HENDERSON, Neb. – Jonathan Rempel has never been a big mouth in town about his politics, but his opinions are clear when he asks rhetorical questions such as, “Have you ever gotten a job from a poor person?” Or when he says taxes are a form of extortion. They appear on Facebook, where some of his posts support gun rights and criticize a welfare state.
It was even possible to share his political outlook across a field, from the two “Trump 2020” flags he had hoisted above his combine – until a few weeks ago. , when a fire destroyed much of his farm equipment.
In Mr. Rempel’s farming community in Henderson and in the countryside that makes up much of the majority Republican state of Nebraska, people say President Trump represents their deepest beliefs. And these firmly held beliefs exist in a good versus evil framework in which many see issues like abortion, immigration and what to them is the Chinese nation exploiting commerce and spreading the virus on the most austere terms.
Almost four years ago, in his victory speech on election night, Mr. Trump pledged to stand up for “the hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better future and brighter for themselves and for their families ”.
“The forgotten men and women of our country,” he promised at the time, “will no longer be forgotten.”
Presidential supporters in places like rural Nebraska say they feel remembered. For them, these four years have brought a sense of belonging to a country ruled by someone who stands up for and understands their dearest beliefs. For more than 50% of Americans who disapprove of the president, Mr. Trump may represent division and dishonesty. In Henderson, and in many places like it, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign speech that he is fighting for the soul of the nation simply does not resonate. People here would consider his soul to be in danger if he triumphs.
Thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters showed him their dedication last week as they solemnly rushed against a cold autumn wind, a few hours of travel, to hear him speak at a campaign event in Omaha , one of a series of rallies to stop the scares across the country where supporters have come together in one denomination some of the values of each.
“Always watch where I am,” a man coached a young girl in coveralls, telling her to stay close as they held hands and squeezed through the Omaha crowd while waiting for Mr. Trump. “But these are Trump supporters. You do not have to worry.
This feeling of Trumpian kinship permeates rural areas like Henderson, a population of around 1,000, with its two downtown blocks, flaming red oaks, silver grain silos, and artwork on the next to a Main Street building that reads: “Some are bigger, nothing better.” “
This is what made the phone call Mr Rempel received about two weeks ago from firefighters as he and his wife were preparing their children for school all the more shocking. His farm equipment was on fire. The combine, a tractor and two semi-trailers parked in a cornfield south of town had apparently been set on fire.
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“I said, ‘No it’s not possible,’ recalls Mr. Rempel, a fourth generation farmer, describing his disbelief that his equipment had been destroyed and his corn crop was in. danger.
Mr. Rempel will not speculate on the motive for what he believes is arson; the state fire marshal only said he was investigating the incident.
The charred remains of his farm vehicles lie in a field surrounded by miles of plowed meadow. A blackened Trump flag is crumpled at the base of a burnt tractor. Mr. Rempel had been so sure they were safe, he left the keys in the ignition.
While it is not known how the fire started, the news about it surprised a community that believes it shares a common value system. The fact that one vehicle was fitted with Trump flags led some residents and some of the more than 1,700 people who commented on Mr. Rempel’s Facebook post about the fire to declare the fire for political reasons.
It is a sentiment also expressed by the best Republicans in the state. Gov. Pete Ricketts spoke of the incident when asked at a press conference about pro-Trump billboard vandalism, calling anyone who would do such a thing “anti-American” and “people who hate our country”. Senator Ben Sasse, whose recently leaked comments criticizing President Trump were viewed by many Republicans in Nebraska as blasphemy, also called the incident “heinous.”
For his part, Mr. Rempel refuses to speculate on a motive, but here in Henderson, a certain fear is whispered: the fire starters are aligned with the antifa, coming from the cities to attack their way of life.
“Anytime you see something on fire that’s been kindled on purpose, or anytime you see a business destroyed, anytime you see someone making a point with violence, it’s wrong,” said Mr. Rempel. “And evil destroyed.”
Like most other states, Nebraska is divided by an urban-rural divide. Mr. Trump has garnered overwhelming support from the state as a whole. But residents of Nebraska’s two major cities tend to vote more liberally than those in rural areas. Mr. Trump won in Omaha’s second congressional district in 2016, but Barack Obama won it in 2008. The district winner collects only one electoral vote in a state that, unlike most others, divides its vote, which could play a central role in an upcoming election.
Omaha is 187 miles from York County, where Henderson is located and where Mr. Trump in 2016 won by a landslide. Most people in the county say they vote for him again – and most plan to go to the polls in person on Tuesday as they always do on Election Day.
“I like what he represents. He is against abortion. He is against evil. He is against higher taxes. said Pat Goossen, who owns The Petal Pusher, a flower shop on Main Street in Henderson. “He shares my values. I don’t want higher taxes. I don’t want our jobs to disappear.
Ms Goossen observed the violence that accompanied some of the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death on the Evening News. The images gave the impression that entire cities were on fire. This summer, violent protests erupted in Omaha, where a black man was killed by a white business owner as people marched against racial injustice. But the protests did not reach Henderson.
Although the president refused to speak out against white supremacy, Ms Goossen, who is white like most of her neighbors in Henderson, said she could not believe the president was linked with violent explosions at rallies against racial injustice.
“Do you honestly think he caused the fire and the riots? Are you out of your still loving mind? He didn’t, ”she said. “He was a victim, just like us.”
Ms Goossen and other Mr Trump supporters speak reverently about the president’s clear speech, the fact that he is not a typical pontificate politician, the way he, a New York real estate mogul, can relate to all strata of society.
The president took to the job sites and spoke to workers “hauling drywall and raising steel,” said Blake Collingsworth, who runs a house building company in Lincoln.
“You have to be for the little guy,” Mr. Collingsworth said. “He understands this part of society and how important the person who works is.”
People like Tim Esch, a rancher from Spalding, remember the pain in the 1980s caused by President Jimmy Carter’s Soviet grain embargo, which brought down prices for corn and wheat. Mr. Trump’s trade policies with China have also been difficult for farmers, he said, but will pay off in the long run.
Some of Mr. Trump’s plans haven’t worked, he said, but his actions show he listened to farmers’ concerns.
“All this China stuff, Trump just supported,” Mr. Esch said.
Like Mr. Esch, many Republicans in Nebraska believe the Democratic Party is using the pandemic as a political tool against the president. Coronavirus cases are skyrocketing here; church prayer lists include long lists of names of those who are suffering. In Henderson, the virus ended up in a nursing home and affected several families.
But on farms where the nearest house is miles away, concerns about the disease seem distant.
“I have bigger problems than a virus that 99.9% of us can overcome without medical intervention,” said Rempel who, like most people in the area, does not always wear a mask. when gathered with others.
Mr. Rempel enjoys the feeling of seclusion of being on the farm, where he can move around in the cab of his combine harvester or behind the wheel of his pickup truck, bouncing on gravel roads.
“I love being in a flying country. I love this. I kiss her, ”Mr. Rempel said, walking through his rows of corn and rubbing each bent stalk. “I lived in Omaha. No one knew who you were. You can do whatever you want. You could go and steal a car, hit a pole and run away without anyone caring.
Rural life, he said, offers responsibilities to people who share a set of values. To be surrounded by parents, grandparents, those “who are proud of you”, is to anchor. It’s something he thinks lost in the big cities.
The fire caused Mr Rempel to focus on dividing the country, which he said he was tired of even though he knows his views are drastically different from those of many who support Mr Biden.
“Everyone wants to put people in a box so that we can decide right away if we hate you. You are a Trump supporter! You are a supporter of Biden! We hate you! “He said.” We have to let go of this as a country. You are who you are, and I am who I am, and I can love you even if I don’t agree with you.
In Henderson, word quickly spread among all the farmers about Mr. Rempel’s burning equipment. Everyone knew that this came at a crucial time when the corn had to be harvested and transported to the market. The urgency was all the greater for Mr. Rempel whose wife was a few days before the due date with the couple’s third child.
Neighbors and church friends brought homemade cinnamon casseroles and buns. Mr. Rempel’s sister created a GoFundMe page titled “Burned Farmer” where donations exceeded $ 100,000.
And under a silvery sky of a recent freezing dawn, a line of combines and tractors rumbled over the horizon and stopped in gravel terrain. About 20 farmers got out of their vehicles and gathered for a prayer before going to work. They came from nearby farms and as far away as Colorado to help Mr. Rempel finish his harvest.
“Welcome to my life,” Mr. Rempel said, taking it all in, “where people are good.”