They're wearing masks in coal country, and no trashing Biden signs

In Pennsylvania’s ‘Trump Country’ Signs Say Enthusiasm for the President Has Faded

Trump and Clinton signs didn’t last long near each other in 2016, but they seem to co-exist even in former Trumpland regions this election season.


Fishs Eddy, NYDriving from Philadelphia to our summer home in the Catskill Mountains region of upstate New York, my wife and I normally leave Interstate I-81 at the old coal-mining and railway center of Scranton, and head off on a meandering route on secondary roads through hill country passing farms, woods and smaller towns with names like Carbondale and Forest City and that grew up around now played out or uneconomical anthracite coal mines. It’s a much nicer drive, with no truck traffic. Once one leaves behind the huge, nearly treeless man-made mountains of coal mining slag left behind after the coal industry abandoned the region, it’s beautiful country, but its mostly white working-class population is poor and struggling, and has been for generations.

I remember traveling those pot-holed and cracked roads in the summer and fall of 2016 and seeing not just a sea of Trump signs and no signs for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but also a number of big black-and-white lawn signs saying “Lock her up!”  This was all angry and in-your-face Trump country back then, with a lot of hate on display for Democrats and especially for Clinton. Indeed, this region’s voters contributed to Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss that year of the normally “blue” state of Pennsylvania — a 0.72% loss which handed victory in the national election to Trump by a margin of 0.72 percent loss which handed Trump PA’s 20 electoral votes and victory in the national election, though not in the total national popular vote.

This presidential election, things look a lot different in this part of Trump Country.

Driving our usual route from Scranton to our place in Fishs Eddy, NY now as Nov. 3 approaches, we still see Trump signs in some yards, but I only counted about 20 of them in the course of a 40-mile drive, including along the main streets of the towns. We also noticed a few prominently placed Biden and Biden/Harris signs. This means that unlike in 2016, not only are supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate this year willing to publicly advertise their preference, but while some places in the country have experienced thefts and destruction of political signs, Biden signs are not apparently being stolen or defaced at night in rural northeast Pennsylvania.  There were also no anti-Biden signs as there were for Clinton four years earlier.

I confess, I was nervous when my wife and I made this first foray since the Pandemic hit from our home in exurban Upper Dublin outside Philadelphia up to Fishs Eddy, the town near the Pennsylvania/New York border where we have for 36 years owned a former little church and rectory purchased as a “fixer-upper” in 1984 for less than $20,000, and that we have spent the decades since trying to repair and rescue from collapse. I worried that the largely Republican population in that region might be listening to Donald Trump and ignoring basic safety precautions to minimize the risk of Covid-19 contagion, given Trump’s aggressive dismissal of mask wearing and social distancing guidelines.

So I was pleasantly surprised, on stopping for supplies at Bisbee’s, the local family-owned hardware store in neighboring Hancock, NY, just across the bridge from Pennsylvania, to find everyone — staff and customers — wearing serious masks.  A local Sunoco minimart with a counter and two adjacent tables with benches to seat four customers each had one table taped off with a sign saying “Covid rules.” And at the popular local eatery, the Circle E Diner in Hancock, masks were ubiquitous and required.

Interestingly, the village of Fishs Eddy, a little settlement with a zip code of its own but only one business and employer — a family-owned sawmill — has to date not reported a single case of Coronavirus infection. According to a state Covid-19 dashboard, even the much larger Delaware County in which the town is situated and that includes the entire watershed of the Delaware River’s headwaters, has only recorded about 100 cases and four deaths. One might think that under such circumstances, especially in a region where virtually all local elected officials are Republican, often running for office without a Democratic opponent, there would be a lot of folks calling the Pandemic a hoax and being critics of Covid-19 safety rules. In fact, people up here seem to be taking it all deadly seriously.

That behavior in itself all represents a huge shift in the political climate in a very important part of a state that the Trump campaign knows it has to win if Trump is to be returned to the White House.

All this leads me to make a bold prediction…


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