Jonn Elledge.
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In Scranton: could the blue-collar birthplace of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden really vote for Trump?

The Queen of the Deplorables and the guy with the trucks.

I'm a bit nervous about turning up at a Trump campaign headquarters and saying I'm a journalist: at rallies, the media have been jeered and booed with the encouragement of the candidate.

But when I tell the volunteer on the desk why I’ve come to see them, her eyes light up. “Come look at our signs!” she says, and leads me back outside. The signs in question are lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. Several of them have bits torn off; at least one has been set on fire.

“They look like they've been vandalised,” I say.

“Ya think?” the woman, whose name is Barbara, says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “The local media won't cover it.” Then, suddenly earnest, she adds: “I'm so sorry about London. And Paris, and Brussels. I know you guys have had terrorism since the 70s, but...” I find myself awkwardly explaining that London hasn't actually had a serious incident in more than 10 years.

We're in Scranton, Pennsylvania: one of those 19th century industrial powerhouses that's fallen on hard times. The city grew up around anthracite mines discovered by the family the town is named after; later on, it was a centre of the steel and railway industries, too, and had the first electric street cars in the US. As with industrial cities the developed world over, though, these days it's not doing so well.

It’s still, in theory, a Democratic stronghold, and is claimed as a home town by both vice president Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. (Her father is buried here although, Barbara notes darkly, that she doesn't think his grave looks well tended.) But although it's consistently voted blue in recent elections, Pennsylvania is seen as an important swing state, its electorate finely balanced between urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Scranton is exactly the sort of blue collar community that the Republicans need to flip if Trump is to have any chance next week.

A lot of Trump/Pence lawn signs are in evidence around the town – more than you'd expect in a town where Democrats traditionally win two-thirds of the vote. But the campaign office is not a hive of activity: it's mostly a community and sports hall, with the campaign materials restricted to the corner by the door, and when we visit the place is almost deserted: just Barbara and, later, an older couple named Bernie and Mike.

They are all genuinely, and disarmingly, lovely: insisting that we sit, plying us with coffee and homemade cake, and being more welcoming than anyone I've met in a long time. Mike tells me he’s an Anglophile and a fan of the BBC. Barbara tells me her life story, how she grew up in Poland in the 1970s so knows communism when she sees it. (Obama, at present, is merely a socialist.) They don’t even mind when we admit we’re not nuts about guns.

Barbara, Scranton's Queen of the deplorables”, in a crown made for her by some of her campaign mates.

All of them are convinced that the Trump campaign is enthusing forgotten voters. Barbara shows me a photograph of an elderly man posing with the campaign's cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump. “He's 93 years old, he's just registered to vote for the first time.”

“Did you hear about the rallies?” Bernie asks. Trump, she says, is speaking in venues with a capacity of 10,000: they're packing 12,000 in and there's still a queue outside. “Clinton struggles to fill 1,200.”

Scot, the friend I'm travelling with, is asking about a pile of groceries in the corner. They’re leftovers from the supplies Bob Bolus, a local trucking magnate, collected to provide relief to the victims of Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. “The media didn't report that either,” Barbara says.

“While you're here, you should go see Bob,” she adds. Three of his trucks are Trump themed.

The Democrats in Scranton have their own training wall.

We do – but first we go to see the Democrats. They, unlike the Republicans, had their contact details listed online, so know we're coming.

That's not the only way in which they seem the more professional of the two outfits. Since the summer the Dems have been occupying an office in the centre of town (prior to that, it was home to the Bernie Sanders primary campaign). They have a receptionist, and computers, and signs on the wall offering instructions on how to talk to the voters. Several of the young volunteers are in Halloween costume – but they're all studiously getting on with their work, and are notably unimpressed by the arrival of a foreign journalist.

The local Democrats also have a paid campaign manager, in the form of Ross Svenson, a young Virginian who'd previously interned for Labour's Rachel Reeves. He seemed quietly confident: the area is majority Democratic, he points out, and they have a small army of volunteers. Until recently, their job was to register new voters; now the key is the get out the vote operation on election day itself. “There's no early voting in Pennsylvania, so we only have 13 hours to get everyone to the polls.”

He seems very calm. Isn't this basically the front line, I ask? If Trump does win the election, won't it be because of white working class voters in places like Scranton?

“I can put you in touch with our regional press office if you'd like to talk about that,” Svenson says. After ten minutes or so, he makes his excuses.

Bob's truck in all its glory.

We find Bob Bolus at the front desk of his truck salvage yard in the neighbouring city of Throop. I'm not the first journalist to show up asking about his trucks – I’m not sure I’m in the first dozen – and he leads me to the garage-cum-workshop where his bright yellow anti-Hillary truck is stored, explaining his voting choices as we go (“Say what you like about Trump, but the man built an empire”).

The collage of images, Bob says, “tell a story”. One section concerns Hillary Clinton’s relationship to the truth: in a photoshopped image, her pant suit is alight. There’s a section on Benghazi, featuring pictures of those who died. Inevitably, there’s one on the emails scandal, too: a metal box beneath the truck is labelled “Dust of lost emails”.

Perhaps most strikingly, there’s a photograph of Bill Clinton, labelled “intern predator”. Hillary Clinton is the real misogynist in the campaign, Bob tells me: by staying with Bill after the Monica Lewinsky affair, she’s “degrading women into the ground”. As to Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment, he says, that’s no different from when women say “grab ‘em by the balls”.

At the rear of the truck is an exhortation to vote for Donald Trump – clearly the conclusion we're meant to have reached of our own accord from the rest of the images. There's also a flap at the back, which the security services can push aside when they wish to peer into the truck and check it doesn't contain anything that might worry them.

Bob and his truck.

Outside there are two more vans which skip the Hillary stuff and focus on the greatness of Trump campaign. The three vans have been busy attending assorted political rallies and other events, meeting varying degrees of enthusiasm along the way. But they're all in storage today, because, Bob says, because he doesn't trust people not to vandalise them as a Halloween trick.

We're standing outside in the muddy yard, Bob telling me how the unions have ruined American industry, when I realise I haven't seen Scot for ages – which worries me a bit because, apart from anything else, he has the car keys. Bob has moved on to how he admires Trump's ability to reduce his tax liabilities, when Scot – an engineer, by training – reappears from behind a vehicle, grinning like a kid in a toy shop. “Love the trucks, mate.”

Bob takes this as some kind of signal, and for the next 45 minutes I find myself following the two of them around a muddy yard as Bob points out crash-safe truck cockpits that can survive falls of 100 feet, non-crash safe ones that very clearly didn't, and other assorted parts. When we go to leave, he insists we take a ten minute detour to one of his other garages where he keeps his new gleaming blue and gold recovery vehicle fleet. He shows us his RV, and tells us about his attempts to bring the bodies of American serviceman back from Iwo Jima.

He seems almost disappointed when we have to leave.

This is not strictly speaking relevant, but I had to live through it so you're damn well going to look at the pictures.

The Democrats we met in Scranton were organised, efficient, and made no bones about the fact they had better things to be doing than talking to me. The Republicans, by contrast, were disarmingly warm, and absolutely thrilled to be talking to the press. The whole thing felt pleasingly like a metaphor for how the whole campaign has played out in the media, with one side terrified of press attention and the other sucking it up, even when it’s potentially self-destructive.

The Republicans also looked a lot more like the grassroots uprising that Trump keeps telling everyone he has. They weren’t representative; they certainly weren’t young. But they didn’t look like the establishment. All the polling suggests they won't win Pennsylvania – but I can see how it is they've convinced themselves they will.

If they don't, Trump is extremely unlikely to win the election. Back in the campaign office, I’d asked Barbara if she believed the polls. “You see that television?” she’d said, gesturing. It was turned off: she doesn’t watch it. Too biased.

But what if the polls are right? I ask. What if Trump loses?

“We go to Washington,” she said. “Revolution.”

Images: Jonn Elledge.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Like any woman working with a misogynist, Theresa May should call out Donald Trump’s sexism

As the Prime Minister visits the US President, she shouldn’t shy away from the subject of women’s rights.

Theresa May must be dreading her meeting with Donald Trump. She knows – she must know – that Trump’s contempt for women extends to her. But she has decided that however much he intimidates, insults or outright humiliates her, she will grit her teeth and grin through it. She has decided that, given his position of power, she has no other option.

That’s a calculation every woman has to make from time to time, when faced with a misogynist in a position of power. It’s a deeply unenviable position, and I’m not about to judge her personal choice.

However, May’s political calculation – that she’s not going to challenge Trump’s misogyny – is much more troubling. As is her attempt at a feminist rebrand of her own political cowardice.

Last weekend, she told Andrew Marr that:

“The biggest statement that will be made about the role of women is the fact that I will be there as a female prime minister, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, talking to him, directly talking to him, about the interests that we share.”

Firstly, this statement grossly understates Trump’s misogyny. Look to his treatment of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel and you see that he doesn’t feel the need to show respect to powerful women.

But secondly, and more importantly, May’s statement represents the worse kind of elitist feminism, premised on the idea of trickle-down gender equality. The Prime Minister seems to believe that her success can pass by osmosis to other women around the world, that change will continue to happen of its own accord.

This myth of inevitable change is highly seductive to those in power, who theoretically oppose inequality, but don’t want to risk their own privileges by rocking the boat. But it’s absurd in the current context, when the rights of women and minorities are being stripped away.

That the UK has a female leader will hardly comfort the women most vulnerable to the Trump regime’s policies: poor women around the world whose reproductive healthcare is under attack, the black women disproportionately subjected to police violence, the migrant women whose rights are being trampled, or those on the frontlines of the changing climate.

They don’t just need a woman in the room with President Trump, they need an advocate. And May – a leader who literally wears the feminist t-shirt – is not willing be that advocate.

Nor should we believe her claim that, because the special relationship is built on honesty, she’ll be willing to call out Trump’s unacceptable behaviour in the future. With a normal leader, it might work that way: you build up good relations so that, when a line is crossed, you can be a constructive critic.

But it’s already clear that there’s no virtue in taking a strategic or rational approach to relations with Trump, and that criticising a man so sensitive and erratic will always be enormously risky. If May isn’t willing to take him on now, she’s not going to change her tune in two years’ time, when the economy is more precarious and Britain’s relationship with Europe is even worse.

Today’s meeting will set the tone for the next four years, and if May chooses to forgo even the mildest of criticism, she will have to deal with the political consequences. Like any male leader who talks a good game on equality but shirks the hard work, she’ll have her commitment to women’s rights questioned.

Because “being there” is not enough – feminism is about hard work. While May relies on the symbolism of her presence, Trump’s actions are concrete: spending cut, services closed, laws changed.

A photo op with a female PM might demonstrate that some little girls can aspire to the highest political office, but it does nothing about the hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare spending about to be lost to the global gag rule.

Trump’s first week in office has been as bad as we feared, and worse. If May has nothing to say about that, she should probably get a new t-shirt.