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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saginaw, Michigan, a blue collar city made famous by Paul Simon song surprisingly voted for Trump in 2016. A year later they still back him. Lifetime Democrats ice fishing on Saginaw River turned to Trump-BBC

Lyric from Simon and Garfunkel song: "It took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw...I've gone to look for America." 

1/28/18, "The Paul Simon city that turned to Trump," BBC News, Owen Amos, Saginaw, Michigan

Saginaw River
Saginaw - a blue-collar city made famous by Paul Simon - surprisingly voted for Donald Trump in 2016. What do they think now? 
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How does he feel now? "He's creating jobs," he says.

"He's bringing money from different countries back to the United States. I think that's a good thing."

A few yards away, Gerald Welzin lifts his line from the water and nods. Like Darabos, he voted Republican for the first time in 2016.

"I think he's doing a great job," says the 61-year-old landscaper.

"A lot of people criticise him, badmouth him, say a lot of bad things about him. But you've got to give the man a chance."

On the river bank, a lyric has been sprayed on a huge, concrete bridge support.

"It took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw," it says. "I've gone to look for America."

The line is from America, a Simon and Garfunkel song about young love, adventure and optimism. According to a local promoter, Paul Simon wrote it in Saginaw in 1966. 

If he came back now, he may not recognise the place.

For decades, Saginaw was a General Motors city. In 1979, the manufacturer employed 26,100 people here.

Now, just one GM facility remains, employing fewer than 500 people (a former GM plant, run by the Chinese firm Nexteer, employs around 5,000 more).

When the jobs went, the people followed. In 1960, almost 100,000 people lived in Saginaw. Now it's fewer than half that.

The population of Saginaw County has also declined, though less sharply.

As a working-class city, Saginaw supported Democrats. From 1988 to 2012, the county voted blue

More widely, Michigan was part of the so-called "blue wall" of solid Democrat states. And then, in 2016, Donald Trump came along.

Mr Trump's victory in Saginaw County was narrow - he won just 1,074 more votes than Hilary Clinton - but notable.

County by county, brick by brick, the blue wall came down. For the first time since 1988, Michigan voted Republican.

One year on, Trump supporters are not hard to find in Saginaw

In the city centre, there's a workshop in an empty car park. On one wall - in view of the Democrats' office - is a Trump sign.

Rick Coombs, 32, put it there before the election. "What I really, really liked, was the same thing people dislike about him," he says.

"He's not the most politically correct person, and I'm 100% fine with that."

Coombs, born and raised in Saginaw, owns three businesses, including a gun shop called Reaction Armory.

The Trump sign has been defaced and his companies targeted online. "False accusations, cheesy little Trump comments, poor ratings, things like that," says Coombs. 

(He is not alone - in August, a Republican event at a Saginaw pizzeria was cancelled after the business was threatened).

Coombs, though, will not take his sign down.

"One hundred per cent, I'm keeping it up," he says. "You're not going to scare me out of here. That's just not going to happen."

Coombs gives President Trump a "solid eight" (out of 10) for his first year in office. "Look at the numbers, look at the GDP," he says. 

He's disappointed the healthcare bill failed, but hopes tax cuts, passed before Christmas, will benefit his businesses. He also thinks the president is unfairly criticised.

"Here's the problem I really have with the left," he says.

"Every president - I mean every president - is easy to make fun of. No matter what he does, they will be against it, simply because it's Trump. 

"They're still sore losers. They're still salty about the situation."

Darryl Wimbley knows he's not a typical Trump supporter.

Darryl (l) made 1000+ calls for Trump
The 49-year-old was born in Alabama to a black mother and Arabic father [growing up, his father spoke to him only in Arabic]. He moved to Saginaw with his mother aged three.

"Back then, to have a baby out of wedlock was unacceptable," he says. "They would send you north."

He spent 20 years as car salesman - "I said I'd do it for two months and I made ten grand" - but had to stop after a motorcycle accident.

In 2008, he voted for Barack Obama. But he has an admission.

"The most racist thing I ever did," he says.

"I didn't care what his views were. I didn't care. He was black, and that was it. I didn't question it."

After Obama came to office, he did question it, voting Republican for the first time in 2012. And, when Donald Trump became a candidate, he listened. 

"He said a lot of things that I thought, but would never say in public," he says. 

Such as?

"Illegal immigrants do cause a lot of crime," he replies.

"I lived in Chicago, I know what immigrants do. I understand MS-13 (a mainly Central American gang), I understand the Latin Kings, I understand Maniac Disciples.

"I've seen it first hand, and most of them are illegals."

After telling his family he supported Mr Trump, his sister and mother stopped speaking to him. Some black people, he says, called him an "Uncle Tom, a sell-out".

But he still supports the president.

"The tax bill I like, the jobs are coming back, we're getting rid of regulation," he says. "A big thing is coal mines for me, because my family are coal miners."

And, like Rick Coombs, he thinks Mr Trump is treated unfairly.

"If you are the person in a room who everyone hates, you could actually give someone a million dollars - and they'll complain you didn't wrap it right."

Saginaw is a sprawling, un-pretty city.

Unloved, unneeded homes have been razed. Buildings - such as the red-brick railway station, closed since 1986 - lie derelict. And graffiti is common.

There are, however, signs of life. 

The old Bancroft Hotel is now home to "luxury" apartments, a coffee shop, and a cocktail bar. Twenty-four brownstone homes have gone up by the river.

There are boutiques, craft breweries, and murals on street corners. 

One piece of graffiti that used to say "Saginasty" now reads "Saginawesome".

Jim Hines, a 62-year-old doctor who lives in Saginaw, thinks the city's future is "bright".

Dr Hines has delivered thousands of babies, owns a medical practice, and spent four years in the Central African Republic, running two hospitals.

He has seven sons, 12 grandchildren, and a third-degree black belt in taekwondo.

He also rides a Harley, has flown planes since he was 16, and - if that's not enough - wants to become the next governor of Michigan.

Dr Hines grew up in a poor family in Warsaw, Indiana - he met his wife, Martha, in the pizza place where he washed dishes - and is a long-time Republican.

The party will choose their candidate in August, before the state-wide election in November.

He says he is an underdog - early polling suggests the same - but he takes inspiration from another underdog, now sitting in the White House.

"I'm not bashful in my support of Donald Trump," he says.

"Am I going out campaigning saying 'Hey, I'm Trump-like, vote for me?' No. 

"But I am an outsider, I am a businessman, I want to put people first."

Dr Hines, a Christian, is not put off by the president's crudeness - 

"It's not how I would express myself, but I think he speaks from his heart" - or his tough line on immigration.

"To have a sovereign country you need borders," he says

"Immigration - great. But not illegal immigration."

He supports the wall on the Mexican border, and thinks Mr Trump's policies - especially the tax cuts - have rejuvenated Saginaw.

"I think there's a lot of optimism," he says. "There wasn't so much before Trump. It was like 'Saginaw is kind of dwindling away'."

In Tony's Original Restaurant - a cosy, old-fashioned diner - a group of Dr Hines' supporters has come to meet the media (a local TV station is also here).

They are anti-abortion, low-tax people. Judy Anderson, a 73-year-old retired nurse, "had to study and think" before voting for Mr Trump.

But, one year on, she is proud of what he's done - even if she doesn't like his tweets.

"The companies being taxed less are rewarding their employees, left and right," she says. "And that's a positive thing."

On the next table, Sue Lynn, 63, also admires the president. But her language is more colourful; more Trump-like.

"If you've got an infestation of rats, you call the guy to come in," she says.

"You don't care if his crack's showing. You don't care if he's swearing. 

"You don't care if he's got tobacco-stained teeth.

"You want the rats taken out.""...images from BBC




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