Two years ago, the world watched in shock as Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Many shook their heads in despair as a reality TV star who boasted of ‘grabbing women by the pussy’ was sworn into the highest office. Human rights campaigners declared it would tear back progress and former First Lady Michelle Obama recently revealed that she couldn’t hide her dismay on the day, writing in her memoir Becoming that she ‘stopped even trying to smile’.
Two years on, and sure enough Trump’s presidency has been dogged by scandal. He’s being investigated for Russian collusion in the 2016 election and drew criticism when he publicly shamed alleged sexual assault victims and suggested white supremacists in Charlottesville are ‘very fine people’.
It would be easy to assume that the anti-Trump sentiment might spell the beginning of his political demise. After each scandal, liberals have predicted that it will surely force his supporters to abandon him. But support for Trump has risen. In December 2017, his approval rating was 36%, and despite a year of Twitter rants and a porn-star payoff (Stormy Daniels claims she received a £96,000 ‘hush agreement’), it’s now up to 41.1%.
To see how Trump continues to tap into the psyche of so many, I travel to his supporters’ heartland in the southern states of America to meet some of those who put him in power. I want to find out how they feel about him two years on, and hear how this billionaire businessman’s message still resonates with so many people.
‘I Vote For The Person’
Tessa Eades, 35, is in Hendersonville, a smart suburb of Nashville, Tennessee where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the CEO of One S Consulting, a company that specialises in Millennial cultural engagement.
When she was a student she twice voted Democrat, but she’s now an avid Trump supporter and looks a er social media for Nashville Republican Women. So what changed her political views? ‘After I had my first daughter, I read tons of books about how to navigate being a career woman with having children and I came across Ivanka Trump’s book, The Trump Card,’ she tells me. ‘I wanted to know how women my age balance it all and Ivanka seemed so impressive. I thought, if he can raise a woman like this, that says a lot about how trustworthy he is as a father and a leader.
I vote for the person, not the party. I was also impressed with what they’ve both accomplished in the business world.’ But Donald Trump has actually filed for bankruptcy six times; does this make her wary of his competency? ‘No, I respect people more if they can recover from their failures,’ she adds. ‘It shows he’s able to replicate that success when one business model hasn’t worked out. He’s the right man for the job; what he’s accomplished already is astounding. We’re already seeing businesses growing and higher salaries because of his tax cuts.’
'He's Right To Be Firm'
We’re sitting in a trendy coffee shop owned by Tammy Davis, 44. Tammy voted for Trump because of his tough stance on the Mexican border and she’s also pleased with his presidency so far. Her grandmother is Mexican and emigrated to the US when she married. Tammy and her husband lived in Mexico briefly and set up a charity there called One 27 Foundation, which cares for orphans with disabilities. What did she think of Trump’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents on the border last June and keep them in cages?
‘Oh I was livid,’ she says. ‘It’s not that I don’t think that situation needs to be dealt with, but he didn’t handle it the right way. There are so many [illegal immigrants] falling through the cracks, it seems like it’s a free-for-all. They take the country for granted and he’s right to be firm on this. Tammy believes his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan has made people proud of the country. What about having a President who brags about sexual assault?
‘That stuff makes me go, “Dude, you’re a jackass”,’ she says. ‘But I voted for him for other reasons. And if we were in a men’s locker room, I bet we’d hear a lot of men saying that sort of thing. The fact his wife and daughter have stood by him says a lot more about the kind of man he really is.’ Trump is widely disliked by African Americans: his description of Africa as being full of ‘sh**hole’ countries and his obsession with the ‘birther’ conspiracy that Barack Obama was born in Kenya go some way to explain this. A poll after the US midterm elections in November by the African American Research Collaborative found 83% of black voters felt disrespected by him and 48% labelled him a racist.
But despite this, he’s gained support among black voters since he was first elected. A recent survey by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) civil rights group put support among black voters at 21%, compared with 8% in 2016. Henry Enten, a political analyst for CNN, says, ‘If Trump is able to hold on to his additional African-American support, it could aid him in 2020.
'I'm Not Brainwashed'
Nzinga Johnson, 28, is African American and voted for Trump. She works in sales in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is between meetings when she pops out to tell me about the divisions her political views have caused in her community.
She wouldn’t wear a MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap ‘because I don’t want to get attacked’, she says. Most of her family think Trump’s racist and go a while without talking to her sometimes. ‘It’s hard to hear when they say I’ve been brainwashed. But I think Trump helps the black community, calls out corruption and tells the truth.’
Nzinga supports Trump because she feels his tough stance on immigration means there are more jobs for black Americans. ‘Illegal immigrants are going to work for less than young, black men,’ she says. ‘Democrats promise they’ll be our saviours and it’s never worked – they only hurt us with their welfare benefits. You can’t create generational wealth with welfare. Welfare takes away incentives for the black community. We’ve seen the lowest black unemployment rates under Trump.’ Indeed, Jason L Riley writes in The Wall Street Journal that ‘some 1.2 million additional blacks have found work since Mr Trump was elected’
‘I’ve Got More Money Now’
Candice Dawkins, 25, is also African American and works as communications director for the Tennessee Republican Party. I meet her in her office in Nashville, where a MAGA cap and Trump banner hang behind her desk. She finds it frustrating that people are surprised she voted for Trump. ‘White Americans get the freedom to choose who they want to vote for, but as a black American, I’m thrust into a box and it’s presumed I should be Democrat,’ she says.
Candice grew up a mile from Obama in Chicago before moving south for university and says, although it was exciting seeing a black President, it didn’t make her agree with his policies on tax. ‘I was drawn to Trump because of his tax cut promise and his vow to get the economy moving, and he’s delivered. You can feel the difference he’s made. You see new businesses popping up and “Help Wanted” signs in the windows of stores now. I feel more money in my pockets because of the tax cuts he’s brought in.
‘I’ll Vote For Him In 2020’
Michelle Garcia, 44, an events planner from Tennessee, agrees. Her husband is Hispanic and she says unemployment rates have reached record lows in the Latino community under Trump. It’s true they hit a new low of 4.4% last year, but a number of economists say tax cuts and additional spending caused a temporary boost that will fade and leave future generations in debt. ‘He’s also the first of his predecessors to reach out to the faith community and that’s really important to me,’ she says.
Michelle didn’t vote for anyone in 2016, but says she would vote for Trump in 2020 and is sick of being demonised by other women for supporting him. She says movements like the Women’s March make women feel guilty about being stay-at- home mums or voting Republican. After the midterm election results in November, the Women’s March tweeted: ‘There’s a lot of work to do, white women. A lot of learning. A lot of growing.’ Michelle says she and her friends felt patronised by this. ‘Many of us have been demonised for having an opinion that doesn’t follow their narrative,’ she says.
After travelling to Washington DC to show her support for Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh when Christine Blasey Ford publicly testified against him for an alleged sexual assault, Michelle now believes the media are ‘biased’ against Trump. ‘We watched as news outlets ignored the pro-Kavanaugh activists and focused solely on women protesting against him. There were camera crews everywhere. No one wanted to talk to us though.
‘He Cares About Veterans’
Finally, I meet Jennifer West, 36, a nurse practitioner and mum of three in Nashville. She invites me into her office after a busy day working in the hospital. She says one reason she’s pleased with the job Trump’s doing is because he’s pro-military and cares about veterans and their access to care. ‘They’re my patients so that’s important to me,’ she says. ‘I also think he believes in America and I feel safer with him in power – the way he’s taken on the border situation.’
When we discuss the global reaction to derogatory comments he’s made about women, she says: ‘If you were coming in with a heart attack, would you want the most qualified doctor or the one with the best bedside manner? I choose the most qualified every time and I think that’s him, as he came from a business background.
All of these women are unanimous in thinking Trump has made a huge amount of progress in very little time. It’s true the US economy added 312,000 jobs in December and wages jumped 3.2% from a year ago – though some economists put that down to the legwork put in by Obama. Clearly, Trump is keeping his core base happy, so, does this mean he could win a second term?
‘It seems hard to believe... but he’s de ed the odds before, and the reality is that most incumbent Presidents do win a second term,’ says David A Graham, former political editor of The Atlantic. Amy Chozick, political reporter for The New York Times, argued in her article Why Trump Will Win A Second Term that ‘Reality TV has always been the guidebook for this presidency. And most popular series last for six seasons.’ That was in September – is Amy still suggesting he could win again in two years? ‘At this point,’ she says. ‘I think half the country is tuning in for what they hope is the most dramatic finale ever.