Monty Wheeler stands under a glowing bluish cross with his eyes closed and his head bowed as he and his congregation pray for the president. An “Amen” goes through the church. Their door is locked for fear of armed assassins.
If you want to go to Roberts County in Texas, you drive five hours northwest from Dallas until the streets get smaller and the cars get bigger. The district is almost as big as the Saarland, less than 1000 people have lived here for generations, mainly from cattle breeding and gas deposits. And day after day, the Texan sun drives the dramatic Wild West Canyon from even the coolest night.
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Trump fans: “We prayed he would recover”
But since 2016 there is still something. In the presidential election, around 95 percent of voters voted for Donald Trump – more than anywhere else in the United States. Roberts County became known nationwide and camera crews stormed its only village, Miami, in search of Trump fans. The place is the opposite of Miami in Florida. If a freight train is not rattling through, there is a standstill on Sunday. The only café is closed, so is the small supermarket, the school anyway. Only four churches are very busy.
“Come on in,” says a woman standing in the white-painted side entrance of the Baptist Church. Dianne Wheeler smiles. Under her cardigan she wears a yellow T-shirt with the inscription reminiscent of the parable of the lost sheep. Inside, her husband Monty stands under the blue cross and calls to God about the President, who is sick with Covid-19: “We pray that he recovers. That you strengthen his body”. 45 people sit in front of the dean. A few children, many old people. They hugged or shook hands as a greeting, nobody wears a mask. They hope the seclusion will protect them from Corona. There were already at least eleven infected people in Roberts County. Most recently the door of the bank branch was wide open for days – for ventilation. An employee was caught.
With tears in her eyes, Trump voters want stricter abortion rights
The adults also sit close together at the Bible study group in the side room of the church. Coffee steams out of styrofoam cups, and donuts with a sticky glaze are served. The group discusses adultery. It’s a casual conversation led by Dianne’s brother Jerry. He asks what to do when you see a friend talking to two young women in bikini. There is laughter. Women in swimwear are more likely to be in the other Miami. But Dianne remains serious: “I would certainly pray first,” she says.
The 54-year-old keeps praying briefly to keep in contact with God, she explains. Only moments pass in the discussion, when Dianne bows her head. She is sitting upright and a little stiff, screwing up her eyes. After 30 seconds she joins the conversation again. Next to her husband, she is the focus of Sunday. At lunchtime, she prepared enchiladas for the community. A fundraiser for a youth camp. Only when all the plates are full and the believers are chatting at the plastic tables does Dianne help herself. She takes a seat and clears her throat. Trump is “not a perfect man,” she begins. But she wants a president who is close to Israel’s side and who restricts abortion rights. She speaks of “millions of children” who have been killed by abortions. Her voice thins, her eyes fill with tears.
“Trump doesn’t have the right tone, but makes the right policy”
Monty sits down next to her, holding a cup of soft ice cream from the new machine in his hand. He agrees with his wife: “Trump doesn’t have the right tone, but he is doing the right policy. Obama, on the other hand, had the right tone, but his policies were terrible.” But what worries the couple the most these days is hatred. They fear that a rifleman could break into the church with a rifle and cause a massacre. Across the country, Americans’ disgust for one another is more palpable than ever these days. Dianne believes the political division could tear her own family apart too. The election on November 3rd therefore makes her “scared to death”.
On the other side of the track, behind rugged hills, is the Brett Hall Ranch. In the morning he still had twelve cans in the cooler. Now the midday sun burns on the white paint, he steers the pick-up increasingly unsafe through its gorge and beer splashes into the footwell next to the rifle. Meanwhile, men in cowboy hats ride past outside – it seems like a Texan cliché.
Hall owns 400 cows – he emphasizes that he is not a racist
The 58-year-old Hall wears a cap from the US arms organization NRA and says that his 44 square kilometers of land have been in the family since 1920. He owns 400 cows, a large house with a party room, home theater and at least six cars. Some are to “pick up the girls”. He has been separated from his wife for two years.
“I would describe myself as a corrosive, conformist extremophile,” explains Hall, and it sounds like he’s saying that a lot. Extremophilic organisms have adapted to extreme environmental conditions. He doesn’t follow every rule, says Hall. “I drive and drink. I don’t hurt anyone, but I’m more of a guy for the open, open country.” The pick-up stops in front of a barn. Inside, Confederate flags hang alongside flags of Texas and Hall’s Old University, whose coats of arms he wears as a brand on his bum. He is not a “redneck”, he emphasizes. Not a white hillbilly. And not a racist – so “not necessarily”. Then he says things that he would be lucky enough to get beaten up in other places.
Many see the US election as an attack on their identity
In northern Texas – where many Germans settled in the late 19th century – some of the most conservative views in the United States are rooted. The focus is on the traditional family, in which the Christian faith is sometimes fundamentally lived. People see their freedom in their autonomy. Skill and diligence determine property, which – if necessary – is defended with weapons. Politicians should stay out of the way, including with taxes.
“Welfare state” is a socialist abuse word, LGBTQ rejection – that is, from lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people – and racism are widespread. It may not be a coincidence that there are no African American people living in Miami. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is seen in the context of supposedly arson mobs roaming the country, which may also have Roberts County in their sights. Even if that sounds far-fetched, the residents’ fear is real.
Many therefore see the presidential election as an attack on their identity, their American dream. Republicans have had a majority in Texas for decades, despite the many liberals in big cities. But this year the Democrat Joe Biden has the chance of an historic victory. If Texas falls, Trump will be finished. In his barn, Rancher Hall opens a safe labeled “Fort Knox”. He shows the Winchester rifle model 1910 inherited from his grandfather. With a modern rapid-fire weapon, he shows what intruders should expect.
Hall raves about Trump’s entrepreneurship and wealth
The last four years have been good years, says Hall. Trump’s deregulation of the energy sector has benefited him economically. But there is more to it. “It makes us feel good,” he says, and falls into an admiring tone. There is this connection: “When I see him speak, I know what he feels”. He raves about Trump’s entrepreneurship, wealth, his name in gold on skyscrapers.
Hall digs his gold out of the vault: Heavy coins, worth at least a quarter of a million, he says. Why store them in a lonely barn instead of on the bench? “Because it is controlled by the government,” he says, as if that goes without saying. Mistrust in the state is strong in Texas, explains Miami’s Mayor Chad Breeding. Since the reforms of ex-President Barack Obama, for example, his health insurance has cost hundreds of dollars more, that’s not okay. “The people here do not vote for Trump’s manners. They vote against far-reaching government structures” – and not just since 2016.
The people of Roberts County live solidarity on a personal level, says local judge Rick Tennant. “When someone has a problem, we take care of it with all our hearts and we do our best to help them.” After work, Tennant goes to the garage to change tires for other people. If you visit Miami, the Trump stronghold with flags and fanatics is not waiting for you, as one might expect. Few residents have put Trump signs in their neatly mowed front gardens. “We are not like everyone always says,” says a woman who is still indignant about how the 2016 TV station reported on the village.
Trump is assertive and has kept election promises
“They cut it to make us look like fools. We’re not fools, I have a college degree!” The people of Roberts County still feel like they have been shown. Nevertheless, they are open to the reporter. Nobody talks about “fake news” like the man they almost all vote for. They willingly tell why Donald Trump continues to enjoy their trust. He is assertive and has kept many election promises, appointed conservative judges, initiated tax breaks and protected the right to own guns. They downplay his lies or the disastrous Corona policy in Miami.
Many statements seem suspiciously familiar. Trump created “the strongest economy in history,” while Joe Biden is “controlled by the radical left,” they say. It sounds partly like an echo from Trump and the conservative to right-wing media, from Fox News to “Breitbart”. In the evening a Trump tweet lights up on the cell phone: “Biden is against oil, guns and religion, a very bad combination to compete in the great state of Texas”.
Suspicion in the press: “All we want are facts”
But the same people who believe the president also speak of their distrust in the press. “All we want are facts. No facts mixed up with opinion,” says one. Another is trying to double-check factual checks of major newspapers. Brett Hall closes his vault, his little fortress in a possibly shaky world. If Donald Trump is voted out, he can only think of one word: “Armageddon.” Does he mean a civil war? “It could literally happen,” he says, getting into his car.
As they leave, Dianne and Monty Wheeler promise to pray for the visitor and his health. After all, there are more important things than politics – and there are still things that everyone can agree on. “Food, for example,” says Dianne and laughs. Monty adds that there’s nothing more American than apple pie anyway.