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Lexington, Virginia: Where Trump's America and Clinton's America meet

David Kenny talks to the candidate’s supporters in the swing state of Virginia.

David Kenny

LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA, WHERE I currently live, is a small blue dot in a sea of red.

Lexington – a small, prosperous University town – voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in last week’s Presidential election by a two to one ratio.

Rockbridge County – the rural part of southwestern Virginia that surrounds it – voted for Donald Trump by an even greater margin.

Here, Trump’s America and Clinton’s America meet, and it is clear how vast the chasm between them is.

In Lexington, the mood in the aftermath of the election is morose.

“I was in shock,” one Clinton voter told me.

I didn’t expect it. And I’m scared about what it means for our country.

Several Clinton supporters talked seriously about leaving the country.

Meanwhile, Trump campaigners and supporters, like the ones that I spoke to in October for TheJournal.ie, are jubilant.

A local Republican party chairman, having made good on the prediction he made to me then that the campaign would “shock the world” proclaimed he has ”never been this giddy”.

It’s a high that comes from overturning conventional wisdom and expectations, but it’s also genuine excitement about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

“This is something that could turn out to be really wonderful, just like the Reagan era,” Jennifer, a Trump supporter I met a few miles outside of town, told me.

“I’m looking forward to the change that Obama promised and didn’t deliver on,” she said.

And with Trump, when he says he’s going to change things, to make America great again, he’s going to deliver on that promise.

They are unconcerned about speculation that Trump will renege on campaign promises, such as his recent discussion of maintaining certain aspects of Obamacare.

They expect him to do that.

“He’s going to make deals that are smart,” the Republican chairman said.

“He’s a businessman. He knows that you go into a negotiation in one place, and maybe you come out in another. That’s why voters wanted him.”

Some people may get upset if he doesn’t come through on certain promises, Jennifer says, but will come around when they see his results.

“Some people took him too literally. He may not build a literal brick wall, but there will be ‘walls’ in place to protect our borders. Once people see what he’s trying to do – once they see it in play – they will say ‘okay, now I get it’.”

Meanwhile, Clinton voters in Lexington struggle to understand this enthusiasm.

Three separate people told me, despite living in close proximity, they didn’t know a single Trump supporter, and couldn’t understand how anyone could vote for him.

For those who supported Trump, his appeal was not complicated. Trump is different from ordinary politicians. He speaks his mind. He is unfiltered.

“It made people love him,” Jennifer continues.

“They were thinking the same thing. They wanted someone who could say what they were feeling.”

The issues they cared about were mostly the economy and security.

“So many people lost jobs,” she told me. “If you can just bring them back, it will make everything more affordable and easy on everybody. That really resonates with a lot of people.”

“You have to recognise there’s a problem before you can solve a problem,” the Republican chairman said, and Trump spoke about problems that other politicians ignored or dismissed.

“People don’t feel safe” and his ideas about securing the border and using “extreme vetting” for refugees and other immigrants speaks to that concern.

Clinton supporters in Lexington, meanwhile, fear for various groups that they think might suffer under a Trump Presidency: women, Muslims, immigrants, and other minorities.

Trump supporters say these fears are unfounded. “If you actually listen to what he was saying, he wasn’t saying anything bad, he was just saying things in a very rough, raw manner” another female Trump voter told me.

They don’t think Trump will be bad for women. They say he’s not racist or xenophobic, and doesn’t want to stop immigration and acceptance of refugees, but rather just wants certain procedures and rules to control this to keep people safe.

These assurances do little to comfort his detractors.

As to the reaction of anger and even disgust from various media sources, and from their more liberal neighbours, Trump supporters are not surprised – particularly when the result was unexpected – but are unsympathetic.

“In politics, you win and lose,” the Republican chairman says. “They’re going to have to come to grips with it.”

Jennifer says that it’s “really disappointing for people who preach tolerance all the time to become so intolerant… If we’d lost, we’d have moved on, asked ourselves ‘what we can do to win in four years?’ It’s really sad for our society that this has happened.”

His supporters, above all, think that Trump deserves a chance to be judged on his actions as President, not on his campaign rhetoric. Once people see his results – live the change that he will bring – his detractors will come around, they say.

But this division is, perhaps, the inevitable consequence of living in the most polarised political moment in recent American history. For Trump’s opponents, it’s very difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt when they think everything he stands for is fraught with peril, when everything said and done in the campaign has raised rather than abated their fears.

It’s hard to give President Trump a chance when you think, as one of my University colleagues put it, that “this might not be the end of the world but you can certainly see it from here”.

David Kenny is an assistant professor of law at Trinity College Dublin. He is currently a visiting scholar at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

More: An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from the world’s fact-checkers (including TheJournal.ie)

Blind dialling and calls set up by golfers: Diplomacy in the Trump era

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David Kenny

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