By Aaron Gettinger

Since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide election victory of 1964, no candidate for U.S. president has won the White House without carrying Ohio — the only state that can make the claim.

A look inside the demographics suggests this is not by chance. Though it’s not a perfect representation of the country at large, the Buckeye state can in many ways be seen as the U.S. electorate in microcosm: Along the border with Kentucky is a strong Southern identity; in the rural parts of the east it is Appalachian; there are Rust Belt cities with majority black populations who came north during the Great Migration to work alongside European immigrants in the refineries, mills, and factories; and fields of corn, grain, and other crops that have been tended to by the same families for generations.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the ugliest presidential election of the postwar era, Belt Magazine traveled along the Ohio Turnpike, which cuts through the suburbs that lie between Cleveland and Akron before heading west along the northern part of the state, to ask voters how they were feeling about our divided politics in both Ohio and the nation. While their perspectives vary wildly, nearly all share a sense of anxiety about the current political climate, and a desire for comity between both citizens and leaders alike.

* * *

Mary Organ, 51, is designing a ceramics program for autistic adults. She lives in Kent, a small city outside of Akron, and voted for Hillary Clinton.

I would say there’s only two or three people that I know for sure voted for him. Maybe two weeks after the election, one of my other neighbors up the street who is a 70-something-year-old woman, she voted for him. But I got the sense when I talked to her that she had been Republican her whole life. Like there’s no way she was ever going to vote for a Democrat, didn’t matter who it was. It didn’t matter who Trump was either, in some way. She just wasn’t going to vote for a Democrat.

Mary Organ [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

So since then I have tried to have one conversation with one other person who I know voted for Trump, somebody that I know well enough and feel that I could trust. I was saying to him at dinner, “You know, I’d like to have a conversation with you at some point.” It completely monopolized the entire conversation for the next hour. I didn’t realize it was going to because I kept feeling like — and this was only like a week ago — like I kept trying to back out of the conversation. I didn’t realize how rabid he was in a political conversation.

Why did you try to back out of it?

Partly because our spouses were there, and I didn’t want politics to monopolize the entire conversation. I wanted to find out how their kids were doing, how their grandkids were. From the moment I said that I would be willing to have a political conversation with him, it’s like he wouldn’t let it go. I got in this sort of bulldog face-off. You know, like every time he would try to say, “Well, okay, we can talk about this later, but let me just say one more thing.” Then he would say one more thing, and it was so outrageous.

One of the things we wound up doing was later on we traded stories that we had heard. I mentioned a clip from an NPR podcast, some story about Trump making fun of that disabled reporter, and he said, “Oh, that’s not true. That’s your liberal media totally swaying you to think that he was making fun of that guy. He wasn’t making fun of his disability. Trump just does that. In this video clip that I can send you, he uses those same hand motions and gestures. What he was doing was he was actually calling out the reporter about a beef he had with him a while ago.” I can’t remember if he said that they actually edited the tape or that you could edit the tape, and, if you just caught a clip of it, you could make it sound like Trump was making fun of this guy.

And I was like, “Okay, so maybe he wasn’t making fun of him because of his disability. The fact that he actually physically makes fun of them, you know, I don’t like it. I don’t like it when anybody does that, let alone some politician who’s supposed to be a leader, who’s supposed to set an example for our children.” It got into this back-and-forth. He kept saying, “I’m not a Trump-lover, I’m not a Trump-lover.” And yet he would defend him. …

What do you think his presidency will mean for the country in the future?

Oh my goodness. I have a feeling we’re going to get set back at least four years — if he stays only four years — and maybe even more because of the damage he’s doing as far as foreign relations goes and because of the damage he’s already done by putting out there this persona that allows people to mock others. I don’t think it’s polite, let alone politically correct. I don’t want my kids to act like that — why would I want any other adult human who’s supposed to have more self control than a three-year-old act like that? I’m afraid that we’re being set back as far as the world is concerned. People’s views of what the United States is like right now are horrible, and they’re seriously questioning what is going on in America. My kids live overseas, and they get that question a lot. People are saying, “What is happening in the United States?”

Since then I have tried to have one conversation with one other person who I know voted for Trump … I didn’t realize how rabid he was in a political conversation.

Mostly what I tried to say to my friend when we wound up having this political conversation at dinner is, “I just see him setting us back so far, as far as foreign policy and our relationships with other countries go, but I also just see him setting us back in politeness.”

They have a son who has a history of drug addiction. What I said was, “If your son didn’t have that issue, then you wouldn’t have to dig him out of that hole and then have him succeed as an adult. If he didn’t go backwards, he could just continue to move forward.” But because he has that issue, he’s had to work through that, and that has sucked up a lot of time and energy and resources — both in their lives and in their son’s life. If nothing else, parents worry about their kids. I think that that’s a lot of what I see happening with Trump in office. He sucks up a lot of time and energy and resources that we could use to move us forward. All it does is spins around him, because he’s so self-centered. I’m tempted to use the word “narcissistic.” He’s just so self-centered. Everything is about him. He’s just turned the entire country towards and around him. I don’t know how much money he’s going to make out of doing this. Who knows how much he’ll have after he gets out of office? Maybe less, since his brand name will go down. That’s what he’s all about. He needs to be praised, like a three-year-old child, all the time. That’s ridiculous, that that kind of personality is our leader.

* * *

Chad Parker, 41, owns a tire dealership in Delta, about 30 miles west of Toledo. He voted for Donald Trump.

I did vote for Donald Trump, and I don’t regret my vote. I think Donald’s got some issues. I think he’s a hot head. You know, sometimes I think he runs his mouth too much — but, you know, who doesn’t? The thing of it is, the guy is not a politician. He’s a businessman. That’s how I look at it. Far as I’m concerned, I think he’s doing a pretty decent job, and some of the things he’s doing, people just aren’t giving him credit for.

Chad Parker [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

In what way do you think he’s doing a good job?

I would say that he’s keeping the immigration under control, and also too he’s keeping terrorists out of the country. I’m glad that he’s doing the ban — to a point. I think he launched that ban a little bit too sudden without giving any warning to some of the Arabs that are good folks. I’m not saying all Arabs are bad. I think he should have done a little bit more research before he launched that first overseas ban. I mean I think there’s a lot of innocent people that couldn’t leave, that couldn’t get in here to the United States.

Other than that, I think the economy is doing a lot better. I think with this new tax cut coming, I hope we’re going to save some on taxes, especially me as a small business person. We want to see a big tax cut. But what I am kind of concerned about, I don’t know if he can do anything about it, is the health care system.

What are you concerned about?

The prices are going up and stuff.

How is it affecting you?

Well, I just got a divorce, and I remember I used to pay like a hundred bucks a month for myself just for basic coverage. Now I’m at like $350 a month, and I think the deductible is almost $10,000 before it kicks in. You’ve got basic coverage for hospital visits and some of your medicine, your co-pay. That is a concern to a lot of Americans, I think, with the health care coverage, and I hope that something does get resolved.

Now I don’t think personally it’s his fault, because the Obama administration started this, and I do blame the Obama administration, especially because they knew for a fact when he started to leave office, they knew that the prices are going to skyrocket for the coverage of the insurance. I don’t think insurance should be given. I think it should be a privilege.

What do you think the federal health care policy should be and health insurance policy specifically?

If everybody wanted health care, they need to have the Canadian system with high taxes. That’s the only way to cover it.

Do you think that’s a good idea?

No. No I don’t.

What do you propose then?

I honestly really don’t know. I guess that that’s a topic I have to really look more into, you know, study.

But do you think, in theory, that everybody should have health insurance as they do in Canada?

You know, that is a tough question. There are a lot of innocent people that do need help. They really do. They’re struggling and trying to get by in life today, because it takes two people, especially here in the United States, just to make it — especially with their health care coverage and people just working in general to take care of their kids. I have friends that pay almost $700 a week just for their two kids for nursery, and one of them’s got to work just to pay for that. Now there’s people that are lazy who don’t want to work. They want to live on welfare and assistance. No. I don’t think they should be in the system, and I don’t think they should get assistance, and that’s my personal opinion on that.

Why do you think there’s so much social discord in America right now?

You have a lot of people that have been forgotten about. And I’ll tell you why the Democrats have done this. They have forgotten. All they’re worried about is themselves. I don’t think that politicians today are worried about the little guy like me. I’m a little guy. I make myself a decent living, but I’m still a little guy. All they do is care for themselves, what they can pass on, what kind of money they can stick in their pocket. That’s how I look at the system. The government, I think, is really corrupt. I really do. The government is supposed to serve the people — not serve themselves — serve the people. That’s what the government’s for. You see a lot of people who are so divided, especially people in rural areas and people and big cities.

Why do you think we’re so divided?

Because of values. A good example would be that I consider myself a Christian. And a lot of liberals are attacking us because of our beliefs.

What beliefs are they attacking?

Praying in general — praying in schools, praying in church. Just for having our opinion. Taking down the Ten Commandments — that stuff has been there for years. That’s who the United States is! Our Fathers based the Constitution on the Bible. They did! I don’t care what anybody says! They based it on the Bible, the principles of the Bible! And the leftists are just attacking just in general the Christian population, and the Christians are scared to say anything. A lot of them are just good people. They say one single thing, and they’re going to be attacked for no stinkin’ reason.

You have a lot of people that have been forgotten about. And I’ll tell you why the Democrats have done this. All they’re worried about is themselves.

Has this happened to you?

No it hasn’t, and I would fight back if it happened to me. But I see a lot of it happen. I see a lot of immorality in this world. A good example is television. Twenty-five years ago, all this reality television and junk on TV like Jerry Springer. Just a lot of garbage. Lot’s of sex and nudity on TV. They’re cussing all the time. This world and its morals, it’s just going down the trash, and that’s how I look at it, I really do. …

I would say about the Trump administration — he’s not even been in office for a year. Give the guy a chance. Give him a chance and see what he can do. Just give the guy a chance. The people need to quit attacking him — that’s all the media does, every time he says something, and sometimes it is far-fetched what he says and sometimes he is a hothead, don’t get me wrong, but they attack him all the time just for stupid stuff. And I got to the point I don’t even watch the news anymore because, every time I turn around, it’s garbage on TV. They’re either talking about Trump or how the economy is going down the tank or about Kim Kardashian and how big her tits are. You know what I’m saying? I’m being honest with you. The way the media and the Internet are today, it’s just a lot of garbage. It really is.

* * *

Geoff Petranek, 63, is a registered nurse. David Muich, 66, is a purchasing agent of prosthetics at the V.A. They live in Cleveland and both voted for Clinton.

You’re gay men living in blue Cleveland. But the election showed the state to be very red. Has that made you reflect differently on what it means to be from Ohio?

Geoff Petranek & David Muich [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Geoff: There’s a large population in Ohio that do not live in the cities, and I think that was probably one of the blunt realities that we don’t think of when we live in the city. We just figure everybody lives in a city and a few people live in the country. Well that’s not true. … It’s still safe in a blue city. The climate in Cleveland was unchanged.

You feel the same way?

David: I do. It’s the folks that we’re connected to, just very positive. Working for the V.A., as I do, I have no feelings of fear working there. In fact, just after the election and when all this stuff started about, you know, “rounding up the gays and putting them in one spot” and all that kind of stuff, I actually talked to my supervisor. He said, “We won’t let anything happen to you.” There are enough allies out there that, even though you hear the most about the anti-gay people, I think the pro-gay people will be there for us. …

What do you think is the way forward for the country?

Geoff: First, I’m shocked that we are not having daily protests and demonstrations.

Do you guys go to protests?

Geoff: I did not go to any. Again, part of the real world is I have to go to work every day. Moms still have to come home and make dinner and feed cats and go to work the next day. Those things are very real. I had wanted to go to the LGBTQ protest in Washington, but, again, it was a matter of timing and vacation time and transportation. And so I guess I’m guilty of the very thing that I’m consciously aware of. The only other hope that I have is that we do what we can to neutralize the White House by getting as many Republicans out of office so that there is a contrary voice — a barrier — to letting them do whatever they want to do. And that’s our only choice.

I’m afraid that in November of 2018, when the midterm elections come up, if we do not soundly defeat a lot of Republicans to create a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, that this is truly an indication that something is very, very organically wrong in this country, that too many people are still not responding to, or I’m completely wrong in my viewpoint, and the majority is ruling with the collective thought of the majority. I find that frightening, if it were to be true. It is enough to make me wonder why I would continue to want to live in a country where this is the accepted normal behavior and political view of the majority of the country.

I’m afraid that in November of 2018, when the midterm elections come up, if we do not soundly defeat a lot of Republicans that something is very, very organically wrong in this country.

David: I listen, and I see things, and I try to process things, and it’s a shame that we seem to have become the laughing stock of the world. We’re either considered a bully or a clown. Neither one is a good thing to be. There’s so much anti-bullying going on in the schools and everything, and then to see somebody that’s supposedly running the country being one of the biggest bullies you’ve ever seen, it’s very disturbing. There’s no civility left. There are no rules. People are so afraid of hurting somebody’s feelings that they hurt everybody’s feelings because there’s no standards. What we grow up with as etiquette and manners don’t exist for the most part, anymore. It’s a sad, sad thing to see, the concern for others going away.

Geoff: I am still fearful that we are in a pre-Nazi Germany. The people who have not risen up to protest are the Republicans. With the recent statements made by two Republican senators (Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona), why are more Republicans not denouncing bad behavior? Why are Democrats not denouncing bad behavior? Why are we not organizing demonstrations against this very sick political situation? When it comes down to somebody being officially persecuted — like the Jews were in Germany — will it be the gays? The blacks? The Hispanics? The Mexicans? Whomever else he has targeted that our government is targeting as being inappropriate for the greater good of the country? Our allies that we want to believe are out there, they’re going to step back, I’m afraid, when it would put them in personal jeopardy to defend other people who are in jeopardy.

I pay attention to what’s going on and hope that I can scurry across Lake Erie in the event of something bad happening and get into Canada. That thought is very real, “Could we escape quickly if we needed to?” That’s exactly what happened in Nazi Germany.

* * *

Jamal Stoutemire, 35, raps and writes poetry. He lives in Cleveland and voted for Trump.

Did you vote last year?

Yeah, I voted for Trump. There’s only one reason why I voted for Trump: I got dared into it. I didn’t want to vote at all, but I lost a bet, so I had to vote.

Jamal Stoutemire [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Are you glad you did?

Yeah, I’m glad I did.

A lot of people don’t like Trump. He’s doing some fucked-up, crazy shit. Motherfucker’s a psychopath. I’d rather put in office someone with his own money than someone in office for personal gain. So what can you really tell a man who has almost everything and don’t need nothing? How can you really swindle him out of any decision he makes? Whatever decisions he makes, he makes. They’re final. He knew exactly what he was doing. He can’t blame it on money or “I needed this” or “I needed that.” No, motherfucker, you got it. You walked in there a billionaire. Ain’t no reasons for nothing. He won’t even use their plan! He’s got his own plan. I thought about it consciously as I made that decision, and I don’t mind sticking with it. He’s a foul motherfucker, but the pro of it is that we don’t have someone trying to get rich in there.

Do you think Obama went in to get rich?

I mean, yeah. Everybody wants to get rich.

Clinton, too?

Hell yeah. You know the Clintons, they got old money. Just like Obama — how much are you supposed to make as a president, and how much did he make? He left the White House with a show. Obama wanted to be famous. Ain’t no disrespect to the Obamas, but he wanted to be famous. …

You’re happy with the job Trump is doing as president then?

Yeah. People don’t like him because instead of him going to Congress or something like that and saying something on the news channels, where CNN could get their kicks, he’d put it on Twitter so that all the internet people could get the information faster. He already publishes it before CNN gets the chance to, and they’re losing money on what he’s doing, and they don’t like that. So you got a lot of different avenues that are against him, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anybody supporting the man. You stand behind somebody that’s going to stand strong on your behalf, and you know that when someone starts something with us, he ain’t playing. He’s going to press that button. Nothing else about it. Go get them. Fly out. You know for a fact that this man has us in the front and in the back, trying to make us strong. He’s trying to make people that won’t want to work work…

You have someone standing out front, and you want to cower? Go stand somewhere else. I want someone to go there and do their job and really go and fuck shit up. He’s tearing our country apart, but he’s doing it on a good level. They ain’t looking at the attributes that he’s bringing to the table. Go get a sucker, or go get Trump.

* * *

Sue Lesch, 63, is the Democratic Party Chairwoman of Huron County and the Chief Advancement Officer of St. Paul High School in Norwalk, a small town roughly midway between Cleveland and Toledo. She voted for Clinton.

Huron County is a red county. I was elected twice to be mayor [of Norwalk] — I had many, many Republican supporters. I have many friends who are Republicans, but over the last probably 10 years, with the downturn, we’re extremely hard hit by the economy — tremendous jobs lost, thousands of factory jobs lost in this county…

Sue Lesch [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

It was manufacturing associated with auto, a lot of them associated with the car companies in Detroit. We had lots of manufacturers. We had a local furniture factory. There were a lot of union jobs. They were good jobs that paid well. They had good benefits. They had pensions. And we lost them in the wave of 2008 like you can’t believe. I was mayor at the time. We mobilized a lot of things with unemployment and education pieces and different kinds of pieces to help people get back on their feet. Horrendous. People lost their jobs. They lost their homes. They lost their health care. They lost their dreams. …

So I recognized the anger in the country. I know why people are angry. I get it. I just think they don’t understand the cause, and therefore they don’t understand the solution. On Election Night, I had worked at the Board of Elections. [The Democrats] had a tremendous slate of candidates for county office. We had a prosecutor who’d been there 17 years, and she was amazing. Hardest worker, and everybody knew that about her. We had commissioner candidates that were stellar. Experience in government; experience getting money from the state. And we worked hard for Hillary. You know, I’m a woman. I was hoping at long last we might see a woman as president. I had some of her workers in the field staying with me in my home.

I was shocked. Shocked. I wasn’t shocked that Huron County voted for Trump, that did not surprise me. I was shocked that she lost nationwide, and that we lost every one of my candidates in the Democratic Party for office in Huron County, lost by the same percentages as Hillary did. It was astonishing. We had not been that county. We had been a county with equal representation, and actually sometimes more Democrats served in the majority. …

We replaced some of those jobs here — not nearly all of them, but some of them. What happened — even with the factories that stayed open — is the decline of wages for workers. Unbelievable. The man who was making $30 an hour, or let’s just even say $20 an hour, and had a pension, and had health care in the factory. Today — and we celebrate these factories coming to town. We celebrate it and we offer tax benefits, but they’re paying $12 an hour. $12 an hour. I mean, that’s a poverty wage. And then we’re not offering a pension. We might have a 401k that you have to contribute to out of your $12 an hour. And the health care now is a high deductible or, in some places, no health care. Many of our factories stopped hiring, and they hired the temps to come in, and then the temps work.

I mean, what we have done to the middle class will haunt us for decades, because we’ve forgotten this country was built on the middle class, and that it was the hardworking middle class that must pay the taxes. They volunteer for our boards. They volunteer to coach little league. They volunteer for programs all over. Now they’re working two jobs, and the kids are home alone. I mean that’s what we’ve done in this country. So do I understand it? Absolutely. I understand it.

Furthermore, I think we’ve gotten to a point in this country where politicians have discovered that the best way to motivate people is through fear and hate. And I think we used that to a disgraceful, disgraceful degree in the last few years’ elections. And it’s very productive for those who are willing to use it. …

I’m still a little in shock — not just that Trump was elected. I think the things we’ve seen since; the weeks, the first weeks after Trump was elected, I left town the next week. I had planned a vacation ‘because elections are a very busy time in my life, and I like to get a break afterwards. Driving out of town in the southern, rural parts of Huron County, we saw a banner boldly proclaiming: “Let’s make America white again.” In Huron County, Ohio. I had a friend call me who lives in Norwalk in a very nice subdivision. He called me concerned that a Confederate flag went up in Huron County, Ohio. Things like that.

So those things scared me a great deal. They bother me to this day. It was like a pass for people who had some hateful attitudes for bigotry. We have a very large Hispanic population in Huron County and an immigrant population in Norwalk. It’s more migrant in the southern part of the county — we have some farms there, large farms, and they use migrant labor. So I had great concerns. I still do, about what that kind of attitude means, and what it means that it’s now acceptable. …

We saw a banner boldly proclaiming: ‘Let’s make America white again.’ In Huron County, Ohio. I had a friend call me who lives in Norwalk concerned that a Confederate flag went up.

Democrats and moderate Republicans who are shocked and upset by what’s happening. They’re not willing to say. “This is really bad.” They’re shouted down, and so they’ve become silent in a difficult way. Now I don’t particularly agree with that. I’ve tried to take some steps to publicly start some conversation. We’ve had some “Lunch and Learns” where we invite people to come out. We did one with some immigrants who’ve had some bad experiences. We’ve had some deportations of our families at our school. Their children are U.S. citizens, their spouse is a U.S. citizen, and they’ve been deported. Nothing done against the law. Actually following the law in that their paperwork had run out and there were things they had to do. They were hard-working. They were earning. They had jobs. And now, all of a sudden, these children are without their mom or without their dad. …

St. Paul’s Church has a large Hispanic community there so they’ve done some things bringing some attorneys in from the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and they come in and have done some things to be helpful. But in the end, if they decide you’re going, you’re going, and you don’t even know where they are. One family came in, and he went into to re-register, whatever he has to do on an annual or biannual basis, and he never came back out the door. And finally the wife and the mother-in-law said, “What’s happened?” “Oh, he’s been deported. He’s being shipped to Georgia or whatever.” That was it. No goodbyes, no nothing. He just was gone.

I mean we “disappear” people here. When my daughter was right out of college she went and worked in Colombia as an advocate for the indigenous people. She taught me about disappearing people. I never heard the term. When I was mayor, we had a whole bunch of folks that would be disappeared. And I would call, and they would not even acknowledge they had taken them. I mean, who are we?

* * *

Rob Duncan, 53, is Mayor of Norwalk. He voted for Trump.

So President Trump won this county pretty dramatically. Do you think he still enjoys broad support among the citizens of Huron County?

I think quite a bit. I mean you’ve got the typical things. People wish he would stay off Twitter and that type of thing. I don’t think you’re going to change Donald Trump. The financial reports that came out today were quite encouraging for the nation, and I think we see that, even though the recovery from this Recession has been so slow all over the United States. I mean there’s a few pockets that have done well. Probably the only place in Ohio that has done extremely well is the Columbus area. Everything else, it’s the slow slow climb out of this. For the first time in a long time, we’re actually seeing businesses who are considering investing and expanding a little bit.

Rob Duncan [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Can you be specific?

About the businesses? No, I can’t, because of confidentiality, but I will say that people are looking at seriously making some expansions in the area, and my point to it was that I think there’s just a little more confidence economically right now than there’s been in quite a while.

Why do you think that is?

Good question. I mean, look at the stock market. It’s up almost 6,500 points since Trump took over (The Dow has increased around 3,700 points since Inauguration Day and around 5,200 points since Election Day). No one is talking about those things, but I think there’s somewhat of a confidence in that, you know, even though some areas people kind of are a little hesitant because of the way Trump addresses them, he has been a successful businessman. And hopefully that’s going to trickle down to us. The state has cut us drastically, our local government funds and such, and we’re in a pretty tight place. …

We’re living through a period of pretty dramatic social discord in the United States right now. Why do you think that is?

I think that was actually before the election. It was already there. I think Trump just capitalized on it.

How so?

Just being himself. There’s a certain segment of America that is just so fed up with everything that, when he used the jargon he used — “Lock her up!” You know, those kind of things. Campaigns are nasty now. Not only on a federal level but a local level. It kind of bothers me that people no longer run on their qualifications and what they might be able to do or what they have done. It’s all about slamming their opponent. And I just don’t prefer that kind of politics.

Do you still support him?

Do I? You know I do from the aspect of he’s been in there one year. I want people to give him a chance and see what can happen instead of just looking for the negative all the time. I know from being in this office it’s not something you learn overnight. And for him going from a strictly business world to a political world like that, it’s two different worlds. I’m sure he’ll make some mistakes. He has made some. I’m sure he’ll make some more. But, hey, let’s give the guy a chance.

Where do you think Trump will take the country?

That’s a good question, and honestly — I mean, I hear what you’re trying to get at, but my focus is local.

I know, but I’m asking you as a citizen. Where do you think we’re headed?

You know, we have a great country, and hopefully the right people will get in the right positions to help move us forward in a positive direction. I think that’s what we all want, when you come down to the grassroots level. We don’t care so much about all the political pandering and everything that goes on in D.C., even though it does affect us.

What do you think it would take to have that on the grassroots level?

It’s people getting out to vote. That’s the only way we can make that change, is people getting out to vote and getting involved in the process. I know you didn’t come here to learn about Norwalk, but we have one of the finest communities around, and, if you read any of the articles I’ve written, I always mention is that one of the things that makes Norwalk so great is the people here, because they do get involved. They do care. We do work across political lines, and we see things happen.

* * *

Deniese, who did not give her last name, is 57, lives in Cleveland and is on disability. She voted for Clinton.

What are your thoughts regarding the election last year?

I said it was a shame. I thought that Ms. Hillary should have won. I think that Trump made a fool of himself. He speaks about how he likes war? I think that he was unfair and that he was dealing with the Russians and everything. He’s a player hater, to talk about Mr. McCain the way that he did. You know what I’m saying? It don’t make no sense.

Deniese [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Did you vote?

Oh, yes I did.

Did you vote for Clinton in the primary?

Yes, I did, because, she’s really good on people. Her husband did a wonderful job, and she had his back. You know what I’m saying? He nearly got us out of debt for the first time in history (President Clinton signed a balanced federal budget that produced a surplus but did not pay off the national debt). I figured she deserved the chance. …

What did you think when you found out who won?

I was disappointed. I was hurt. I thought that the people made the biggest mistake of their lives, and they’re going to regret it.

Where do you think Trump’s presidency will take us?

I don’t know. The man is unexpected. You don’t know what he’s capable of doing. You know what I mean? I’m scared, really. I don’t know what he’s going to do. Put us in a war? The Russians will bomb us, I believe. The Koreans, they’re going to bomb us. And then he’s going to run to Russia! He’s going to run! I don’t think it’s fair to put us like that. And he just talks like he’s a king, like he’s lost his mind. Like he’s dyslexic or something. He’s a fool! A poor president, we’ve got.

Why do you think he was elected?

I really don’t even know. I think people were drunk like him.


Something’s wrong with their brains. Who would elect someone like that? He crooked all his businesses. He never paid for nothing. All his businesses went bankrupt before he paid the small companies that built his casinos and hotels. I don’t think that’s fair, and now he’s trying to give a tax break to the rich. For what? I mean, really. Because the Trumps are rich. He’s not for the people. He’s really not.

Do you think that politicians have been for the people before?

Yes! Some things have been good. Obama did a good job. I think that the health care that Trump’s trying to get rid of, that’s wrong. Obamacare has helped me, and it’s helped my mother. She just had knee surgery, and she just had a pacemaker put in her heart. After the knee surgery, she had to be in the nursing home for a while, and they didn’t bill her. She’s in her 80s. I’m 57. I think they need to leave old folks alone. They can’t afford that. They’re on a fixed income.

Trump needs to realize that. Let him live six months on a fixed income. What would he have? Nothing. Let him live on a fixed income for six months and have him say it’s fair. Let him try. He’s got to walk in the American people’s shoes. He’s got to feel pain. He’s been a spoiled brat all his life. He’s not for the people. Never has been.

White people, they’re going to be down for Trump. People who’ve got nice jobs want the tax breaks for themselves. The breaks need to go to the people who really make the world. You know what I’m saying?

Why do you think that even poor white people voted for Trump?

Because they’re prejudiced like he is. The man is very prejudiced, and he don’t hold back on it.

What is it like to think that the president is racist?

It’s sad, and it’s shameful.

Does it surprise you that the nation elected him?

Yes. I was shocked. I thought he was a joke. I said, “There’s no way these people are going to elect that fool.” And they did. And now they want him out, even his own Republicans are against him. You hear me? Because they don’t like anything about him either. Most of the Republicans are voting against anything he puts on the table. They’re not really voting with him.

Just because they haven’t been able to pass legislation, you mean?

Yeah. The Republicans ain’t even voting with him. There’s something wrong with that. Usually they would. But they’re not together on nothing. I’m not too worried about losing Obamacare.

* * *

Katie Beck is 25 and serves as the program director of Exchange House, a refugee community center in Akron. She voted for Clinton.

I was a Bernie supporter in the primaries. When the general election came around, I was for Hillary. I assumed she was going to win, like a lot of people.

Katie Beck [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

You had no issues supporting Hillary after supporting Bernie?

I absolutely had issues. I really felt like Bernie better represented my views. I’m more of a socialist than I am a Democrat, and I felt like he really was representing my views, and it was clear that the Democratic Party wanted to support Hillary. All of the evidence kind of came out. When it came down to the two candidates, between Hillary and Trump, I felt like I was sort of obligated to Hillary, even though there’s a lot behind her in terms of her political career. I respected her, but I didn’t think her views matched mine. However, Trump, thinking of him as president was just completely unrealistic to me. So I thought I needed to support Hillary because of that. …

Tell me about Election Day.

That night I was at home drinking with my boyfriend and my two friends that I lived with. We were drinking and thinking that it was going to be great. I had that typical white woman approach, thinking, “Gosh, we’re about to have a woman president! We’re about to have a woman president!” And the results just kept rolling in, right? They just kept coming in, and we were like, “What is happening?” Honestly, I went to bed before the official call, and I woke up the next day, Googled on my phone, “Who is the next president?” and saw for real. And I just bawled. I just wept.

At the time I was working at Dillard’s, and I had to go to work, immediately in the morning on that Wednesday. I remember walking in — and, you know, working retail, you don’t know what the fuck people who you work with and for are thinking about. I remember walking in and thinking, “Is everybody else feeling as devastated as I am? Because I want to cry.” No one said anything. And I worked the whole day without anyone saying anything, and that was the weirdest moment for me. Inside, my heart just broken in half, and just wanted to cry the whole day because I’m an emotional person. No one even acknowledged it. If they did, they just said, “Well, I didn’t care either way.” That was crazy to me. And then it was probably seven days straight after the election that I wept every morning I woke up. Just straight emotional reaction, just because I could not believe it happened.

Oddly enough, my life has sort of changed dramatically with this period. Like I said, I was working in retail, and then I was able to quit that job in January for this job I’m at now. I’m able to work with immigrants and refugees.

I got this job after the election. When I started here, the travel ban, all these things were happening, and it affected Akron. The International Institute [of Akron] had to lay off half their staff. The International Institute is a partner here at the Exchange House, and so we had to supplement programming, and we had a lot of programming ideas and partnership ideas with them that just didn’t come into fruition because of that. So I was in a really interesting time where I switch into the job where I work with refugees and immigrants and also as a theater artist working with refugees. And how all of the sudden it became this super hot-button issue because of the president doing these crazy things.

It felt like fate, in some ways, because I feel like I can finally use my skill set to work with the people I want to work with in a time when we really need to come together in solidarity. So I feel very grateful for that, because I feel in retail that wasn’t happening, obviously. But I just slipped into a moment at the right time and place. …

What do you think going forward?

My role going forward is to focus on my work, because that’s the best thing I can do for this world. If I constantly listen to the things that are happening on Facebook and the news, I will not survive. So I have to focus on my work and believe that what I’m doing is contributing something positive.

Your term is up in January. Will you keep working in this area?

Yes. I will continue to work at the Exchange House. I’m going to continue to make community-based theater here with refugees, immigrants, other people in the Rust Belt. And just believe that that’s what I can do. I truly believe that, as human beings, we have limited spheres of influence. I have a small sphere where I can influence very few people in my life, and I have a larger sphere wherein maybe the people leak out to the next layer. Past that, I can’t do shit. I just can’t, and I know that. So why stress about it? Why get emotional? I am an emotional person, I acknowledge that. So I’ll focus on the people I can work with here, be proud of where I’m from and just run with it.

I had all these friends from college who went to New York, Chicago, L.A., even though they were from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio. They’re from these places that are influential politically, but they went to these other places where they thought they could make it big or have an impact.

Has the election changed the way you think about your home state?

I’ve always known that Ohio is a swing state, but there’s an interesting thought that came out of all this election stuff. We need to have people here to implement positive change. I had all these friends from college who went to New York, Chicago, L.A., even though they were from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio — Texas, even, right? They’re from these places that are influential politically, but they went to these other places where they thought they could make it big or have an impact.

For me, it’s like, “I have opportunity here. I have influence. Why would I not take that chance?” I fully believe that. If nobody is going to be in Ohio, it’s going to stay the same way. But if me and other artists and other activists and politicians and future corporate leaders stay here and actually make an influence, why would we not?

I think that I was embarrassed about Ohio because of the election, and now I feel empowered, because we’re a year in and we can change things.

* * *

Tyler Perren is 25 and works as a bank teller. He’s in graduate school for clinical mental health counseling at Malone University in Canton and would like to work with veterans suffering from PTSD. He lives in Akron and voted for Trump.

Why did you vote for Trump?

I’m very strong in my faith, [and I believe in] religious liberties. I was raised Catholic, but now I’m nondenominational. That’s why. It wasn’t even necessarily the candidate but more along the lines of the values of the party.

Tyler Perren [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Those being specifically?

So ultimately I’m involved with churches. There were some things that were touched on with Hillary that would interfere with how churches were to be ran.


Making it a little bit more public and a little bit more controlled. Just to intervene a little bit more. She had said something along the lines of, that Christians should kind of gear away from their perspective to accommodate society, which I agree with to an extent. But I don’t think that it’s proper to say that somebody should put aside their convictions to pick up convictions of somebody else. So that’s just one one little thing. …

Tell me about Election Day. What was it like for you?

I lost a lot of friends. It was hard. It was a shock because I didn’t understand personally the dynamic. I didn’t expect for everything to happen the way that it did. …

We’re kind of friends again, but there was like a six- to seven-month period where there was just no conversation. They were upset. They said that they were frustrated. They transferred how they felt about Trump to me, said that I am disrespectful to minorities and don’t care about the general public. It mirrored their views towards him to me.

And you don’t think that’s fair?

No, I don’t. I think it’s very important to look at perspectives based off of the individual. I do not agree with a lot of the things that he does or says.

I went to Kent State for undergrad, and a few things happened there. I was [in theater], and there was a person in the cast of one of the productions who found out my political party, and I heard, “Oh, I didn’t know the Republicans liked art,” and “It’s a shame. We liked you before we found this out.”

Then I was in the parking lot at Kent and there were the different Republican and Democrat student organizations around the parking lot, and they asked if I was registered to vote. “Yes, I am,” and they asked which affiliation. And I told them. When I came back, there were Hillary stickers covering my front window and my back window, all the side windows and everything.

After the election, I didn’t talk. I didn’t bring it up at all. It’s taken me a long time to not associate these individuals with the left. I look at people that definitely have a different perspective and wouldn’t act in such ways. That’s why I’m just a strong proponent of not associating an individual with a group. It does bother me because, like I said, I voted for the beliefs and not the candidate, per se. I’m not in agreement with a lot of the stuff that he says or does.


A lot of the stuff with Twitter and everything and how he’s not presenting himself in a professional manner. You don’t do stuff expecting — how do I put this? When you do something, you do things in a way that you don’t receive criticism, if that makes sense. If you act professional, you will be perceived as professional. So a lot of the stuff we see with his Twitter and the terminology that he uses to reference people, it’s not okay.

Do you approve of the job he’s doing?

On certain things. Not everything, but certain things. I look at everything based off of the category of the issue. Social issues, no. Foreign affairs, yes.

I lost a lot of friends … They transferred how they felt about Trump to me, said that I am disrespectful to minorities and don’t care about the general public.

Are you glad that he’s president?

I would have preferred who I originally voted for or any of the other Republican candidates. It doesn’t really matter who the candidate is.

* * *

Lindsey Duncan III, 45, is the safety and protective services manager at the Cleveland Public Library and voted for Clinton. Matthew Martin, 52, is C.P.L.’s Security Supervisor and voted for Trump.

Did you vote for Clinton in the primary?

Lindsey: No; Sanders. I didn’t really like Clinton. I think she’s a lifelong politician. She’s detached from most common folks, and I didn’t see her being a better candidate than other choices that were available, even on the Republican side. Kasich would have been my second choice.

Lindsey Duncan III & Matthew Martin [credit: Aaron Gettinger]

Why’d you support Trump?

Matthew: It was either him or Clinton, and there was no way I was supporting Clinton. In the primary I voted for Ted Cruz. I liked what he stood for and the more traditional conservative values. I believe he could have really made a difference as president. Since he didn’t make it, it was either Trump or Clinton. There was no way I was voting for Clinton.

What do you think of Trump’s presidency so far?

Matthew: I think he’s done a lot of the things that he said he was going to do. The problem that he’s facing with a Republican Congress all the way around has to do with the RINOs — people that are conservative in name only. Their lack of support keeps him from doing the things that he wants to do. I think it could be a real opportunity to move this country in the right direction; he just can’t get the support he needs.

What would move the country in the right direction?

Matthew: Well, the tax reforms that he’s working at now. Opposing big government. Right now it’s all about the tax reform. Making immigration laws more stringent and just enforcing the laws that are already on the books. We don’t need more laws, just for the ones that exists. That’s moving in the right direction. The economy has moved in the right direction, and it’s reflected in Wall Street. I mean, we’ve enjoyed spikes in Wall Street that we haven’t seen before. So there’s people smarter than me that have obviously noticed.

What do you think of the presidency so far?

Lindsey: Abysmal. I think the guy’s a joke. He’s the definition of hypocrisy. He came in supposedly wanting to drain the swamp, and the swamp has gotten deeper. He’s brought Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department — he’s a Goldman Sachs guy. Trump railed against Goldman Sachs influence in the primaries, and then he sort of fell in line once he got in office. He was supposed to pull the military out of conflicts, but instead we look like we’re going to expand it. This thing with North Korea looks like it’s getting worse.

He has zero tact. I think he’s a horrible person — that’s just where I’m at with that. I think the economy is still on the same trajectory it was since 2009, which is just increasing steadily. I don’t see the spikes. And there’s been nothing passed! There has been no legislation passed. There’s only been executive orders. He has a Republican-led House and Senate and still can’t get anything passed. So he’s obviously got conflicts within his own party, and they can’t get it together yet. …

The two of you are diametrically opposed politically and still are friends and have friendly conversations. How?

Lindsey: Because he’s a good dude! He’s a good guy, and we just see things differently. I have a lot of friends that are Trump supporters. I don’t think that makes them evil or racist people. They’re just good people the way around. It’s just that we have different political views, but I think that’s because — what was the comment you made earlier? “We are a total sum of our experiences,” or something like that?

Matthew: “All individuals are nothing more than the salt of their experience.” So just because we grew up with different experiences doesn’t make us opposite people. Just different. So we can enjoy each other for the individuals that we are and still have diametrically opposed views.

Lindsey: We listen to each other, too. When he’s talking and he’s saying things about Trump or what his expectations of the presidency were or our last administration, I don’t wall it off like it’s not even information and just wait to shoot a rebuttal out. There are points that are made that are reasonable, you know what I mean? But, that being said, it’s not like he’s trying to convince me that Trump is going to be someone that I’m going to tattoo on my arm or anything like that. At the same time, I understand he voted for Trump. I understand why he was excited about Trump. It’s just that I have different expectations, and Trump wasn’t going to fulfill the expectations that I desire.

How do you feel about the country’s future?

Matthew: I am hopeful. But nothing significant, I think, is going to change as long as the parties, whether we’re talking Democrat or Republican, are divided within themselves. Until these differences within the parties change, I don’t think we’re going to be anything near where we could be.

The American people spoke once and replaced Bush and the Republicans with Democrats. When that didn’t work out, they replaced them with the Republicans. So I could see the American people saying, “Enough of both! Either you’re going to get your act together, or we’re just going to replace all of you.”

Lindsey: The Libertarians!

Matthew: Whatever works! Because whatever we’re seeing happening now doesn’t work.

Lindsey: I’m optimistic. I hope that we all don’t get to die together due to a Trump presidency. But optimistic? Of course I’ll remain optimistic — I’m a Browns fan, so I have to be! I’m optimistic that there are enough good people around him that will attempt to contain him. I just think the guy’s really ambitious and not in a good way. I think it’s about profit and greed. I don’t think he has any connection to the American people. He’s got family in positions that have typically never been given to family members. It’s a weird time we’re in right now.

Photos by Aaron Gettinger.

Aaron Gettinger is an independent journalist in Chicago. His website is