Trump’s America: Inside and Outside the Beltway

By Alison Kuznitz, Penn State University

Julie Pace, the Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press, would argue that there’s a level of sophistication surrounding President Donald J. Trump’s most loyal followers.

Instead of being swayed by his early morning tweets or vulgar audiotapes, they assess the “totality” of the nation’s 45th president, Pace said.

“Trump has proved to be so Teflon to so many political norms,” Pace said. “People just put him in a different category because of all these things they knew about him prior to his presidency.”

Journalists are still attempting to decipher the so-called Trump phenomena, taking deep dives following the 2016 presidential election into communities across the country that flipped from blue to red.

Four Associated Press panelists discussed their insights gained from infusing local color and information into the “Washington bubble” during a session called “Trump’s America: Inside and Outside the Beltway” at the 2017 News Leadership Conference Tuesday morning.

Claire Galofaro, an administrative correspondent for the AP’s Appalachia bureau, said the American people were looking for change — and are still holding out hope now that they elected Trump.

“This is one sort of last grand attempt to do something different,” Galofaro said. “If that doesn’t bring the renaissance they were hoping for, then they might just take a step away from civic engagement altogether.”

As Errin Whack, a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team, explained it, Trump’s message resonated powerfully in small-town America because he gave a voice to seemingly forgotten communities.

“That made them feel, whether real or imagined, that they were heard — and they had not felt heard in a long time,” Whack said.

But in the areas that voted blue and don’t agree with the Trump administration’s tactics, the push for civic engagement is highly visible. Beyond increased voter participation, Whack said, more and more citizens are thinking about running for office.

“They don’t have much expectations for the federal government and are waiting for their local government to stand in the breach,” Whack said.

To get an accurate pulse on the nation — specifically how policies are perceived on a hyperlocal scale — the AP continues to send its reporters to the front lines, attacking timely issues including climate change, immigration and the heroin epidemic.

Martha Irvine, an AP national writer and multiplatform journalist, said America is more divided than ever. She mentioned that her own Michigan hometown is now unrecognizable, as the distinction grows starker between the middle class and those in “deep, deep” poverty.

Yet, she said, Trump’s base is still willing to talk to the mainstream media, offering glimpses into their firm beliefs.

“Overall, we’ve been received pretty well, especially when we’re there in person,” Irvine said. “We become real people to them, and they’ve been pretty amazingly open.”

Oftentimes, in interviews conducted in those sources’ homes, Fox News plays in the background. The sight of newspapers strewn across coffee tables, Galofaro said, is rare.

“Everything short of Fox is hard for people to trust,” she said.

Alison Kuznitz is a junior at Penn State University.

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