Postcards from Trump's America As Trump takes oath, 4 portraits give voice to hopes, fears

As Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office, the prospect of his presidency inspires the hopes of millions of Americans, the doubts and fears of millions of others. In effect, Trump will inherit leadership of many Americas, each sharing pride in country but conflicted in expectations of where we are headed and how the next president should govern. Those views are rooted in personal experiences as well as politics.
In Nebraska, a couple keep their hopes and uncertainties in check to avoid antagonizing friends on both sides of the political divide. In Georgia, one young mother worries Trump will fan hate. Another, a waitress, hopes he can just make life less of a struggle.

To glimpse the country Trump will lead as the 45th president, Associated Press reporters and photographers traveled to four corners of the U.S., each unique in its own right. Their 'Postcards from Trump's America' offer a window into what people are thinking at this pivot point in the nation's history.

2 Trumps exist across urban and rural divide

By Bill Barrow
Associated Press

LULA, Ga. (AP) — Patti Thomas owns a flower shop in the north Georgia town of Lula. Xavier Bryant runs an independent pharmacy just outside Atlanta. Looking toward the inauguration of an entrepreneur as president, the two share this expectation: Donald Trump will be good for business.

“He’s already proven he can turn things around,” the 52-year-old Thomas says, crediting Trump with Ford Motor Co.’s recent announcement that it would scrap a planned Mexico plant while expanding in Michigan. “Just his business enthusiasm, we’ve been lacking that.”

“My intuition,” the 33-year-old Bryant agrees, “is telling me that small business owners will win” in Trump’s economy.

But beyond that commonality, Thomas and Bryant — a white baby boomer from a tiny town and a black millennial from the big city — illuminate widening cultural fissures that help explain Trump’s rise and may well define his presidency.

Trump draws his strength from places like Lula, a railroad town with 2,800 residents and no stoplight in the central business district. He won almost 3 out of 4 votes cast in surrounding Hall County, which abuts the multi-county cluster that makes up metro Atlanta. Even with a growing Hispanic population, Hall is whiter than Georgia and the United States as a whole, and conservatism carries the day.

“This is Trump country up here,” explains Margaret Luther, who works in Thomas’ flower shop, festooned with fresh and artificial flowers, crosses for religious arrangements and a conspicuous wreath celebrating the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

Bryant, meanwhile, hails from DeKalb County, a Democratic stronghold next to downtown Atlanta. Hillary Clinton won 4 out of 5 DeKalb votes, capitalizing on a large African-American population, a burgeoning Hispanic community and white liberals, many of them from elsewhere.

The dynamics at play in these two Georgia settings, just a short interstate drive apart, match national trends that helped give Trump his victory. According to an Associated Press count, Clinton won just 487 counties across the U.S., most of them urban, while Trump carried 2,626, mostly suburban and rural.

Conversations in Hall and DeKalb counties quickly reveal some of the sharp distinctions between the disparate Americas Trump will lead, even if some are exaggerated by perceptions each side has about the other.

In Hall County, Joe Thomas, Patti’s husband, praises Trump as a “non-politician” who doesn’t have to answer to establishment players. Patti Thomas says that style spoke to non-urban dwellers who see a nation increasingly dominated and defined by cities. The fact that Trump himself is from New York City doesn’t matter, her husband adds, because of his “force of personality.”

But at a graffiti- and mural-covered hipster coffee shop in East Atlanta, 37-year-old Jessica Greene counters that what people like the Thomases see as refreshing moxie amounts to “egomaniacal ... control issues” that leave her leery and “in a very dark place about it all.”

In DeKalb, Xavier Bryant says he’ll embrace Inauguration Day as a reminder of what he can do himself — including “give off more good energy.”

He adds: “It’s all the small parts that make the whole.”

A divided-down-the-middle ­county ponders a new president

By Nicholas Riccardi
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A block from Nebraska’s Capitol, with its unique one-chamber, nonpartisan Legislature, is the lobbying office of Bill Mueller and Kim Robak, who embody the make-it-work spirit of this city: They’re husband and wife, Republican and Democrat.

And though neither was a Donald Trump booster, they are trying to remain positive about his presidency and even hope it might make hyperpartisan Washington, D.C., a bit more like Lincoln.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if it could actually work?” says Robak, with a trace of the peppy small-town girl she once was before rising through the political ranks to serve as her state’s lieutenant governor. “I’m not holding my breath, but if we could actually break the gridlock? That’s what the voters want.”

“It’s not starting off in that direction,” says her less-optimistic-sounding husband, as Republicans in Congress gear up to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “You should have listened to MSNBC this morning. It’s white and black, good and bad, God and the devil — and if you’re in the other party, you’re the devil.”

Lancaster County, home to Lincoln as well as the politically diverse Mueller-Robak family, is among the most evenly split on political lines of any major county in the nation. Hillary Clinton won here by only 310 votes out of 132,569 cast.

And yet, in the polarized America that Donald Trump takes the helm of, this place has somehow risen above the divisiveness, or at least learned how to live peacefully in opposition. Democrats and Republicans reside amiably side-by-side in farmhouses on gravel roads, old brick buildings converted to condos in the city center, or subdivisions of prairie-style houses in between.

They speak cautiously about their expectations for the Trump administration. Maybe it’s their low-key Midwestern attitude, or that people are simply exhausted after the grueling campaign of 2016.

“A lot of the quiet is because no one is exactly sure what’s going to happen,” says Ari Kohen, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who contrasts the ideological diversity of his students with the blanket liberalism of those he taught on the East Coast. “People keep asking me what’s going to happen, and I keep telling them no one knows.”

That uncertainty crosses party lines.

“We’ll find out pretty soon if it’s going to work or not,” says Eddie Kramer, 29, before tucking into eggs and hash browns with his wife, Abby, at a firehouse-themed cafe in town.

If it works, the Kramers, who both work for insurance companies and voted for Trump, hope their health insurance bills shrink. The monthly premiums for them and their two children increased about $50 last year, and they had to pay $80 for required medications after their 7-year-old’s tonsils were removed.

Vincent Powers is looking ahead warily. The outgoing chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, he’s not worried for himself; he’s a successful plaintiff’s attorney and expects to benefit from Trump’s proposed tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy. He is concerned for immigrants and those who depend on the Affordable Care Act or government aid.

But Powers finds solace in his hometown and his friends and neighbors, many of whom voted for Trump.