It would seem there that there is a big Pyongyang problem in the middle of America.
When CNN’s Ivan Watson visited Pyongyang over the summer, he complained that he hadn’t had “a single ‘real’ conversation with a North Korean due to immense government paranoia.” His Instagram pictures of literature, buildings and artwork all tell a story of an infallible protagonist: In North Korea, Kim Jong-un, his father and his grandfather are the only three heads of state the country has ever had. They have held absolute rule over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) since its inception in 1945. Perhaps their most potent weapon of control is the media. Despite freedom of the press and speech being enshrined in the DPRK constitution, all journalists are members of the ruling Workers’ Party, and most of the media landscape is dedicated to the upkeep of the supreme leader’s cult of personality.
In America, we like to joke that North Koreans may actually believe that Kim Jong-un can stop the rain and make the sun come out, because, as citizens of the United States, we have actual freedoms safeguarded by the Constitution. Yet somehow the belief that a leader can do no wrong seemingly exists among the supporters of President Donald Trump. Are the unwavering 30% plus of Americans who give their vote of confidence to Trump victims of Fox News, Alex Jones and Breitbart propaganda? Or are they afflicted with something else?
I’m Not Going to Blame Him
The answer to this question must lie in the minds of Trump supporters themselves. Michael Kruse spent November 2016 in Pennsylvania interviewing Trump voters for Politico following the election. When he returned to see what the triumphant supporters thought about their candidate a year later, his findings were not as shocking as they were disturbing. Take Pam Schilling, the daughter of coal miners, whose life poignantly represents the plight of this region: once a victim of low wages, now 60, retired and the mother of a son who died of a heroin overdose in April. If anyone knows about how bad things have been in Appalachia, she does. Shilling expressed that things hadn’t changed; if anything, they’d gotten worse. But, when Kruse asked her what would happen if the rest of Trump’s presidency runs in the same vein as this past year, she responded, “I’m not going to blame him. Absolutely not.”
Kruse followed by asking if anything could change her mind about Trump? “Nope,” was Shilling’s definitive answer.
He found the same answer again and again in the small Western Pennsylvania municipality of Johnstown. Joey Del Signore, a 61-year-old local, told Kruse just after the election that the newly elected president had six-months to a year to fulfill his campaign promises. Upon Kruse’s return, Del Signore had not only moved this deadline — it had disappeared altogether.
“Everybody I talk to,” Del Signore said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend like the last president did.” When Kruse informed him that President Trump actually golfs more than Obama did, and by a lot, Del Signore quickly changed the subject.
As Kruse visited house after house, going down the list of unaccomplished promises — a failed Obamacare repeal, the unbuilt wall with Mexico, the continued opioid epidemic, the still-empty steel mills and coal mines — there was an unnerving answer that kept surfacing: “I like him.” Someone added, “Because he does what he says.” It would seem that there is a big Pyongyang problem in the middle of America.
Racist in America
Granted, descriptions of Central Appalachia today don’t sound very much like America. The region, bordering Virginia, made-up of land in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and parts of Western Pennsylvania, is the front line in an opioid crisis, declared a public health emergency by Trump in October. The heart of coal country has been rotted by the loss of jobs and a pharmaceutical industry that lied about just how addictive prescription drugs can be. People can’t take on all the blame for a system that fined companies a few million dollars for misleading information, while these same companies made billions hooking Americans on heroin-like substances. Addicted to legal highs, they can hardly be blamed for moving onto heroin once prescription drugs became too expensive. Nor can they be blamed for the coal industry’s downturn. But all this is not why they voted for Donald Trump. What Kruse discovered was the real impetus that drove the 2016 election, much the way that Christopher Columbus discovered America.
One factor surfaced time and again in the interviews, more often than a love of Trump. During the reporter’s conversation with Del Signore, the NFL protest against America’s treatment of black people came up. Del Signore went on to explain how equality must be earned, the way his Italian ancestors earned it. He had to stop himself from saying that they don’t deserve equality because of their race. The stern daughter of coal country, Pam Schilling, ended her interview agreeing with her husband that the NFL stood for: “Niggers For Life.”
An American National Election Association study found that racial animus was the number one predictor of whether or not someone voted for Trump. Economic anxiety was in fact a low predictor, even among white voters. For those who see Trump as a leader being carried by the disadvantaged, “brainwashed” millions, think again.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the problem was that Fox News had morphed minds of old conservatives, or that of the underdogs reaching out for help? If the issue was a rational voter problem, that would be something we can understand and address. But, unlike in North Korea, where all information is tightly controlled and all dissent is met with incarceration and sometimes death, people in Wilmington, Enid or Johnstown can turn Fox off. They can disagree with the things the leader of their country says or does. They can opine on policy. When you compare the desolation that both North Korean and Rust Belt residents have seen, it’s hard not to see the power and appeal of a supreme savior. But the difference between the North Koreans and those in the US Rust Belt is that one requires the complete control of the means of information and all aspects of life to create conformity. The other doesn’t really care about any of that; they’re just happy the black man is finally out of the White House.
Is everyone who voted for Trump racist? Not necessarily. But if you chose to vote for the candidate who began his political career by questioning the first black president’s birthplace, at the very least you made being racist in America easier.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.