Window World Dubois Pa – Rural Democrats suffer in silence, abandoned by a party they fear has stopped fighting to take back the places where they live.
Terry Noble, local attorney and Democratic activist, at a bar in DuBois, Pennsylvania, on February 1, 2022. | Photos by Scott Goldsmith
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DuBois, Pa. – In the darkest days of the pandemic, a man who lived across from a Methodist church in this small town put up a “Fuck Biden” banner outside his house.
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The neighbors were so disgusted that they elevated him to the leadership of the church. A resident complained to the Zoning Commission about the obscenity but was never heard back. The insults not only hurt their sense of propriety. Some people here also felt a sense of betrayal. The owner of the flag lived in a house that once belonged to the church towers. They are the late grandparents of man. They recalled that when they were sick, neighbors gave them home-cooked meals. A church member asked the man to remove the flag.
For months, the man denied it, and his brutal behavior scared some. Finally, he decided to take down the flag, replacing it with another flag that was still hanging in front of the house. It says, “Joe and Ho left.”
“We’ve never seen this before,” said Joanne Fitzpatrick, a DuBois Democrat, going over a note in her head about the anti-Biden signs that still cover her town and surrounding communities. “I’m not being arrogant by any means, but it’s insulting. We have never seen this level of profanity after an election – and for a long time after an election.
Frank and Kathy Fulkrod are part of a small group of Democrats frustrated by Trump and the GOP’s grip on the district.
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For the past seven years, vats of paint have been spilled, testing Donald Trump’s appeal in rural places like Clearfield County, an old timber and coal area along Interstate 80 on the western edge of central Pennsylvania. “Banquets” for disgruntled Democrats and independents who have come to support Republicans are so common they’ve become their own media subgenre. The reasons for this mass exodus have become familiar from repetition: the erosion of manufacturing and energy jobs, the elimination of unions in the private sector, the explosion in technology, and widening cultural differences.
These stories often leave the other side of the same coin. In those cities and states, thousands of Democrats like Fitzpatrick remain loyal to their party — and feel they’re paying an increasing price for that loyalty. Nearly 30,000 people in Clearfield County voted for Trump in 2020, roughly three-quarters of the votes cast. But the remaining 25 percent who voted for Joe Biden — 9,673 people — find themselves in an unusual situation: They supported the eventual winner, but somehow sense a relentless and toxic campaign to delegitimize his victory and overturn the election. besieged.
Clearfield County, where DuBois is located, was as evenly split between Democrats and Republicans as you can find in the United States.
They are people like Cathy and Frank Folkrod. Both are 73-year-old retired teachers whose families have lived in the region for generations. They are also Democrats, members of a minority group in a suddenly unfamiliar place. On a tour of the city and surrounding communities, they told me they had never felt so disconnected from their neighbors. “Life here has never been so rough,” says Frank.
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Daily rituals are a series of passive insults. Our trip revealed many ugly signs like this one outside the church, another calling Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “baby killers,” not to mention the “Don’t Trample Trump” signs in the window of The Cheapo Depo 2. It wasn’t far away where there was a handmade a fabricated sign with the ominous warning “Shooting Bandits”. He transcends threats. What were once nice one-on-one meetings between acquaintances in bookstores and barbershops have turned into bitter, mocking confrontations over compliance with Covid-19 protocols. While Frank periodically maintains a community website where people once responded to routine news about store openings and closings, anonymous commenters now unleash anti-government criticism and allegations of corruption against Biden’s son, Hunter. “They add fuel to the fire,” says Frank.
As she leads us through the back streets around DuBois, Kathy tells me she was shopping at a craft store when she came across an aisle display where someone had used large block letters to spell out “T-R-U-M-P.” She tagged it to a store employee who she said made sure it wasn’t built by someone who worked there. The clerk removed it. In another conversation, Cathy says a friend told her he couldn’t understand why Cathy continued to advocate for the Democratic Party. A friend suggested that this be the primary media. “She said, ‘You’re watching the wrong news channel,'” Kathy recalled. “I knew exactly what he meant.”
“Before Trump didn’t know anybody’s political affiliation, now they found somebody to go with them, so they put all their signs everywhere,” Frank says, pulling his SUV to a stop on the side of the road. On the right is a sign with a smiling photo of Trump: “Have you missed it yet?” It says “Don’t blame me,” another sign on a house says, “I voted for Trump.”
Just as dinner, flag-waving Trump voters predicted the surprising rise and resilience of Trump’s populist insurgency, conversations with hostile rural Democrats hinted at their party’s continued decline in influence. The tense climate creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of growing discontent with their neighbors’ devotion to Trumpism and a declining desire to engage with them. To inflame controversy or worse, local Democrats say they have little incentive to promote their positions, much less try to persuade a sliding public to stick with the party. During the 2020 election, a friend stopped the Fowlcrods after defiantly taping a Biden lawn sign near their home. “She had a Biden registration,” Kathy says of the woman they visited. “And she said, ‘I’m here to tell you that I want to take down my Biden sign because I’m so scared.’
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Back home in the Fulkrods’ TV room, surrounded by 18 snow-covered acres that once included a family Christmas tree and shrub nursery, Frank told me he’s mostly pleased with the job Biden and the Democrats are doing in Washington, given the challenges. He wants them to get inflation under control and start building planned transport and infrastructure projects (“I mean why does Europe have such a great rail system and we don’t?” he thinks.). However, this is not a discussion he is likely to have outside a very narrow circle of left-leaning friends who share his dislike of Trump.
“Because you’re uncomfortable being there, you don’t hear people having constructive discussions about which party is better, the Democrats and the Republicans,” Frank says. “You get to a point where you avoid going somewhere where you know some of your friends are on the Republican side. We don’t need to talk about anything political.”
“Biden Harris Baby Killers,” reads a sign on a telephone pole in Reynoldsville. “Before Trump didn’t know anybody’s political affiliation, and now they’ve got somebody to go with them, and so they put all their signs everywhere,” Frank Fulkrod said.
But the reality for Democratic candidates and party activists is that they can’t afford to give up. The U.S. Senate and governor are up for election this fall, and Pennsylvania Democrats clearly know their victories depend on turning on rural voters, or at least cutting their losses with them. However, there is evidence that the Democratic leadership is no better at communicating now with their shell-shocked constituents, who are more likely to retreat into safe bubbles than to preach about a president with an approval rating stuck in the low 40s. the percentage.
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Conversations with Democrats here reveal tough challenges facing the party across the country. They say party leaders need to agree on how catastrophic the fall in support for rural areas is. If people here don’t trust the government about the effectiveness of masks and vaccines, they ask, can they be persuaded to support Democrats who focus on traditional appeals like the services they have provided for their region? But the main question the party needs to answer is how far can it expect to go with people who refuse to even listen to everyone from the Fulkrods and Fitzpatrick to Biden’s advisers in Washington?
“This segment as a whole has been the failure of the Democrats for the last year and a half,” said former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a red-state Democrat who warned of the party’s struggles to reach rural voters. “Where are you—probably
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