trump voter: An out of work welfare cheat, high on Oxycontin, who’s abandoned his kids,” LeDuff says to open the video. “Imagine! Big talk from behind a keyboard. So we decided to physically go to Garbutt, New York, to find ‘Mike,’ since working class people like ‘Mike’ are half the Republican voters.”
LeDuff wasn’t able to find Mike, but he did find a Kevin with a father named Mike and decided that was the next best thing.
The resulting interview with Kevin reveals little of the drug-induced stupor and aimless anger that supposedly provides the primal force of the Trump movement. Instead of being jobless, Kevin actually holds two nursing jobs, which still pay less than his former job in a General Motors plant. He doesn’t buy beer, let alone stockpile painkillers, and instead of abandoning his children, Kevin is actually a single parent raising a teenage son. Unlike many, he doesn’t get a monthly check from the government.
But despite having none of the identifying traits Williamson assigned to him, Kevin is a Trump supporter.
“Despite what the round-shouldered writers write about people in their own party, Kevin says world trade and Wall Street have done nothing to improve his life,” LeDuff says in the piece. “And so he looks for something new, however rude and obnoxious.”
“I’m probably gonna end up voting for Trump,” Kevin says. “He’s hitting all the right spots, you know, except for sometimes when he screws up. It’s not like he rehearses things.”
“We need jobs, they gotta be back here. We need manufacturing back in the United States,” he adds. “All the jobs are gone.”
LeDuff also interviews Kevin’s son, Kevin Jr., who is still in high school but embodies many of the economic choices facing working class whites in the U.S. Instead of already having his entire life planned out, Kevin Jr. is likely to join the military upon graduation (“To serve my country,” he says), though his father thinks he should try at least a year or two of college first.
The most stark part of the interview comes at the end, when LeDuff asks Kevin how the Republican Party has benefited him in his life.
“I don’t really know, to be honest with you,” Kevin says. “Being a Republican, no, I really can’t answer that.”
“Town, country, family, that’s how it goes in places like Garbutt, New York. And it would do the political establishment some good to get out of their office towers and visit places like Garbutt instead of mocking a man that only exists in their imagination,” LeDuff says at the video’s conclusion. “Belittle a man, you lose him, you lose his son, and you lose your party.”
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