America Divided: Heartland Voters Shrug Off Global Uproar Over Immigration Ban
(Reuters) – Many of President Donald Trump’s core political supporters had a simple message on Sunday for the fiercest opponents of his immigration ban: Calm down.
The relaxed reaction among the kind of voters who drove Trump’s historic upset victory — working-class residents of Midwest and the South — provided a striking contrast to the uproar that has gripped major coastal cities, where thousands of protesters flocked to airports where immigrants had been detained.
In the St. Louis suburb of Manchester, Missouri, 72-year-old Jo Ann Tieken characterized the president as bringing reason into an overheated debate.
“Somebody has to stand up, be the grown up, and see what we can do better to check on people coming in,” she said. “I’m all for everybody to stop and take a breath … Just give it a chance.”
By executive order on Friday, Trump banned immigration from seven Muslim majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – and temporarily halted the entry of refugees.
In the electoral strongholds for Trump, residents seemed nonplussed about the uproar flashing across their television screens. They shrugged off concerns about botched execution, damage to foreign relations, and legal challenges across the country.
In New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities, Trump’s action set off an outpouring of anger.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, evoked an image of the Statue of Liberty weeping. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York teared up himself on camera as he seethed over the “mean-spirited and un-American” immigration ban.
Veterans in government agencies, including the Homeland Security and State departments, blasted Trump’s team for what they called slipshod planning and scant interagency communication, criticism the White House rejected.
At airports, security officials also struggled to consistently enforce vague rules.
But allegations of operational or administrative blunders may do little to dampen enthusiasm for a president who rose to power on a populist and protectionist platform, political analysts said.
Louise Ingram, a 69-year-old retiree from Troy, Alabama, said she forgave the new administration a few “glitches,” such as widespread confusion over treatment of green card holders, as it moved to protect U.S. citizens from attacks.
“I’m not opposed to immigrants,” she said. “I just want to make sure they are safe to come in.”
FEAR OF EUROPE
A senior Trump administration official said political considerations had little to do with the executive orders. They rather represent a reaction to the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California; the Boston Marathon bombing; and multiple attacks by radicalized groups in Europe.
“The reality is that the situation that exists today in parts of France, Germany, and parts of Belgium is not a situation that we want replicated inside the United States,” one official told Reuters.
Candace Wheater, a 60-year-old retired school cafeteria worker from Spring Lake, Michigan, also referenced the attacks in Brussels and Paris.
“Look at what’s happening in Europe,” she said. “I don’t dare travel there, out of fear.”
Steve Hirsch, 63, from Manassas, Virginia, drove to Washington’s Dulles airport on Sunday to pick somebody up, rather than to protest as hundreds of others did.
He said he supported Trump’s order. “A country is not a country if it doesn’t have borders,” he added.
He lauded Trump’s actions as a calculated step toward the larger goal of tightening border security.
“He probably went as far as he thought he could,” Hirsch said. “You can’t ban everybody in the world, but I think it’s prudent considering the conditions in certain places in the world.”
FIRM BASE OF SUPPORT
Trent Lott, a former Senate Republican leader from Missouri who is now a lawyer in Washington, D.C., said the orders made sense to “working-class Americans in the real world.”
“Out in the rest of the country, people are excited to see the president moving forward with securing the border,” he said.
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato agreed that the weekend protests over the executive orders would not hurt Trump politically.
“His base is as firm as ever,” he said. “What he’s lost in the very early polls is the Republicans who were never Trumpers and ended up voting for Trump.”
Trump opponents have succeeded in winning some early court decisions that could undermine the practical impact of his executive orders, but Sabato said his base would perceive those as attacks from liberal elites.
Trump could eventually lose support if he fails to keep promises important to regions that supported him, such as delivering jobs to the so-called Rust Belt, the Midwestern states dotted by dying factory towns.
Whatever Trump ultimately accomplishes, his election has ushered in a new extreme of political polarization to an already deeply divided country.
“I just have not found a single person who has any neutrality at all about Donald Trump,” Sabato said.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 40-year-old teacher Trista Carles said she had been ordered to keep her views about Trump out of the classroom.
“We were told to be Switzerland,” she said. “We’re not allowed to take any sides or views.”
She has her own opinions, of course, and said she appreciated that Trump, in his blunt way, gave voice to them “with no sugar-coating.”
“I think it’s just too easy to get into our country and stay illegally,” she said. “I feel like he is going to – to the best of his abilities – make a lot of things he said happen.”
(Reporting by Laila Kearney in New York; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz, Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland and Lacey Ann Johnson in Washington and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Writing by Brian Thevenot; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
IMAGE: Pro-Trump demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ted Soqui