The same group of elderly white men meet every morning at 6 a.m. at Fubbler’s Cove diner on Front Street in Orrick, Missouri. And pretty much every day they discuss the usual stuff: the weather, the crops, etc.
On a recent warm spring day, I dropped in to ask for their opinions on how they think national politics affects them.
“You probably don’t want to hear,” said one, who asked that I not use his name.
These guys disagree all the time – about everything from the new mayor to the food. But it doesn’t get in the way of their daily coffee and conversation.
“We’re split here,” said another. “Some of us is Trump and some ain’t.”
I told them that doesn't surprise me.
Politics in rural communities have been changing in recent years. In 2008, Ray County, Missouri voters split just about down the middle for Barack Obama and John McCain. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by about ten points. And last November, it was Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 65 percent to 28 percent.
Stirring his coffee, David Nail said he’s always voted Republican and he voted for Donald Trump.
“I guess he’s trying,” Nail said staring into his white glass mug. “Sometimes he’s a little far out there, but you know maybe it’s time for something like that. We’ll see."
Across the table, a man who factitiously identified himself as Ralph said he’s not happy with the Republican trend. A retired construction worker, a strong union man and lifelong Democrat, he said the younger generation doesn’t appreciate what government has done for the working man over time.
“Well, like ... my son,” he said. “He voted for Trump and I chewed his butt out good.”
Rural voters feel left out
Terry Galloway, a retired school teacher, said he’s not a Democrat or Republican – he votes for the person. He thinks a lot of people in small towns like Orrick are turned off politics. Traditional party politics, he said, have changed.
“(Democrats) we think of as for the small person,” he said. “Well, most of us are small persons in communities like (this.) And we go to church. Now the Democrats believe in abortion and gay rights and all that other stuff , and the Republican Party doesn’t believe in that stuff so much.”
Another thing: he said there’s a reason for the growing urban-rural split among voters. People in small towns feel ignored, that they’re not getting a fair shake, that they’re talked down to. And they’re sick of the way Washington operates, Calloway said.
“I’m not a Trump man but if he comes up with something good, (the Democrats) are not gonna do it because he’s a Republican,” Calloway said. “What (politicians) have done is lost the grass-roots people who don’t care about them any more because they don’t care about us.”
That leaves many in Orrick inclined to disengage. It means they don’t think, for example, what the impact of fewer federal highway dollars might mean for their community, or less money for rural development.
Another gentleman, who identified himself as "Sparky," and who others were calling "Sparky," said these days he worries about what affects him personally.
“Right now I’m retired,” he said. “As long as they don’t touch my Medicare and my pension, I’m just happy as a bug in a rug.“
Some heads nod. Others shake in disapproval. The rest just keep drinking their coffee, like they’re ready to talk about something else.
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. She can be reached on Twitter @laurazig or email firstname.lastname@example.org.