I work in the former industrial heartland of America in operations management for an iconic American brand owned now by a multinational, European-headquartered company. About a year ago, we were informed that our plant and city would host the yearly operations conference and achievement awards for the division to which we belong.
Three hundred executive-level guests from all over the world, Asia, South America, and Europe would descend upon the aging brownfield facility we had turned into a state-of-the-art manufacturing showplace. I am proud of this place, and was thrilled at the news. Just five years ago, I was down in Mexico planning the logistics for the plant that was slated to replace ours by the early 2020s. Through hard work and lean methodologies, however, we rejected that fate—and with a unionized workforce.
The world was now coming to us to figure out our recipe. There was just one problem: The conference was scheduled for November 9 and 10, 2016. I begged and pleaded with my Western European colleagues and superiors, “Can’t we do this a week earlier? A month later or earlier?” I held back on the reason for my hesitation, but finally was forced to admit it, “The U.S. presidential election is scheduled for that week—and you know politics doesn’t always make for a great backdrop.” They told me the date was impossible to move, so I threw myself into the prep work.
How Europeans Helped Me Love Donald Trump
A thousand moves on the chess board have occurred since late third quarter 2015. The Democratic Party put in the fix for Hillary. The Republican Party could not offer up a candidate to best Donald Trump. My favorite, Rand Paul, bowed out way too early. As the Republican Party coalesced around Trump, I found myself at a conference in Southern Germany. I was not pleased with Trump as the choice.
“Of all the people in the United States, he was the best the Right could do?” I thought. “How can I in good conscience vote for this joker?” Around drinks one night that week, my European colleagues began to “jammer.” “What a joke—can you imagine Trump standing at a podium next to Merkel?” “Have the Americans gone mad?” “He’s an entertainer. He will ruin the USA.” “They were finally on the right track with Obama.”
I kept my mouth shut, but on that very terrace looking out on a valley in the Schwarzwald drinking a Hefeweizen, surrounded by posh European men wearing scarves in warm weather with pants tight enough to ensure they could never procreate, my mind embraced Trump. If the elite Europeans despise him so much, and especially executives that run a company that caters to providing status symbols to the elite, he must be what America needs, I thought.
My conscience no longer bothered me, even though that man is the same who has said he’s felt no need to ask God for forgiveness—a statement completely antithetical to the faith I confess.
Then Election Day Came
November arrived. Imagine a car from the 1930s fully restored, but with a modern powertrain and modern safety features. Our facility is the manufacturing equivalent to that, and we shined and spit-polished it for the industrial equivalent of the Concurs d’Elegance. We were fully prepared for the scrutiny of any executive within our company.
The buses took our visitors from the airport and hotel to the plant for pre-event tours on the day of the election. The Asians and South Americans had little to say about our vote. The Europeans could be heard whispering, “Are there any reports? Surely Hillary will win.” Later that night at the hotel bar, at least 100 Europeans were fixed to the TVs—not the hockey game I was watching, but watching the states one after another fall red.
The assembled made statements about Americans’ stupidity, our lack of sense, our ignorance, our inability to progress. I was quietly jubilant. A colleague from North Carolina slapped me on the back and said, “It’s gonna happen!” He also told the German down the bar that he was a redneck and damn proud of it.
The same self-professed redneck also asked me if we should worry about riots. I said no. Being from this area, I knew the local population in no way found Hillary riot-worthy. The coasts are nice for lightweight rioters like that. In this city, you have to get up and work at a factory in the morning. It would take something more than the political loss of a condescending bougie white Baby Boomer to cause any trouble here.
They All Had a Hangover
In the morning, the smoke cleared. The breakfast food for our guests replenished the electrolytes they badly needed to shake hangovers, but not even a full Midwestern American breakfast could fill the hole Trump’s win left in the European psyche. The conference and setting were awesome, the topics interesting, but disbelief gripped the Europeans. How could the Americans get it so wrong?
I did my best to explain in two languages, and I kept it at a level that executives and kindergartners could understand: 1. The cities went with Hillary, but the Democratic Party and media is so completely out of touch with the people outside of the cities that the pollsters missed she never had a chance. 2. A large portion of the United States has a cultural identity that believes in subsidiarity rather than centralization.
It still made no sense to them, but when your whole life is built on global trade, I guess I can understand their fear. Yet I was completely unnerved at their deep interest in our political process and choices. Would we react in a similar way if the Social Democratic Party in Germany won the majority of votes and unseated Chancellor Angela Merkel? Would our biggest magazines make that the cover? Although media coverage was significant, was Brexit more than a one- or two-day story in the United States?
I sent two of our most talented people to pick our guest of honor, a board member and head of our division, up from his private plane. He glossed over them, thinking them hired drivers (as if I could find multilingual chauffeurs with advanced degrees in international business to drive company cars anywhere). When he arrived, he also began to complain about our ridiculous presidential choice.
Overhearing him, I got the impression he had met Trump. In his keynote speech following, he began by addressing the crowd with these words, tinged with irony and disdain: “You have all heard the results—but the sun still rose this morning.” I immediately texted my boss, with whom I shared a secret support of Trump: “And it was somehow brighter and the air smelled like freedom.”
Then I Hung Out with Flyover Americans
Sunday is truly a day of rest, and I needed one for body and soul. After the Divine Service in our small Lutheran congregation in the most rural place I could find to live within commuting distance to the city and factory I love, we gathered for coffee and treats in the basement. I grabbed a slice of homemade apple pie and settled in the corner with the older men, mostly farmers, who were jubilant.
Many joyful things were said about Hillary’s defeat and Trump’s success. For my rural fathers in the faith and spiritual grandparents to my children, the win was anything but improbable—his outcome was never in doubt for them. “I guess we showed the elites and all those in the centers of power who want to turn America into Europe what we damned stupid farmers can do when we want to,” they essentially said.
Watching 70- and 80-year-olds high-fiving one another had me laughing. Seeing their pride restored because they had struck a blow to restore the American identity also made me cry a bit, too.