Nearing 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, many in north-central Missouri’s Mercer County are standing their rural ground.
They support the president.
And some, such as gun shop owner Wood Holt and his sister, Annie Dunavin, will say it publicly. Yet they know that by now — having drawn some major media coverage — an online slice of their fellow Americans will ridicule them.
Holt speaks his mind, just as he says Trump does. “When he says he’s going to do something, he does it,” said Holt, 70. And so far, Holt has no complaints, except for the Affordable Care Act not being repealed. “But it’ll happen. ...
“The stock market’s going up,” he said. “Border crossings going down.”
Most voters here liked Trump in early 2016, when he ran in the Missouri presidential primary against 11 other GOP candidates. At that time, 60 percent of local Republicans backed him, the highest percentage of any county in the state.
They liked him in the Nov. 8 general election, too: 85.5 percent of Mercer County voters chose Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Again, highest percentage in Missouri.
But with all that overwhelming Trump support came news crews: After The Star showed up in October, a global photojournalism service covered the county seat of Princeton, population 1,200, on Election Day.
And CNN rode through in February.
Some of that attention, they didn’t like.
With every report posted on YouTube or Facebook, users of those sites fired back: “Idiots,” several commented.
“Ignorant and ill-informed.” Racist, backward, “in denial of 21st-century reality”…?
CNN’s discussion on “Anderson Cooper 360” — which included a four-minute video that many locals considered fair — prompted hundreds of social media users to rip into this quiet farming community whose real claim to fame, if you ask them, is being the 1852 birthplace of Calamity Jane.
“Everyone’s entitled to have an opinion ... but it’s just an opinion,” said Dunavin, who raises young hogs. “We shouldn’t be judged a certain way, and we shouldn’t judge others, just because we vote for people like Mr. Trump.”
‘It’s going to take time’
Outside rural settings, the president’s approval ratings continue to be sluggish.
Recent Gallup polling tracked a 7-point drop among Americans overall who think Trump can bring about the change the country needs, from 53 percent to 46 percent. A 17-point drop between February and mid-April was found in the percentage of Americans who think Trump keeps his promises, from 62 percent to 45 percent, with an 11-point decline among Republicans.
The New York Times last week suggested otherwise when it examined a congressional district outside Philadelphia and concluded, “In a swing state, Trump backers turn impatient.”
GOP pollster Neil Newhouse of Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies questions that. If impatience might be sensed in some swing-voting suburbs, at least in small-town USA, “Trump voters are not backing away,” he said. “If anything, they are doubling down.”
Trump won with huge support from working-class whites living far from urban centers, feeling detached from the economic recovery and questioning social mores such as rising acceptance of same-sex marriage.
“The patience of these people ... they know it’s going to take time to get the job done in Washington,” Newhouse said.
He added: “A lot of Trump voters think ‘the first 100 days’ was created by the media as a measuring stick to try to take him down.”
It was a topic that a few residents who spoke to The Star in the fall agreed to discuss last week.
They included Bill Heck, owner of Crossroads restaurant at the county’s main highway junction (and only traffic signal) along with an adjoining liquor and sporting goods store.
Heck, who voted for Trump, remains supportive. “I’m very much in favor of him as commander in chief,” he said. That includes approving of his decision to bomb Syria after the government allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians, even though Trump in the past had said America should not get involved in that fighting.
“It shows he has cajones,” Heck said. “He acts quick. That’s why we voted for him.”
But as with most of Trump’s actions, such as his incessant tweeting, Heck also voiced some reservations. Acting too quickly over the next four years — “say he just wakes up in a bad mood” — could make the world more dangerous, he said. “It’s a little scary,” but Heck thinks decisiveness for now sends the right message to enemies.
Obamacare? Heck was surprised Congress lacked votes even among Republicans to undo it. “I thought they were behind (Trump) more than they turned out to be.”
From their modest home off a blacktop north of Princeton, Christopher and Gina Langan emailed a lengthy defense of Trump at The Star’s request for a 100-day report card.
The newspaper had tracked the couple down in October upon learning that Chris Langan had been cited by Esquire magazine, British TV and a bestselling book for having among the highest IQs ever recorded, between 195 and 210.
As for the report card, it’s too early to know if his goals will materialize, the Langans wrote.
“There is obviously an anti-Trump bias in the media,” their email began.
“Unfortunately, some of Trump’s advisers and appointees appear to be willful, intractable, and committed to their own unspoken agendas, making their decisions without concern for him, his image or his campaign promises.”
The couple further noted how money and power have always corrupted the Washington elite, and that “President Trump is now rebreathing the same polluted air that they breathe. ...
“All this being understood we as yet see no good reason to change our minds regarding Mr. Trump’s fitness for office. We still support him and wish him well.”
Mercer Countians by and large don’t delve into such details when discussing national politics.
Customers at the Hometown Cafe said that people tend to express more concern for close-to-home issues such as schools, public safety and jobs created at the Premium Standard Farms hog-processing plant nearby.
Dunavin, a self-described “midwife to sows,” agreed that local matters dominate, and neighbors spend little time going over Trump’s performance.
Her only nit: “I do have an issue with the tweeting. He may need help from his daughter on that.”
Remotely situated along the Iowa border, Mercer ranks among the poorer and lesser populated counties in Missouri. About 98 percent of its residents are white.
Their Facebook critics pointed that out. As attacks mounted, several residents — including Kiera Pollard, a Democrat who shared with The Star her concerns about Trump before the election — posted a impassioned defense of her neighbors and friends.
“Can we please stop being so cruel on both sides and start working together?” she wrote.
Growing up in a place that values hunting (and where city slickers are now flocking in for turkey season), many Mercer Countians hold dear the Second Amendment.
Holt has four AR-15 rifles for sale in his shop. “If Hillary had won, they’d all have been gone by the first of the year,” he said, because gun enthusiasts feared a Clinton administration would impose another ban on assault-style weapons.
Trump’s victory may not help Holt’s business, he said. But count him a supporter in any case.
Even with the tweets? “I like to read them,” Holt said. “The Democratic news media doesn’t like them. But anything they don’t like is something I like.”