Back in My Trump-Voting Hometown

Navigating divided, rural America and a case study in media manipulation

Mitchell Peterson

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Photo by Josh Berendes on Unsplash

It had been three years. Three years since I’d stood on the shores of Lake Superior, staring at the ruler-straight, blue horizon in the distance, feet on round smooth stones, numbing in the clear water. Three years since the previously unimaginable flood that ravaged homes, roads, bridges, and took the life of my twelve-year-old cousin, the hardest funeral I’ve had to attend.

Three years and what did I come back to? A town and an area that seems to be drifting in two different directions, unraveling at the seams. Living outside of the US for almost a decade, one could be forgiven for thinking a global pandemic that killed almost seven hundred thousand of our fellow Americans would have people coming together more and realizing we need each other.

But, our chill college town and the surrounding districts can barely hold a school board meeting without it devolving into shouts and accusations, and the health department can’t issue a mask recommendation without getting death threats.

What happened to the sleepy old-copper-mining village I grew up in?

The bright summer sky was hidden behind a grey haze many of the days I was there, the sun often a bright red orb, blotted out by smoke from Canadian wildfires as I cruised by No Windmill, Don’t Blame Me I Voted For Trump, and F*** Biden yard signs.

Just about everybody I talked to, from relatives to former employers, had a derogatory nickname for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and I saw way more flags flying out of pickups than before, all similar themes: Trump, Anti-Biden-Harris, and even Confederate — which was particularly strange, and I don’t remember ever seeing.

In Upper Michigan, there’d always been the peaceful coexistence of two worlds. Unmatched natural beauty and seclusion brought a mix of hippies and hunters, both connecting on a deep appreciation for the forest, both taking pride in enduring the harsh winter and finding ways to enjoy it, and both seeing the beauty in the late-nineteenth-century sandstone buildings that line our downtowns and reflect the grandeur of what the area was one hundred-odd years ago.

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Mitchell Peterson

Freelance writer who spent nine years outside the US, currently in rural America writing the Substack bestseller 18 Uncles.