The headlines have become routine. Earlier this week, Donald Trump’s approval rating dipped from 37 to 36 percent, according to the latest CNN poll. Last month, Gallup had him at an all-time low of 33 percent.
Trump is the most unpopular presidentin modern American history, that much is apparent. But what these numbers obscure, or at least elide, is the seemingly endless devotion of his voting bloc. A closer look at the data reveals that Trump’s level of support has mostly held steady since August, before the collapse of his Obamacare replacement bill, the introduction of a plutocratic new tax proposal and the announcement of multiple indictments in Robert Mueller’s collusion probe. For tens of millions of Americans, the president can do no wrong.
Just ask the people of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Over the course of several days, Politico’s Michael Kruse interviewed residents from the once-booming steel town who cast their ballots for Trump last November. None expressed so much as an iota of regret about their decision. As 60-year-old retiree Pam Schilling made clear, “I’m a supporter of him, 100 percent.”
Schilling’s 32-year-old son died of a heroin overdose. She says she began finding needles in his pockets after he was laid off from a nearby mine. She had a union job packing meat at a local grocery, until she was forced to find work at Walmart for a fraction of the pay.
Schilling has no illusions that Trump will rescue her woebegone town (“I don’t have anything good to say about anything in this area. It’s sad,” she concedes). Instead, she seems grateful that the president shares her petty grievances and racial animus.
“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit,” she says. “I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit. We do not watch no NFL now.”
Schilling claims that she and her husband have “banned” their favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, from their home. She also admits that they refer to the NFL in private as “n*ggers for Life.”
Like Schilling, Maggie Fears has resigned herself to the idea that her home is beyond saving. All that matters to the retired nurse is that the president would help the “good people” of Johnstown if he could, or so she has convinced herself. That and his open hostility for Mexican immigrants.
“I mean, if he gets his wall—I don’t give a shit, you know?” she tells Politico. “But he has a good idea: Keep ’em out.”
Del Signore has remained similarly faithful to Trump, despite the president’s myriad failings and broken promises. If anything, the past 10 months have only strengthed Signore’s resolve.
“Everybody I talk to realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet,” he insists. “Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.” (When told that Trump has actually golfed regularly during his time in office, Signore offered an incredulous “Does he?” before adding, “If I was married to [Melania], I don’t think I’d go anywhere.”)
Although he and his wife are observant Catholics, Signore appears to share the same apocalyptic fantasies as Trump’s evangelical base. While he remains circumspect as to whether Barack Obama is the literal antichrist, Signore concedes it’s a distinct possibility.
“Just looking around, and putting two and two together, a little bit of business savvy, a little bit of street savvy, a little common sense, a little bit of education, you kind of deduct different things,” Signore says. “I think we’re going to see the end of the world in our generation.”
Then there’s John Daloni, the financial secretary of the local steelworkers union and one of the few Johnstown natives who voted for Hillary Clinton (Trump won Cambria County by a staggering 38 points). He was so heartsick over the number of union members who went Republican in 2016 that he spent the day after the election carrying a Holter monitor to make sure he wasn’t having a cardiac event.
Daloni doesn’t see the Trump faithful’s support for the president waning anytime soon. “I don’t give the guy that much credit,” he says of the commander-in-chief, “but man, he knows what buttons to push, and he’s pushing ’em.”
Since Trump’s election, mainstream and independent media alike have taken an intense interest in his supporters. How could they punch their ticket for someone so transparently unfit for office, and what would it take for them to finally bail? Dispatches like Kruse’s remind us the answers to these questions have always been self-evident, even if they’re only now being made explicit. While a handful of rural Pennsylvanians can never represent the whole of Trump nation, their intransigence in the face of mounting catastrophe suggests the president’s base will be riding this train to the end of the line.