In Rural N.C., Trump Supporters Eagerly Await A Different Kind Of Change

Jan 17, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 10:38 am

All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro is on a road trip leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20. He is driving through North Carolina and Virginia, on the way to Washington, D.C. These are two swing states that went in opposite directions in November, each by a close margin: North Carolina for Trump, Virginia for Hillary Clinton. As the country faces dramatic changes, we're asking people what they want from that change — and what concerns them.

A quarter-century ago, North Carolina's Yadkin County had more than 350 tobacco farms.

Now that number is down to just a few dozen.

Chuck Wooten's farm was among those tobacco farms. It has been in his family for at least five generations. Now, the land sprouts soybeans, pumpkins, strawberries.

Farming's not the only thing that has been in his family a long time, he explains.

"Some people love sports, some people love hunting, some people love fishing. My dad loved politics," Wooten says.

Wooten takes after his dad — and he is excited that Republicans are about to control the U.S. House, Senate and executive branch, and that the guy heading to the Oval Office is not afraid to break things.

"I'm not the person who wants to see the wreck on the side of the road," Wooten says. "But I'm fascinated by the changes that are going to take place."

For example, he says, look at the debate over whether the new president will divest his business interests.

Critics warn that Trump might put his own profits over the good of the country.

"But I don't think they see the other side of the coin," he says. "If his businesses are profiting, my businesses might be profiting. And they look at it so negative. It's not such a bad thing."

The people we met in Yadkin County — which is north of Charlotte, in a rural corner of the state not far from the Virginia border — take pride in being self-sufficient, paddling hard to stay afloat.

A lot of them said that over the past eight years, it feels like the government has been a weight dragging them down. After eight years under President Obama, they are hoping a different kind of change is on the way.

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Our co-host Ari Shapiro is on a road trip leading up to Friday's inauguration. Today he brings us a story from a rural corner of North Carolina. Yadkin County sits due north of Charlotte not far from the Virginia border. It is overwhelmingly white, and it went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. As Ari reports, people there are eagerly anticipating dramatic changes.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Twenty-five years ago, Yadkin County, N.C., had more than 350 tobacco farms. Now that number is down to just a few dozen.

CHUCK WOOTEN: Tobacco was what payed for, you know, the red brick house, the vehicles, my college education, you know, that sort of thing.

SHAPIRO: Chuck Wooten is giving us a tour of his farm. It's been in the family at least five generations. These days, the land sprouts soybeans, pumpkins, even mobile homes. We sit by a fire pit next to the hut where he sells strawberries in the spring, and he explains farming's not the only thing that's been in his family a long time.

WOOTEN: Some people love sports. Some people love hunting. Some people love fishing. My dad loved politics.

SHAPIRO: Wooten takes after his dad, and he's excited. Republicans are about to control the U.S. House, Senate and the executive branch. And the guy heading to the Oval Office is not afraid to break things.

WOOTEN: Oh, yes. I'm not the person that wants to see the wreck on the side of the road, OK, but I am fascinated by the changes that are going to take place.

SHAPIRO: For example, he says, look at the debate over whether the new president will divest his business interests. Critics warn that Trump might put his own profits over the good of the country.

WOOTEN: I don't think they see the other side of the coin. OK, that's great. If his businesses are profiting, that also means my businesses might be profiting. And they look at it so negatively. It's not such a bad thing.

SHAPIRO: The people we met in Yadkin County take pride in being self-sufficient, paddling hard to stay afloat. A lot of them told us that over the last eight years, it feels like the government has been a weight dragging them down.

CONNIE FLESHMAN: Yeah, this is where I live.

SHAPIRO: Connie Fleshman and her husband have owned and operated their flooring shop for 18 years.

FLESHMAN: We don't really bring in any outside employees or installers, just family. So it's just ongoing. It's just - their day never ends.

SHAPIRO: Under the Affordable Care Act, her health insurance payments jumped a thousand dollars a month to $1,700 for their family of five.

FLESHMAN: So I dropped it, and this is the first time in my adult life that I have not had health coverage.

SHAPIRO: What does $1,700 a month mean to you?

FLESHMAN: Thirty percent of my income. That's what it means. And we've worked so hard to get to this point to really start putting away for our retirement, and I just felt that being pulled out from underneath me.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about how it felt the morning after the election.

FLESHMAN: Jeez, (laughter) I'm serious. It was like what I would have thought that it would have been like when World War II was over. When they heard on the radio World War II's over - I'm not kidding. I mean everybody was just out, and they were down at Mount Olympus, eating breakfast and going in and getting coffee. And they're honking the horn, and they're high-fiving and thumbs up and - you know, I mean it was seriously just like a load had been taken off.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And you wanted pancakes?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, Ma'am.

SHAPIRO: Mount Olympus is the family restaurant on the corner where everybody catches up with the local gossip. Ronnie Fletcher is retired from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He's here having breakfast with his nephew. He says there are no strangers here or secrets, for that matter.

RONNIE FLETCHER: Everybody - about everybody knows everyone, or they think they do.

SHAPIRO: He told me he actually has more confidence in the vice president-elect. Mike Pence strikes him as more grounded than Trump, more of a Christian.

FLETCHER: Pence is going to - I think he's going to pull this thing out and get us in the right direction.

SHAPIRO: What is it about Trump that gives you pause?

FLETCHER: He's a big old bully. I don't think Trump thinks about it before he says it.

SHAPIRO: Lots of people here have that reservation. Andy Matthews is a freelance writer sitting just a couple booths over.

ANDY MATTHEWS: I'm hoping that, you know, he will get off Twitter for one thing, I guess you would say, and come up with some serious policy proposals.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you're the first Democrat we've met in Yadkin County.

MATTHEWS: (Laughter) We're something of an endangered species.

SHAPIRO: Democrats here feel the way Republicans felt for the last eight years under President Obama, and some Republicans are frustrated about the way Democrats are handling the setback.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMPACT WRENCH)

SHAPIRO: Anthony Smith has owned an auto repair shop for 30 years. Everybody calls him Inky, which is the name on his mechanic's shirt.

ANTHONY SMITH: They just need to get on board, you know? Use your education, and you know, let's get down to business.

SHAPIRO: Which is what you did when Obama was elected...

SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Which you didn't support.

SMITH: No, I did not vote for him, but you know, I didn't get out and cry and - you know, and run around. I just - I come into work every day, and I start working on cars.

SHAPIRO: Smith has seen life here transform over the decades.

SMITH: Back then, after 8 o'clock, you couldn't even buy a pack of cigarettes or Coca-Cola or anything like that 'cause everything - you know, mom and pop - everything was mom-and-pop stuff.

SHAPIRO: Friends of his who used to make $30 or $40 an hour in manufacturing now earn minimum wage and struggled to make ends meet.

SMITH: If we get the United States, you know - concentrate on the United States first, it'd be just like a lot of financial issues. I think it would - a lot of other things would try to fall in place.

SHAPIRO: Inky Smith is 55 years old, and life has taught him that change is inevitable. He's just hoping that now after eight years of Obama, a different kind of change is on the way.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

That's our co-host Ari Shapiro in Yadkin County, N.C. His road trip continues tomorrow - Blacksburg, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.