Talking to Americans — about Donald Trump

Last week, I met a family of Trump supporters on Manitoulin Island. What they had to say was fascinating
By Steve Paikin - Published on Aug 21, 2019
Donald Trump
In a survey published before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a vast majority of Canadians said they preferred Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. (CJ Gunther/EPA/CP)

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If memory serves, when Canadians were polled as to how they would have voted in the last United States presidential election, something like 85 to 90 per cent of respondents indicated that they would’ve checked their ballot for Hillary Clinton. Even Canadian conservatives would’ve chosen the former secretary of state and First Lady over the Republican nominee.

I suspect not much has happened over the past two and a half years to alter that count significantly — which means it’s been pretty tough to find many people in these parts who will tell you what a great president Donald Trump has been.

So it was with particular interest that I had a most fascinating conversation at the marina in Kagawong, Manitoulin Island, last week with three visitors from rural Michigan (husband, wife, and twentysomething daughter), all of whom voted for Trump in 2016 and say they’ll happily do so again in 2020.

Naturally, I wanted to know why they felt this way. (What follows is quoted from memory.)

“What are the things he’s accomplished that you support?” I asked.

The husband’s immediate response: “China. I love how he’s sticking it to China. I know the tariffs will hurt us, but it has to be done.” The man, who owns and operates a small business, was prepared to bite the economic bullet to demonstrate that Americans were sick of China’s cheating on trade.

“Okay, what else?” I asked.

“The economy is doing well,” he said.

“Are you not persuaded by those who say the economy is doing well because he’s borrowed a trillion dollars this year to give it a sugar high?” I asked.

He allowed for the possibility that this was true but said it didn’t fuss him too much. When I expressed a little surprise that he, a conservative, didn’t seem to care too much about deficits and reminded him that all that debt was going to have to be paid back someday — likely by his daughter’s generation, in the form of future tax increases — he got quieter.

But he wasn’t finished praising Trump.

“The Supreme Court appointments were good,” he added. “And he’s not a socialist.”

What did that mean?

“It means look at all the Democrats running for president. Most of ’em want to eliminate private health care and have the government run everything. That’s crazy! That’s socialism!”

I couldn’t resist the next question. “How many guns do you own?”

He paused before answering. He told me that he’d had this conversation with Canadians before and that he knew the answer might raise some eyebrows among those who were now gathering to listen to our chat.

“Four,” he said. “Three hunting rifles and a handgun. And Trump is strong on gun-owners’ rights.”

I raised the issue of mass shootings, which now seem to be a daily feature of American life.

“I agree with you there,” he said. “There’s no need for any private citizen to own an AR-15 rifle. That’s just wrong.”

Then our American guests added that the president’s firm stance on abortion was another tick in the pro column. “The Democrats want abortion on demand,” he said. “That’s totally unacceptable to us.”

After about 20 minutes of some good discussion on the issues, I raised one last thing: “Your president says and does things that most Canadians think are just nuts,” I said. “His conduct is often disgraceful. Does that not bother you at all?”

All three family members smiled.

“Yes, he does incredibly stupid things,” the man said. “And I wish to hell he’d stay off Twitter. But that’s just him. I’m prepared to overlook all those things because I think he’s on the right track when it comes to the policies we care about.”

When this impromptu conversation ended, we all shook hands, wished one another well, and went our separate ways. I reminded our American guests that their money was worth 30 per cent more in Canada. “So please spend to your heart’s content,” I said. “You can buy a lot more up here.”

I confess that I loved the interaction (occupational hazard, I guess). It was an intense but civil exchange. And I couldn’t help but think that I wished more people everywhere would engage in frank conversations instead of personal attacks. Our level of mutual understanding seemed to go up in direct proportion to the lack of viciousness in our talk.

Something to aspire to, I suppose.

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