Gene Smallwood, 80, of Eaton, Colorado poses for a portrait inside his barber shop on February 10, 2017. Gene is among the 71% of registered voters in Eaton who voted for President Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential election and feels that Trump will create jobs that will help fuel the US economy.
Jason Connolly / AFP
A 90-minute drive from Denver lies Eaton, one of the safest towns in Colorado and one of the few in the state that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump.
Here, residents of the rural community surrounded by farmland and cattle ranches see in Trump a candidate that will deliver on his promise to bring jobs back to America and — as he repeatedly said on the campaign trail — “drain the swamp” in Washington.
One month into his presidency, many of the town’s 5,000 or so residents, 71 percent of whom voted for Trump, still believe in their candidate, though they admit his style may not always be presidential. Trump stunned many people Thursday with a rambling, 76-minute news conference in which he was at turns angry, defensive, playful, boastful and introspective.
“I’m hoping Trump will settle down,” said Gene Smallwood, 80, who has owned a barbershop in Eaton since 1968 and admits to being a bit confused about Trump’s attack style. “He’s going too fast — slam, bam.”
Like residents in other towns across rural white America that propelled the Republican candidate to the presidency, Smallwood is more focused on seeing Trump honor his vow to rip up international trade deals and bring back jobs and is less concerned about his travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.
“I think he’s going to give it back to the people,” said Smallwood. “We had too much (manufacturing) run out of our country.
“There’s not that much here made in America.”
For the town’s mayor, Kevin Ross, who owns an insurance company, Trump is clearly running the country like a business and needs to rethink his in-your-face management style.
“He’s moving at break neck speed that DC is not used to,” said Ross. “When I make a decision in business, I can do that switch today.
– ‘President, not king’ –
“Trump has to learn it has to go through the proper channels,” he added. “He’s not a king, he’s a president.”
John Rohn, who owns the Heritage Market grocery store in town and whose grandparents came to the US from Russia “the right way,” says he doesn’t understand all the hoopla over the travel ban, which has been suspended in court.
“Everyone forgets it’s a temporary ban, not a permanent ban,” said the 65-year-old.
He said he voted for Trump to see change and because “he’s not a politician.”
“I want to give him six months. Everybody is upset with him now but people need to give his group a chance,” said Rohn. “I didn’t vote for Obama but I wasn’t out on the street picketing” when he won.
At the same time, Rohn acknowledged that the newly minted president could perhaps tone it down a bit and resist the temptation to say whatever pops into his head.
“I wish he’d quit tweeting,” he said, referring to Trump’s proclivity to turn to Twitter to communicate with the public. “It causes more problems than it does good.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth hits news. He pretty much tells it like it is and there are things I like about that.”
Rohn said he also has mixed feelings about Trump’s cabinet picks. Still, they’re not politicians, he stressed.
One of the more contentious candidates was Betsy DeVos who barely squeaked through her confirmation vote in the Senate to lead the Department of Education.
DeVos strongly supports charter schools — which receive government funds but operate independently of the public school system — and has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and religious schools.
“I’m all for charter schools, but when you start saying ‘now you can take your money and go where you want to go’,” it could become a popular vote more than an education choice,” said Laura Ehrlich, 55, who also voted for Trump.
– ‘People want results’ –
Rather than make an educated choice, parents could be misled into sending their kids to a specific school based on hearsay, Ehrlich, who works as an administrative assistant for the Eaton school district and spoke in a private capacity, explained.
Still, Ehrlich said she remains optimistic that Trump will be able to achieve great things if he surrounds himself with the right people.
Arland Ball, a 57-year-old retired industrial arts teacher, is convinced Trump will make good on his promises and inspire a new national pride.
“I’m really interested in seeing if he can accomplish all his goals,” he said. “Can he really get it done with Congress?”
Ross said he fears legislators will be more worried about votes than tackling problems.
“People are looking for results,” he warned. “And Trump better deliver and Congress better deliver, or they’ll look for other jobs themselves at re-election.”