Tildy Vintner lost her job as a coal chute lubricator in May, but that hasn’t changed her faith in Donald Trump.
“He’s white, like me,” Tildy says, in between visits to customers at her new place of work, Jimmy’s Pancake Shack. “I don’t like people who aren’t white, and neither does my President.”
Most everyone seems to agree here in the little Appalachian town of Bilgewater. On a muggy summer Saturday, serenaded by the rattle of cicadas and the rumble of distant combines, you can watch kids with skinned knees ride rusted bicycles down Main Street, past clapboard houses and the chained link fence around the tire yard. On rickety wooden porches, built before the Great Depression, men with robust bellies rest on rocking chairs and talk about the “Good old days,” while nearby their wives hang klan hoods on the clothesline to dry.
“I voted for that Arab fella last time,” says Stenny Feltman, who at age 83 still maintains the same gravel farm his great-great-grandfather took by eradicating a tribe of Native Americans. “I didn’t trust that Mormon, and my grandson told me if I elected a half-Black, then the liberals would have to stop making everything about race.”
Stenny sips coffee from a mug that reads THE HOLOCAUST WAS A GOOD START. Across the breakfast table, Burt Huebner scrolls through his Twitter feed on his iPhone.
Burt, who lost his job scraping septic tanks just a month ago, just surpassed four hundred thousand followers. He doesn’t make any money from his Twitter following, but he makes ends meet “living off the state.”
“I reply to every tweet from the President,” says Burt, “to tell him what a good job he’s doing. I have fifty, sixty memes, I guess. I like to use them. Also news stories, anything I read on Breitbart, Daily Caller, Fox News. I post all them. Only sites I read. You can’t trust the media, you know.”
When asked about his political affiliation, Burt laughs and says he doesn’t have one. “I consider the facts and draw my own conclusions.”
Pushed for examples, he cites the “false flag” of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.
“Hillary and Podesta ate them kids,” Burt says. “Spirit Cooking. Everybody knows it, but the media just wants to cover for Hillary.”
Life in Bilgewater harkens back to a simpler time. On the town’s largest intersection, two blonde girls in pigtails have assembled a lemonade stand. Their handpainted sign reads “FORTEEN OZ FOR 88 CENTS.” A customer complements their matching dresses, and they politely inform him the specific shade is called Prussian Blue.
Through Burt Huebner’s Twitter feed, I meet Tyler Pass, captain of the local school’s football team. Tyler is well over six feet tall, gets straight A’s, and expects to go to college on a full scholarship, “if they don’t give it away for Affirmative Action instead.” He spends his Saturday working out, doing bench-presses and curls on rusty equipment in his back yard. The tattoos on his shoulders contort as his muscles flex: one an Iron Cross, the other a banner emblazoned with the words “DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN MY TOWN.”
His phone, never more than an arm’s length away, chirps rhythmically.
“Reddit,” he says, laughing as he holds it up to display a meme. “You need to find places like this online, where it’s still safe to be straight and white.”
Unprompted, he goes into an explanation of the Civil War. “Abraham Lincoln was a Black,” he says. He pauses before the word ‘Black,’ his eyes narrowing as he decides which word to use. “Won’t read that in any government-approved history book. He invented Welfare, though. That was always the plan, quit working and live off hard-working whites.”
Asked what his family does for a living, Tyler explains that his father has been on disability since a cow kicked him in 1987.
“We need to get back to what made this country great,” Tyler tells me. “I didn’t get to vote Trump last time, but I will in 2020, and hopefully again after that.”
Everyone in Bilgewater agrees that Trump should be President for life. “I don’t care if we all lose our jobs,” says Stenny. “He promised to hurt brown people, and that’s all I need to hear.”
Most cite economic anxiety as their top motive for their vote. “Economically anxious,” Tyler tells me. “That’s what we are. All the Blacks and Mexicans, they want to take our jobs and then collect welfare from out of our paychecks.”
It’s true that Bilgewater’s main employers have all closed in the last nine months: The coal chute factory, the offal distributor, even the jaw-harp factory that relocated in September to Bangladesh. It’s true unemployment in town nears seventy percent, but few of the resident seemed bothered.
“He’s turned the economy around,” Burt tells me. “Deporting all them freeloaders from El Salvador? They’re not stealing my hard-earned money any more.”
What about the threat of nuclear war?
“They’re only gonna bomb them illegals in Jew York City,” says Tildy. “And hell, even if there is a nuclear winter and we all got to resort to cannibalism, all that matters here is that he’s making them immigrants suffer.”
That elicits a cheer from the collective crowd at Jimmy’s. A man near the back, who won’t identify himself, shouts “I’ll lose my house, lose my job, watch my whole family starve, as long as I know the Mexicans are getting it worse.”
As the sun begins to set on Bilgewater, and those men on their porches fetch their shotguns and watch the streets, conversation turns to the new postal delivery person, who “looks Oriental.”
Asked for my opinion, this reporter declines to answer. My face must have revealed my distaste, because Burt Huebner is moved to comment.
“See, you East Coast elites think you’re so much better than us,” he says. “You’re always so rude. That’s why Hillary lost.”