At noon on Friday, Republican Donald Trump will become President of the United States. In last year’s election, every county in Massachusetts went for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Still, more than a million Bay Staters voted for Trump. Ahead of his inauguration, we wanted to hear from some Trump supporters in Western Massachusetts on their hopes and expectations for his presidency.
Craig and Rachie Vermes live in Ludlow. They both work at local hospitals. There’s a Trump campaign sign and an American flag in their front yard.
Craig is an antique collector. He restores a lot of old machinery. He has a soft spot for old telephones. Vermes said his love of antiques goes back to his teens. His admiration of Donald Trump goes back a few decades too, to when he first read The Art of the Deal.
“As a businessman, he’s just a phenomenal and compassionate guy,” Vermes said. “When I first heard that he was running, I started supporting him right then.”
Trump ran on the idea of making America great again. But Vermes sees Trump as something new, not nostalgic, in Washington.
“Trump owes no one anything,” Vermes said. “He doesn’t owe anyone any back deals, he’s not even going to accept a salary. So he’s in it for America, he’s not in it to make money for himself. He’s got billions. He doesn’t need any more money.”
Vermes is excited for a shake-up of what he sees as widespread corruption in Washington. He likes Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” At the same time, he’s a big fan of his Democratic congressman, Richie Neal, who’s been in Washington since the late 1980s.
“I’m hoping, for Western Mass., that if our congressman and our senators can work with Mr. Trump, I think that would be a great thing,” Vermes said.
Craig’s wife Rachie grew up in Taiwan. She moved to the United States over a decade ago to pursue a graduate degree. Now she’s a United States citizen, and immigration was at the forefront of her support for Donald Trump.
“If the government says we will give all free benefits to all illegal immigrants, then what about us? We followed the rule,” she said. “I think the government should take care of legal immigrants first and their own citizens, then we can consider about other things.”
Since the election, there’s been a sense of anxiety and fear from many groups that felt Trump’s campaign set an offensive tone — of racism, sexism, Islamophobia. I asked Craig and Rachie what they’d say to people who are scared of Trump’s presidency. Craig rejected the notion that Trump himself is biased toward any group.
“If somebody’s afraid, if somebody’s concerned, I think what they’ve got to do is be properly educated and not listen to these 60-second blurbs on the news, and look at the actual facts to this and who’s saying it,” Craig said.
Rachie said it’s easy to be scared these days, especially with the way things are shared on the Internet.
“There are so many…laws [that] protect us here. If he puts out some law…I’m sure we will have communities, lawyers working together to examine the fairness of the law,” Rachie said. “But you cannot just sit [at] home and read [the] Internet and say ‘I’m so scared.’ Scared of what? Scared of [the] future? Everybody’s scared of [the] future.”
Craig and Rachie Vermes both said they felt silenced during the election — especially at work — where they say they were surrounded by vocal Clinton supporters. Now, Rachie said, it’s time for everyone to give Trump a chance.
“Obama had not only four years, but eight years of chance to take care of [the] country. Now we can give this person four years to see how he does,” Rachie said. “If we don’t like him, if he fail[s] us, in four years, we will let him know. Hopefully, he will bring some fresh air, fresh idea[s], fresh set of viewpoints to our government.”
Former Springfield Mayoral Candidate Weighs In
I found Craig and Rachie Vermes through searching Donald Trump’s federal campaign finance records for contributions from Western Massachusetts. There were some notable local names in those records: Eugene Cassidy, head of the Big E, and Peter Salerno, the executive director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. Cassidy declined a request for an interview. Salerno and I played phone tag, but he ultimately did not respond to a request to comment.
There was another somewhat recognizable name from the Springfield area who was willing to talk: Sal Circosta. He ran for mayor in 2015, losing to Domenic Sarno. Circosta said he came around to support Trump late in the Republican primary.
“After some consideration, I just said, ‘You know what? This is so much opposite of what we usually get, this might be a breath of fresh air for us in politics.'”
I met Circosta at La Fiorentina, an Italian pastry shop in Springfield’s South End. Circosta is Italian-American, and he said for the first time he can remember, every member of his family voted for the same presidential candidate. So what attracted them to Trump?
“Plain speaking,” Circosta said. “Italians are known to speak very bluntly. Not always the most charitable group of people, but they speak what’s on their mind. My mother and father, I never had a question [of] what they thought. They made it very blunt with me.”
Trump’s bluntness, Circosta said, looked strong, and that translated into votes. For Circosta, there’s also policy substance to his support of Trump. Most notably, he’s pro-life — against abortion. He’s also hopeful that Trump can help struggling cities, and as a veteran of the National Guard, he believes Trump will support the military.
But for a supporter, Circosta has one interesting descriptor for the president-elect. We got to the subject of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Circosta said those were the words of a narcissist. I asked if that was a concern to him — that someone he considers a narcissist is going to be president. He said it’s not.
“He’s a pragmatic narcissist,” Circosta said. “I don’t even know if that’s a term, maybe I just invented it. I’ll have to trademark it. But as a pragmatic narcissist, he wants to make sure that he does things to make himself look good. There’s no doubt that Donald Trump wants to go down as the greatest president in U.S. history. I think that’s a good thing!”
Circosta said he knows Trump has been divisive through the campaign and the transition, but he hopes he changes course.
“We have an extremely divided country right now,” Circosta said. “He says some nice things that I think are going to help unite us, but then the next day he’ll say something idiotic that divides us again. I want to see if he uses his office to unite our country as one American people again.”
We’ll all see if and how Donald Trump attempts to do that in his inaugural address.