Awaiting America's political earthquake
HANAHAN, S.C. — Twenty-six years before this low-country city was incorporated, Chad Chinners' grandfather took a risk and opened Blackwell's Building Supply Co., hoping to provide for his family with his own business after serving in World War II.
Sixty-nine years later, it remains in the same family's hands, in the same location. The dirt roads are gone, and new businesses and a bedroom community emerged, but Blackwell's is a sentinel marking the origins of a city and the continuum of a community.
Chinners stands behind the counter, greeting every customer by name as they look for nuts, bolts or complicated gadgets to finish a home-repair project. Building materials, common household items, grilling accessories, pots, pans and yard supplies are neatly stacked in different areas, giving the feel of an old general store. Customers young and old, black, white and Hispanic, male and female, linger to chat with each other or with Chinners.
“I can remember coming here when I was a kid with my grandfather,” says Charles Maxey, 70. The retired postal worker has lived here most of his life, with the exception of his time in the Air Force during Vietnam.
“The thing is, while some things stay the same, like Blackwell's, politicians have missed the disruption,” he says of society's changes. “People are rattled ... economic and societal turbulence is everywhere, especially in politics.
“People assume because I am African-American, I'll vote Democrat. Well, I've voted for Nixon, Reagan and Obama. Way I look at it now, I'll probably have a choice between Trump and Clinton in November.”
A match-up, he says, that will continue the disruption in our politics.
By Tuesday evening, the likelihood of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton heading to their party's nominations will have increased twofold. If they continue to steamroll through the primaries on March 15, their nominations will become almost inevitable.
That means two wealthy New Yorkers, neither particularly well liked in their parties, will conduct ruthless, calculated campaigns aimed at each other's personal destruction in the hope that the electorate will find both so repulsive that they refuse to vote and only the candidates' hardcore bases will show up.
That will bring the country back to square one, leaving us still angry, still disrupted, still searching for ways to send a blunt message to the forces of status quo.
Does anyone really believe either candidate has demonstrated the one thing we have been seeking for years — leadership?
Hanahan doesn't look that different from every city in America. Yet turbulence brews beneath its surface, especially as this working-class city of 19,000 grapples with being one of three places under consideration to house detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Many Americans feel the government is working against them. They see the Obama administration as rudderless on the international stage with Iran and Russia, as well as at home with our economy.
When people feel the gap between the nation's richest and poorest is widening under this administration's “recovery,” and that distressed areas are doing worse instead of better, their anger and resentment build. The result is more economic and political polarization and more people feeling left out — which is why you see so many voters looking to shake things up.
Take, for example, last week's primary results here; most analysts were shocked that Trump won a majority of evangelical voters over Ted Cruz. They didn't understand (some still don't) that these are the same voters who supported Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, and they're tired of losing. These voters hear Trump shouting about strength and winning — and they run toward the light for the win, ignoring the consequences.
The sources of today's pressures on Americans have existed for a long time, but the fault lines are finally shifting. Today's political realignment is very much akin to the slow, grinding, opposing forces of abutting tectonic plates, but the earthquake has not yet hit. In fact, we haven't even hit midstride of our populism.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (firstname.lastname@example.org).