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14 Nov 2018 20:26
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  •   Home > News > International

    Betting the farm on Trump

    Dom Marchese used to be a Democrat, but voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Two years later, here's how he's feeling ahead of crucial midterm elections for the President.


    Dom Marchese used to be a Democrat, but voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Two years later, here's how he's feeling ahead of crucial midterm elections for the President.

    It's that time of year when the trees are turning from green to gold and the air is sharp. There's been a break in the rain and that's good news for Dom.

    On clear days like this, he and the other farmers in north-eastern Ohio can resume the busy work of harvest time, in that precious window that separates the good years from the bad.

    Before setting out to bale the last of the hay, Dom ambles over to feed his chickens and the turkeys he's fattening for Thanksgiving. Like most things here on Manna Farms, you get the sense this has been Dom's routine for a long time.

    Yet America feels like a divided place. The one agreement most can reach is that in Washington, things are a long way from routine.

    Elected by people like Dom, Donald Trump has kept the world gripped since 2016, and with midterm elections a little over a week away, politics is front of mind for voters.

    Although on Dom's farm, more than 500 kilometres from DC, today is like any other.

    He's been an organic beef farmer since 1971, waking up every morning to a postcard-perfect setting.

    Now 76, Dom says he'll never retire, but slowly things are becoming less easy than they used to be.

    Changing too are Dom's political beliefs.

    Two years of Trump

    Scattered around the farm are reminders of a life that's never been far removed from politics.

    Yard signs gather cobwebs in dusty corners of Dom's barns. A small collection of campaign buttons hangs on the wall of his kitchen, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among them.

    Dom used to be a Democrat after all.

    But two years ago, in search of a president who was going to shake things up, he voted for Donald Trump.

    The ABC first met Dom in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. He told us then that American politicians weren't working for the people.

    "They go down there to work for us, they end up voting for the measures lobbyists work for, so not in our best interests," he said at the time.

    Donald Trump's talk of renegotiating trade deals resonated with farmers like Dom. So much so he proudly joined a supporters' group and hung a "Farmers for Trump" banner from one of his barns.

    The banner isn't there anymore.

    There are no red Make America Great Again caps to be seen either. In fact Dom is wearing the same camouflage-pattern cap as when we visited two years ago.

    Is Dom still happy with his choice to vote Trump?

    "I absolutely am," he says.

    "The guy just has balls that we haven't seen in a president, and not being a politician, he doesn't care.

    "And I don't think you can buy him, to change his mind on something.

    "I think we're better off right now."

    Reaping what you sow

    The midterm elections will be the biggest electoral test yet for Donald Trump and the Republican party.

    Polls show Democrats are likely to take back the House of Representatives.

    It's a long shot, but if the backlash at the voting booth is large enough, the Senate could turn as well.

    A bad day for Donald Trump on November 6 will frustrate his legislative agenda in the run-up to 2020. A catastrophe for Republicans could allow Democrats to raise the spectre of impeachment.

    The outcome will set the tone for the next two years in American national politics.

    But here in Ohio, one of a few swing states that put Donald Trump in the White House, the machinations of Washington feel a long, long way away.

    Dom says rain is on the way. Tomorrow perhaps.

    That means right now his neighbours will be busy. It's harvest time for one of them, soybean farmer Jeff Maygar.

    Like Dom, Jeff used to run cattle on these fields.

    These soybeans are headed to the Japanese market. Food grade, so they'll likely end up as tofu.

    Directing his produce to Japan has kept him largely unaffected by Donald Trump's trade war.

    Jeff voted for Donald Trump in 2016, "reluctantly".

    "Some of his twittering at first alarmed me. Put it this way, I think that Trump's crazy like a fox," he says.

    But he's now happy to see a straight talker in the White House.

    According to Jeff, Donald Trump's policies have greatly helped business.

    He says there's more work available and tax cuts mean employers can pay their lowest-paid workers a higher hourly rate.

    He doesn't see American voters turning away from Donald Trump and the Republican Party anytime soon.

    "What's changed since the election? It's not like the Democrats have changed policy that would change anybody's mind," he says.

    But things have changed elsewhere, and not for the better.

    Just half-an-hour's drive away in the suburbs of Lordstown, despite a generally strong economy and low unemployment nationally, people are struggling.

    Roughly two years ago, Donald Trump told people here: "Don't sell your homes." He was bringing jobs back, or so he promised.

    But changing demand means the huge GM factory at the heart of this community has cut two shifts since the day the President was sworn into office.

    More than 3,000 workers were laid off. Many are still trying to find work and GM has moved parts of its production to Mexico.

    David Green is the head of the local auto workers' union, and he's frustrated with the President.

    "He's saying promises made, promises kept," David says.

    "Well we haven't seen that. Which promises did he keep? I don't know. Nothing's gotten better for the working people in this community, only worse."

    He said up to 40 per cent of the workers he represents voted for Donald Trump.

    Now?

    "There's quite a few people who have changed their views. I'm sure most of the folks won't want to talk about it. If I vote for my guy and then he does bad stuff ... I'm not going to say I made a mistake, it's hard for people to do that," he says.

    They're the kind of voters that could be among a potential "blue wave" of voters predicted to support the Democrats at the midterms.

    Red states, blue waves

    Compared to Dom's humble operation, Tom Yuhasz's corn farm is a marvel.

    Dom points towards the huge combine harvester rolling down the corn fields.

    "You see that one there? It'd be worth over $650,000," Dom says.

    Tom will harvest corn, soybeans, wheat and peas from 5,500 acres of fields.

    He's unaffected by trade wars because his crop goes into dog food, feed grain and ethanol on the domestic market.

    And he's eager to talk about the President with Dom.

    "All the career politicians, they don't want him to succeed," he says.

    "Yeah, he don't care who he pisses off.

    "Which … you know what? Don't be so thin-skinned. There's people in the world like him. More than what the world realises.

    "People can communicate with him. He didn't go to some Yale University."

    These men have built legacies out here. Some modest, like Dom's Manna Farms. Others large scale, like Tom's.

    They want to pass what they've built on to their families.

    Donald Trump's move to abolish the "death tax" on inheritances is the first thing many farmers bring up when asked what the President has done for them.

    "Eliminate the death tax. You know what happens to this man if he passes away?" Dom says, nodding toward Tom.

    "His family could never pay the government."

    Tom can't stop himself from jumping in to agree, throwing his hands in the air.

    "They'd be forced out of business," he says.

    Talk of a potential "blue wave" at the midterms doesn't fly here on the cornfields.

    "That's bullshit. The blue wave. I don't see it," Dom says.

    Tom offers that it was Donald Trump's favourite "fake news" foil CNN that started it.

    "We're going to impeach the President? He gave a $2,000 rebate in tax cuts, got the economy in the lowest unemployment, we've got more people working than ever," Tom says.

    "And we've got a blue wave? If this country has a blue wave, they deserve to get that blue wave."

    Old habits

    The sun is setting back at Manna Farms. Clouds are starting to fill the morning's clear blue sky. It's cold and the forecasts now say snow could be falling on Sunday.

    The weather is turning.

    Dom knows that in other parts of the country, people are upset, anxious and angry. They want to put the brakes on an unorthodox president and administration.

    But he's had enough of the Democrats, and what he sees as their divisive tactics.

    "I've been Democrat all my life, this is not … the Democrat party today is not the party of our fathers," he says.

    "I'm an old-school guy. I don't think millennials know what it used to be like.

    "We're winning again on a lot of things."

    That's why Dom and his fellow Ohio farmers are so sure these midterm elections will not be a rebuke of Donald Trump.

    But they might be surprised. In 2016 Hillary Clinton's supporters were accused of living in a bubble after they were blindsided by Donald Trump's victory.

    Two years on, in a polarised America, these farmers may be in one of their own.

    Soon, America will head back to the polls to determine the make-up of Congress. The dust will barely have settled before the pundits turn their attention to the presidential election in 2020.

    Donald Trump will tweet.

    People will get upset, anxious and angry. The battlelines in American politics will continue to shift.

    For Dom, the routine remains the same.

    If north-eastern Ohio sees an early snow, it could spell trouble for the hay. But spring will come again.

    Dom is behind his President. But like the seasons, that could always change.

    CREDITS

    Words: Zoe Daniel, Emily Olson, Peter Marsh

    Pictures: Adrian Wilson, Emily Olson, Peter Marsh

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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