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'He'd still win if the election were today' - 100 days in, Dublin, California, adjusts to Trump's 'new normal'

TheJournal.ie revisited our capital’s namesake, population 50,000, in mid-west California.

Campaign 2016 Trump Source: Evan Vucci

LAST OCTOBER, LESS than two weeks prior to America’s presidential election, TheJournal.ie spoke with residents of Dublin, California, a small town with a population of 50,000, as to what the election, one of the most divisive in history, meant for them.

It would be hard to argue that California itself was divided on the issue of Trump versus Clinton. The most liberal state of them all, the Golden State had been a shoo-in for the Democratic candidate from the get-go, to the extent that neither candidate even bothered campaigning there to any extent.

Dublin itself, considering the overall left-leaning nature of its parent state, has a reasonable representation of Republicans – the third highest of any region in its county (Alameda).

That didn’t stop Alameda County plumping for Clinton with a whopping 79.3% of the vote – versus just 14.9% for Trump.

But now the Trump administration has been in place for 100 days. The world feels like a different place to what it had been prior to 20 January. Russia, the travel ban, Sean Spicer – words, names, and phrases that have become part of the popular lexicon in just over three months. And there are many more.

dublin

From this side of the Atlantic, Trump’s first 100 appears to have been the most relentlessly loud, divisive, and downright angry century of days imaginable. But how have they been for the people of Dublin?

Shy voters

“The Republicans in Dublin have gone awfully quiet,” says Brian Petoletti, a 53-year-old independent who voted for Clinton. The result of the election proved a shock for him – he had expected his candidate to win, and win heavily.

Brian may be more right than he knows about Dublin’s Republicans. In October, we struggled to find anyone who would speak to us in the town who was voting for Trump, or at least who would acknowledge doing so. Six months later, that task proved even more difficult again.

“The single biggest thing was everyone behind him had been going on about how great things were going to be,” he says. “Now you could hear a pin drop. No one’s on social media, no one has a comment. And he’s flip-flopped on so many things. He hasn’t been effective in any way. I feel like throwing out a fish hook, you know? ‘Hey, we can’t hear a word from you guys now, where are you?’”

Petoletti sees the country as “kind of being on hold now for four years”.

That’s not something that Dublin council member Abe Gupta would agree with.

“It’s a bit more complicated than saying let’s wait for four years. A lot of people were waiting for the world to end, and well, that didn’t happen did it?” he says.

Prior to the election, Gupta (another registered independent) told us that the polls (which at that time were predicting a clear Clinton victory) should be taken “with a pinch of salt”.

brian Brian Petoletti

“The reason I said that is people are often scared to tell you how they feel, they give the answer they think people want to hear.”

“The sense I had was that there are things going on in the world that people don’t like. It’s not even an American thing, you can see it with Brexit, the French election. Folks are saying, ‘we’re not sure what we want, but this isn’t it’.”

For this reason, Gupta reckons that Trump would still win if the election were held today.

If it were held today he’d still win, I feel. Those were big forces that got him where he is. They haven’t gone away.
It was a ‘none of the above’ kind of vote. What we’re seeing now is disruptive politics, people saying ‘let’s try something different’.

Entertaining?

“You know, he hasn’t been as bad as I thought he would be,” says 28-year-old Steven*, a wine worker in nearby Livermore who also spoke to us in October. “That doesn’t mean he has been great by any means but rather all the awful things he said he wanted to do during the campaign are turning out to be harder to implement than he thought.”

Perhaps Trump’s way of doing things is the ‘new normal’ we suggest?

“I believe that Donald Trump has been the norm for quite a while now it just took his election for a lot of people to realise it,” he says.

If Bob Dylan was the 60s in America, Trump is the politics-as-entertainment culture of this decade.

Campaign 2016 Trump Source: Evan Vucci

So is the president entertaining? Certainly, a huge amount of coverage of him has been of the ‘distractions’ that emanate daily from the White House – twitter spats, comical gaffes. Sean Spicer’s daily press briefings are now streamed live, something unthinkable in previous administrations. And it isn’t because of Spicer’s eloquence. People expect something off-the-wall to happen. And it frequently does.

“I find moments of his behaviour entertaining but I really shouldn’t,” is Steven’s take.

It’s kind of like driving by a car crash or something, you shouldn’t look but you do and then you hate yourself after. I did enjoy all the pictures of him aping about in that truck at the White House. Mostly because the Obamacare repeal failure was happening as he did that.

“At the end of the day, the hardest thing is communicating with your constituents,” says Gupta. “With this Trump has tapped into something powerful. He will rewrite the rules for how politicians communicate.”

We televise our Congress. I would rather get my wisdom teeth out than watch it, it’s excruciatingly boring. Like him or not, Donald Trump is entertaining.
It may bring out the worst emotions, but it is entertaining.

“Other presidents have been Harvard law graduates, very eloquent, they use big words. But that’s not America. And Trump knows that.”

Travel Ban

A recurring theme of the 100 days has been Trump’s struggles with legislation. His Obamacare repeal failed. He’s struggling to bring about his signature promise of a Mexico border wall. And he’s had not one, but two, travel bans stalled by the courts.

The ban in particular upset Brian Petoletti.  He takes a deep breath when the subject is raised.

Abe Abe Gupta Source: Arounddublinblog.com

“I was just lost for words by it, as to how he thought it would be effective policy in any way,” he says. “If he listened to the pulse of the American people, people are more concerned with terrorists that are already here, of people being radicalised here.

The premise is just wrong, it’s Constitutionally wrong.

“It was particularly disheartening,” agrees Steven. “As cliché as it sounds, it’s just not who we are as a people.”

It was embarrassing and shameful, and the only glimmer of hope was the fact that people showed up in their thousands to protest at airports.

One thing Steven says has “sickened” him however, is Trump’s aggressive foreign policy manoeuvres, including the dropping of the largest non-nuclear bomb in world history on Afghanistan.

“The general celebration happening around the use of these bombs, and the missiles launched at Syria, and the associated loss of life has really sickened me. Even if these weapons did land on some real assholes it’s still a tragedy that it had to happen.”

However, he sees those moves as a) more to do with “Trump giving more leeway to the military and the military taking the opportunity to play with its toys”, and b) “to be frank, I could see Clinton making many of the same moves”.

What about a subject dear to many Californians’ hearts – climate change. Trump’s moves to curb the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as his championing the likes of coal and oil, are well-documented.

Gupta doesn’t see it as a cause for concern. “How much could he, or really any president, actually do?” he asks.

I think people need to stop thinking that the world is going to end. As long as what drives California is strong, as long as he doesn’t come in and muck things up, I don’t see his approach to climate change being a pro or a con.

Trump campaigns in Raleigh Trump supporters at a rally in north Carolina, the day before he was elected president last November Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The economy, stupid

Petoletti agrees. “I wouldn’t say his approach is dangerous, I’d say it’s ineffective.”

“At the end of the day, he’s like a salmon swimming upstream. We’re not going to turn around here and start burning coal. You gotta wonder how informed he is.”

He could’ve been a hero if he’d recognised the science. I think there’s a lot more jobs in green than in coal.

Given the high-profile failures of the first 100 days, the average Irish person might consider that Trump is doing badly. But there are two other factors. Trump has far from lost his base – it still very much believes in him, for now at any rate. The second is that the American economy remains resurgent. And that matters. Our interviewees can see some grounds for optimism.

“(Neil) Gorsuch being nominated to the Supreme Court was ok,” says Brian. “He’s highly qualified and we need a full Supreme Court. And regulation is something he (Trump) could get consensus on. But the way things began just alienated everyone. Winning is not everything, you need to win well, be mannerly.”

“Look, the presidency is a huge ship, but a small rudder,” says Abe Gupta. “This isn’t a king we’re dealing with. In reality there is a very strong limit to how much you actually can do.”

Trump’s tweeting, the way he does it, that’s not great for sure. But it’s hard to judge an unconventional leader by conventional metrics.
The tech industry here in California was strongly opposed to Trump. But the reality is tech has done extremely well under him. A lot of how people feel is tied to the stock market. And it’s doing well.
And he has achieved one other thing: the notion that you need to pick one party, one way of thinking, that’s disappearing. It’s happening in France too. People are saying ‘well I like that, but I don’t like that’. It’s the case with Trump. Because anyone who says he is a Republican, well I would very much question how they think that is the case. He has feet in both camps, and both ways of thinking.

Wine-worker Steven is less sure about the American economic renaissance.

“I think a good amount of the stock market growth is based on the assumption that he will be able to rewrite the tax code,” he says. “Personally, I see the economy deflating if he goes through with withdrawing from Nafta (the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump’s current bugbear of choice).”

The wine industry in California’s largest export destination is Canada. A withdrawal from Nafta would significantly affect sales, and, from that, profits. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how interconnected trade is between us, Canada, and Mexico.

So, after 100 days it seems Trump’s report card is a long way from being stamped. And that his international reputation doesn’t necessarily reflect the feelings of middle America.

Given the man’s inherent unpredictability, nothing is certain. But if the next hundred days are anything like the first, who knows what conversation the world will be having in three months’ time.

* Steven, a pseudonym, has asked not to be made identifiable

Read: What words does President Donald Trump most like to tweet?

Read: Trouble for Le Pen as her replacement steps aside amid allegations of Holocaust denial

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