What Trump states make of unrest


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President Donald Trump talks about imposing law and order, and his hardline approach towards the protesters this week is helping to shore up his base of supporters. But what do the parts of the US that propelled him to victory in 2016 think of his aggressive strategy?

Shirley Hartman, an artist who works in watercolour and acrylics, moved to Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, years ago because she wanted to feel safe. She had been robbed in Philadelphia, a city about 60 miles away, and she was looking for a place where she did not have to worry about violence.

With protests unfolding across the US, she says that she is again concerned about her safety and is glad that the president acted forcefully, threatening to deploy the military. The demonstrators went too far, she says, and he responded appropriately.

“It’s gotten out of hand,” says Ms Hartman. “They’ve gone to extremes, and sometimes it’s necessary to go to extremes, too, to respond.”

The protests have continued for more than a week, with tens of thousands taking to the streets across the US. The demonstrations were largely peaceful, however, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests most people in the US disapprove of the president’s hardline approach.

Still a significant number of people, one-third of those who were surveyed, support the president and his actions.

Many of them are like Ms Hartman – they live in suburban areas of the country and are concerned about security. Their views will play a significant role in the November election.

Ms Hartman lives in a swing district in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which Mr Trump won in 2016 and is widely viewed as crucial to his chances again this time around.

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Media caption“Keep pushing”: Washington DC protesters on keeping the momentum going

For that reason, political operatives, scholars and others are watching closely to see how the president’s law-and-order message plays in key states across the country.

In a week of more than 20 interviews in Pennsylvania, Missouri and North Carolina – three states Trump won in 2016 – most people echoed the views of Ms Hartman and agreed that the president’s tough rhetoric was necessary and say they will support him in November.

Some said they supported the protesters and their goals, but were concerned about those who had become violent.

“I understand how people feel about George Floyd and I agree that something needs to change. But burning a church, looting, turning over cars – I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with burning a town to the ground,” says Brian Bufka, 47, who lives in Warrenton, Missouri, and runs a printing company.

“I support our president – I think his heart is in the right place, and I will vote for him again.”

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Media captionWhat Trump voters think of his handling of the virus outbreak

Lyle Updike, who is 75 and lives in Kearney, Missouri, says: “I’m strong on law and order. I don’t tolerate this violence – this rioting. I’d like to see the president tighten the screws better.” He added: “The mayors and governors won’t do it, so he needs to.”

Rosella Roberts, who works for a musical theatre company in Steelville, Missouri, says she is concerned about the violence: “I’m not saying that all of the people who are protesting are evil. But when you shoot at a policeman – that’s just evil.”

The election is still five months away, and the fortunes of the candidates and their political parties may change dramatically. One of the factors is the economy.

For many conservatives, the Trump presidency has been a blessing – spiritually as well as financially. Brian Watts, 45, the general manager of a radio station in Kearney, Missouri, says that he loves the image of the president holding a bible while walking near the White House: “It shows he’s for the church.”

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Brian Watts

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Brian Watts, a radio station manager in Missouri, says the president has “got to have security”

Mr Watts’ radio station has survived the financial problems brought about by the pandemic, and he is confident that Mr Trump will pull the country out of its malaise.

This upbeat view could play a crucial role in the election. As Matthew Dallek, a historian at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, points out, most elections hinge on economic concerns, not social issues.

“In the end the president’s law-and-order mandate probably won’t contribute much to the election,” says Mr Dallek. “But coronavirus and the economy will.”

Economists are predicting an uptick in the coming months, a trend that is likely to help Mr Trump. The monthly job numbers this week were better than expected but it’s unclear how the pandemic – and possible new infection spikes – will affect the economic recovery.

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Others the BBC spoke to said they have been energised by the protests and horrified by the White House response. They fear the president’s language would embolden aggressive police officers.

“People have been turned off by the president’s behaviour,” says Lauren Arthur, 32, a Democratic state senator in Missouri’s 17th district, which includes parts of suburban Kansas City. She won in 2018 and believes that progressive women, disturbed by the president’s actions, will vote in large numbers: “They’re saying: ‘We are going to show up in full force.'”

In Durham, North Carolina, an important battleground state, Gemynii, a 35-year-old poet, wasn’t happy to see Mr Trump hold a bible in front of a church near the White House after peaceful protesters were cleared out of the way.

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Robert Carl Swan

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Gemynii at a beauty-supply store in North Carolina: “He’s definitely not my president”

“Yeah, it definitely feels like a nightmare,” says Gemynii of the president’s efforts to impose order. “I can understand how other countries look at us and don’t have respect because of what’s going on.”

The experience of watching the president in news clips this week has made Gemynii and her friends in Durham even more determined to change the country’s leadership. She was distressed when Mr Trump was elected, and his recent actions have reinforced her mission: “It’s another wake-up call for America.”

The dismay among Democrats is near-universal, and many of those who have felt lukewarm about Mr Biden, who has centrist roots, now have a different view. They are focused on getting the president out of the White House.

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Says Peggy Wilson, 68, a retired schoolteacher in Kansas City: “I don’t care who is it – it could be anybody. Just someone to replace him.”

Shirley Hartman says that she’s had her ups and downs as an artist in Philadelphia, New York and most recently in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and voted for Democrats in some elections. She chose Mr Trump last time. Afterwards, she says, her business “slowly went up, year after year”. She has been happy with him as president.

With the onset of the pandemic, business has dropped off again, and she is spending time at home with her cats, Darma and Peanut. She takes walks in the park, “sketching and doing pastels in the grass”, and is hoping for a speedy economic recovery. This variable, one that is still unknown, is likely to decide her vote.

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