This Family Doesn't Agree On Trump — But They Await His Presidency Together
The most contentious presidential campaign and election in memory has many people dreading the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Some have even canceled plans, unwilling to face family members on the other side of the country's hardening political divide.
Not so for the McNeish family of Roanoke, Va., though they still differ mightily on what to expect from a President Trump over the next four years.
"I have no faith in him whatsoever," says Danny, 35, who works with a company that supplies and services restaurant equipment. He considered Trump's campaign a "joke" and cast a reluctant vote for Hillary Clinton.
His father and stepmother both voted for Donald Trump. Phil McNeish, 57, is a machinist who calls himself a left-leaning independent; his wife, Julie, is a schoolteacher who was raised a Democrat. Before Trump, both voted for President Obama in 2008 and then Mitt Romney in 2012.
Phil, who grew up in New Jersey, says he gets Trump's style. "He's brash, he's in your face," he says. "Rough around the edges."
But he likes that Trump is toning down his campaign rhetoric and pulling back from some promises, as Trump appears to be doing in saying he wants to keep parts of Obamacare.
"I mean, he's been a Democrat most of his life. He's going to go more liberal than any of the other Republican candidates," he says.
Phil thinks that can help break the gridlock in Congress, but his son is not buying it.
"The Republican party doesn't support him!" says Danny. He thinks a President Trump will do exactly what President Obama has done: issue lots of executive orders, and "if you don't like it, too bad."
Danny is bothered by Trump's positions on climate change and abortion, and appalled that he has no political experience. Throughout the campaign, he'd argue with his stepmother, Julie, reciting to her the latest controversial comments Trump had made.
Julie admits she was rattled repeatedly, thinking each comment was going to be the end of Trump's campaign. But in the end, she couldn't get over her frustration that after eight years of a Democratic administration, "we're worse off than we were."
"You have to just believe in Trump," she tells Danny, as he shakes his head and laughs.
Julie says her son, his girlfriend and their three children recently moved in with her and Phil to save money. Even though both have jobs, she says they were having trouble affording childcare and making ends meet. She says Phil also works two jobs. "How can we be working this hard, and you see we live modestly, and we're having a hard time just making our bills?" she asks.
When Phil went into manufacturing in his 20s, he says he couldn't believe the money — and companies would call up and offer even more to hire him away. But since moving to Virginia more than two decades ago he's seen things change, and he blames a lot of it on NAFTA.
When one employer moved to Mexico, Phil says he was flown there to help train the workers. He found other work, but says meager raises have not kept up with the cost of living. "I think I peaked out in 2000," he says. "I'm currently making $12,000 less a year than I was making in 2000."
To make up for falling wages he has started his own company on the side, working nights and weekends in his basement. There, Phil shows me the hulking pieces of used equipment they bought by dipping into Julie's retirement fund. He creates steel molds that are used to form plastic parts, grinding them smooth to microscopically precise measurements.
These days, Phil's clients are up front with him, and he's competing with more than Mexico. "They'll tell me ahead of time, we're gonna quote this out to China," he says. He almost never gets those bids, since he says a Chinese company will do the work for about a third of what he charges.
In some cases, Phil says he has actually been hired to fix a shoddy part from China. But even after paying him a few thousand dollars for that, the client still came out ahead. Phil is counting on Trump to impose a tariff on Chinese imports.
"I'm just hoping there's a way to return to the days when we were a manufacturing power," he says. "I believe that's what brought us where we are today. I hate to see it just gone."
Back upstairs, Julie says she hopes the country will eventually rally around President-elect Trump and give him a chance. Phil's son Danny says he worries Trump might spark controversy when speaking to some foreign leader without a teleprompter.
But this family, including other children nearby, will keep their disagreements civil, even calm. I ask again them again: Were there really no Facebook feuds or flaring tempers? No tensions that will play out at Thanksgiving dinner?
"That's not our whole family," says Julie, and they all laugh. She hastens to add that extended family is far away, but if they could make it for the holiday, they'd be welcome.
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