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14 November 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 2:17pm

I caught up with my old friends in Ohio – to find out why they all voted Trump

Revisiting the battleground state, which delivered a shock victory to the Republican candidate.

By Matt Moir

Brian Harrison did not agonise in the voting booth.

“Hilary’s a conniving woman, isn’t she? She and her husband are absolutely corrupt. I don’t know how anyone unhappy with Washington could have voted for anyone but Trump.”

Harrison is a 39-year-old college baseball coach from northeast Ohio. Like many other voters in this quintessential Midwestern state, he scoffed at the idea of casting a ballot for Hilary Clinton. Clinton, to him, is a symbol of an entitled political dynasty whose reputation was tainted during the 1990s.

Instead, he voted for Donald Trump, who he considers a dynamic leader who isn’t “in anyone’s pocket”.

“Trump’s a genius,” he enthuses. “He connected with a lot of people emotionally. It was an incredible feat. He’s a tremendous leader and he’s going to surround himself with a bunch of smart people. I’m very hopeful for the future.”

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Not everyone in the United States is so confident. In the week since the election, thousands of Americans have spilled out into the streets to protest against their president-elect. Millions more have taken to social media to lament the victory of an individual who they believe is a xenophobic conman.

And it’s not just Americans who are struggling to come to terms with the fact that Trump will soon become the leader of the free world. Liberals around the globe are also shell-shocked, and trying to understand the reasons why so many voters – including many who voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 – threw their support behind the real estate tycoon and reality television star.

Indeed, an NS headline asked: “Who is to blame for Donald Trump’s victory?”

If “blame” is what you’re searching for, you’ll obviously find multiple sources of it. But to really understand the voters from across the US who propelled Trump to victory, you could do far worse than taking a long look at the state of Ohio.

I know the Buckeye State well, having spent three years in college there. And I like it. I like the gritty urban landscapes of Cleveland and Akron, the bucolic charms of the tiny towns and villages along the shores of Lake Erie and, above all, the friendly, salt-of-the-earth Ohioans throughout the state.

I wanted to know why pre-election polls suggested that Ohio would vote Democrat, just as it did in the 2008 and 2012 elections, but instead voted decisively for Trump. So I contacted several of my old friends from the Cleveland area. Each of them was a Trump supporter. Some politely declined to go on the record, but a few were eager to share their opinions.

Steve Lindh was one of those individuals. The police officer, former Marine and father of three said he’s rankled by both major parties, but he feels it’s the political left that has done the most damage to the spirit of the American people.

“I think we’re more divided today as a nation than any time during my lifetime. Whether it’s by skin colour, by race, by gender, by religion, by whatever socioeconomic views you have, we’re more divided today than we were eight years ago,” says Lindh.

Lindh is a cop and he views the world as such. He considers the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement – and Democratic support for it – not as a quest for social and racial justice, but as a vehicle to attack police officers.

“Law enforcement is the scapegoat for everything,” he claims. “We’re seeing criminal behaviour being condemned by law enforcement and almost coddled by our national government. You have [liberals] politicising use of force and telling cops what they should do and shouldn’t do. They’ve never ridden in a cruiser and had a gun pointed at them.”

Lindh believes Hilary Clinton would have continued in what he considers a Democratic tradition of anti-police bias. But he’s not particularly enthralled by Trump. During our 45-minute conversation, he called the president-elect a loose cannon, a goof and a loon – though he’s willing to give him a chance.

He’s not the only Ohioan I caught up with whose distrust of Hilary Clinton and the Democrats outweighed wariness over a Trump presidency.

“I don’t think either one was extremely fit for the job but what it comes down to is you’ve got two choices,” says Vince DiMarco, a sales manager in northeast Ohio. “And I chose Trump.”

“I try to be open-minded and give anyone a chance. But everything she believes in, I don’t,” DiMarco adds, citing numerous problems he had with Clinton, including her pro-choice stance, stricter gun control and her handling of the Benghazi affair.

“But it mostly comes down to different classes of people,” he continues. “That’s why this country is so divided. There are the haves and have-nots, and the have-nots obviously vote for Hilary because she’s a supporter of big government. I’m all for helping people but I’m for getting people on the right track instead of totally supporting them.”

This election was personal in a way elections rarely are. It tested the bonds of friendship and family throughout the country, and Ohio was no exception.

Mike Chornak, an insurance consultant and another old friend and Trump supporter, tells me that the vote’s fallout – the protests, the ruptured personal relationships – has been a shock.

“I don’t have a family or anything but on my Facebook, people with families are devastated. They’re all talking about their kids and how embarrassed they are. I can see that four years is a long time, but I don’t see how your day-to-day life is going to change,” he tells me.

“These people are acting as if they’re going to wake up and the country is going to be a wreck, when really I think a lot of people are just tired of the elites getting their way. They just want change. I don’t think it has to do with sexism or racism,” he pauses. “I don’t know, maybe it does. But to me, I just wanted to see something different.”

Matt Moir is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. He has worked for CBC and CTV News.

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