Trump’s whirlwind start earns him ‘A-plus’ from supporters
US president’s backers laud him for keeping campaign promises and putting ‘America first’
Amanda Abdon in front of the gift shop where she works in Mount Gilead, Ohio. Abdon, who voted for Donald Trump, is eager for a repeal of the health care tax penalty her boyfriend had to pay this year. Photograph: Andrew Spear/New York Times
Annette Cottrell works on a customer’s hair at her salon, The Mane Attraction, in Mount Gilead, Ohio. She gives Donald Trump an “A-plus” for his performance in offide so far. Photograph: Andrew Spear/New York Times
Andrew Cottrell, a Navy veteran, at his wife’s salon, The Mane Attraction, in Mount Gilead, Ohio. Reviewing Donald Trump’s first week in office, he says “I have never seen someone make promises and immediately start keeping them”. Photograph: Andrew Spear/New York Times
Eddie Lou Meimer at her family’s farm, Pleiades Maple Products, in Mount Gilead, Ohio. “He’s a get-it-done person,” Meimer said of the US president. Photograph: Andrew Spear/New York Times
The challenge Annette Cottrell pondered was how to grade US president Donald Trump’s stormy first full week on the job. A trade war bubbling up with Mexico. A divisive border wall. A ban on refugees from war-torn countries. Brawls with the news media and national parks.
“I’d give him an A-plus,” Cottrell (38) said from her salon, Mane Attraction, on Main Street in Mount Gilead, the seat of a conservative Ohio county of pastures and maple groves where Trump won 70 percent of the vote. “He’s doing what he said he was going to be doing.”
So, about that head-spinning week. Trump drew a torrent of criticism after pressing a series of falsehoods about voter fraud, the size of the crowd at his inauguration and his attacks on the intelligence community. His rapid-fire executive actions reversing years of policy on immigration, abortion and the environment left his critics seething and fearful and liberal opponents preparing a volley of legal challenges to blunt them.
But in more than two dozen interviews this week, voters who helped hand Trump the presidency – die-hards and reluctant supporters alike – were cheering from their living rooms, offices and diners across the United States as they saw the outlines of a new conservative era in government fast taking shape, even if they were still a little uneasy about the man doing the shaping.
Yes, they said, Trump should tone down his tweets and rein in what they gently called his impulse toward “exaggeration”. “Honestly, he sometimes needs to shut up,” said Joshua Wade (24) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a state that had not supported a Republican for president since George HW Bush in 1988. “Just do what we elected you to do. We won. Drop the inauguration stuff. It’s fine.”
Gun rights top Wade’s wish list for the new administration. He wants supreme court nominees friendly to gun owners and laws that extend concealed-carry rights across state lines. He said he had been encouraged that Trump took swift action on some campaign promises during his early days in office.
“There’s no doubt: He’s good at showmanship,” said Wade, a registered Republican. “But I think this first week is proving he’s capable of following through on that with real action.” But what appeals to supporters may be turning off independents. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday gave Trump only a 36 per cent job approval rating and found that majorities of people surveyed said he was neither honest nor levelheaded.
Still, Trump voters interviewed said they cared little if the president spouted off on Twitter because he was issuing the kind of executive actions many had long craved – freezing federal grant money for environmental research, banning foreign aid for groups that give abortion counselling and cutting off immigration from several Muslim-majority nations.
“Trump’s done more in five days than Obama did in eight years,” said Doug Cooperrider (58), who works in construction repairing bridges and roads around central Ohio. The bar at Boondocks, where Cooperrider dug into a BLT sandwich on a sleety morning, is about 3,000km from the Arizona deserts where sections of the multibillion-dollar border wall may rise.
The Hispanic population is tiny in this overwhelmingly white county of 35,000, and it has grown only 0.3 percent in the past five years. Still, people said they felt as if immigration had undercut wages for construction workers in the area. One man said he was uneasy about the long-standing Somali community in Columbus, about one hour’s drive south. Several embraced Trump’s directives that limited new refugees, ordered up the border wall and cut off federal grant money to cities labelled sanctuaries for immigrants.
“I’m 100 per cent behind the wall,” said Cottrell, the salon owner. “If he asked me to lay the first brick, I’d sign up. I’m tired of them being here illegally and cutthroating the rest of us.” She and her husband, Andrew, a Navy veteran, said their views of government had been coloured by years spent struggling to get a disability claim approved for him by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
They were early and enthusiastic Trump supporters, and when they went on road trips this year, they gauged their candidate’s support by counting up his yard signs and Hillary Clinton’s. Andrew Cottrell (34) said he supported aid to feed and shelter refugees – but he blanched at welcoming them to the US.
“It should be about America first,” Cottrell said. “We see way too many vets waiting in line, homeless, while we’re helping refugees and immigrants.”
Cottrell said he had wanted Trump to gut the high-ranking staff of the veterans’ affairs department and was disappointed when he instead kept on an Obama administration official to oversee the agency. But he said that didn’t affect his support for Trump. “I have never seen someone make promises and immediately start keeping them,” he said.
Most of those promises are a long way from fulfilled. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, remains the law of the land. Efforts to build the Keystone XL pipeline or finish the Dakota Access pipeline could become mired in years of litigation. There is no agreement on how to pay for a $20 billion Mexican border wall.
But moves like banning funding for overseas health providers who discuss abortion have a more rapid effect. Laura Alexandria, director of operations for Grand Rapids Right to Life in Michigan, said she hoped to see the federal government soon remove financing for Planned Parenthood in the United States.
“We have a pro-life president back in the White House, and that is very encouraging,” she said.
Alexandria said she had been in Washington for the inauguration, and she was back for Friday’s March for Life by abortion opponents. She said her organisation had organised 12 buses to take people from Michigan to the march. If president Barack Obama was a self-described “Rorschach test” for voters in 2008, Trump’s actions calling for curbing regulations and repealing Obamacare were cocktail-napkin sketches. He roughed them out, and his supporters filled in the details.
Robert Kersey (82), president of an employee-owned foundry in Muncie, Indiana, said he hoped Trump would pull back a recent announcement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration addressing silica dust, which can lead to debilitating and fatal lung diseases. Kersey said he sees the rule as a burden and does not believe it will make his employees safer.
Inside a gift shop in Mount Gilead’s red-brick downtown, Amanda Abdon (28) said she was eager for a repeal of the health care tax penalty her boyfriend had to pay this year. Eddie Lou Meimer (70), walking through her family farm south of town, said she wanted the federal government to ease the kind of food-safety regulations that she said had forced her to build a $40,000 canning room for her maple-syrup business.
“He’s a get-it-done person,” Meimer said of the president. “I wish somebody would grab his phone. But it seems to take the press’s mind off what he’s really doing.”
New York Times