Fricker’s is a fine place to meet Trump voters. It’s located on the outskirts of an old industrial town that has seen better days. Fricker’s boasts big-screen TVs, 22 kinds of beer and 36 kinds of wings. Its motto: “I love this frickin’ place!”
It is also packed. Half of Americans, maybe more, eat and drink at places like Fricker’s. If you don’t, then you will never understand very much about them.
Tim Lawson and Craig Haass are drinking buddies from way back. Tim, a plumber, has a tidy grey goatee and wire-framed glasses. He wears a red baseball cap and a red shirt that both say Affordable Water Systems. Craig works for Faulkner Four Percent, a real-estate company. He’s built like a side of beef. When I introduce myself and confess that I’m a reporter, they give me an earful. “They’re wrong! They’re 100-per-cent wrong!” fumes Mr. Haass. He means the media.
Thanks to a book called Hillbilly Elegy, Middletown has become the poster city for postindustrial decay. A recent TV feature from Reuters depicted its citizens as helpless working-class losers looking for a saviour. The camera panned across an urban wasteland of vacant storefronts and pawnshops. The reporter informed the international viewing audience that this explains Donald Trump.
But Middletown isn’t like that any more. After many years in the doldrums, it is on the upswing. Dozens of businesses are expanding or moving in. Downtown is coming back to life. “We’ve even got a high-end wine bar!” Mr. Lawson tells me. But the TV story didn’t bother to show that.
I quickly realize that I am going to have to revise my story line. Like most journalists who venture into Trumpland, I’d assumed that Trump supporters are uneducated metal-bashers who have been left behind as the world moved on. Not-so-closet racists who shout things like “Jail Hillary”’ among the derelict ruins of the steel mills.
Boy, was I wrong.
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