Hipsters and hillbillies clash as Donald Trump calls
Republican fleshes out his pledges with economic plan to convince his electoral base
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak to supporters at a rally in Asheville, North Carolina. Photograph: Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of North Carolina – a US presidential election battleground state – the town of Asheville marks out the sharp contrasts in American political, cultural and socioeconomic life.
Look at an electoral map showing the results of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election victory and you see Buncombe County, where Asheville is located, represents a small pool of blue in a sea of red. The nearest Democratic county, Mecklenburg, is a two-hour drive east of here.
Virginia to the north and Florida, two states to the south, plumped for Obama but head west of here, through the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond, and you have to travel all the way to Colorado before you find another state that swung for the 44th president of the United States. Travel even a few miles outside Asheville, up the French Broad River, and you will find yourself deep in rural Appalachia among trailer homes and pick-up trucks.
For Donald Trump, Asheville was a good spot for his campaign rally on Monday night. There are five other states within two hours of here and supporters came from Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina to hear the Republican presidential nominee speak. The scene outside his Asheville rally made for a peculiar sight, a clash of conservatives and liberals, hipsters and hillbillies, as rival supporters exchanged barbs and sometimes a little more. A 69-year-old anti-Trump protester Shirley Teter was punched by a South Carolina man. It was mostly good-natured, though. “Trump killed Harambe” was one protester’s sign, claiming the reality TV star was behind the death of the much-loved Cincinnati gorilla.
Blue collarHillary Clinton
North Carolina has lost more than four in 10 manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed by Bill Clinton in December 1993, Trump told the crowd. “Hillary Clinton supported it and it has been perhaps the worst trade deal ever signed not only in this country but actually in the history of the world,” said the property developer, characteristically hyperbolic. His fierce attack on Clinton was again laden with sweeping promises wrapped in his “Make America Great Again” pledge.
The businessman’s case to the hard-pressed blue-collar American was not helped by new US Census Bureau data this week showing that America got a pay rise last year, the first significant increase since 2007 and the biggest since record keeping began almost 50 years ago. Frozen wages have long been a stock line in Trump’s stump speeches.
One wealthy American who did make this part of North Carolina great was George Vanderbilt, the grandson of the shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt whose fortune began with a $100 gift from his mother and the Staten Island Ferry. Asheville is home to Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the US.
The Vanderbilts opened the house to the public in 1930 to draw tourists to an area plagued by the Great Depression. They now employ more than 2,000 on the estate.
Film buffs will recognise this stunning house as the location for Being There, the 1979 Hal Ashby film about the simple-minded gardener, Chance. He gains prominence by stating basic truths about how he tends his garden that the public and a president interpret as wise aphorisms, inspiring a nation and putting “Chauncey Gardiner” in line for the White House.
Trump attempted again this week to become more than the Chauncey Gardiner of American politics and move beyond his sweeping facile declarations with a new economic plan. The billionaire wants, as president, to cut taxes by $4.4 trillion over a decade and create 25 million new jobs, promising an annual growth rate of 4 per cent. There was not much by way of how he would pay for his grand Vanderbilt-like vision for the country. The scale of Trump’s ambition, or the chance of him fulfilling it, is not lost on his supporters. “Manufacturing jobs have left North Carolina and we are looking to have more of those back,” said retired businessman Chuck Adams queueing for the Republican’s Asheville rally.
“Trump is promising those things and we hope he lives up to his promises.”