Ending political 'one-upmanship'
George West has no doubt that he lives in the greatest country in the world.
His view is not some throw-away political line but a heartfelt statement by a man who has experienced a range of extraordinary challenges and successes.
“It is only one man's opinion but, based on my 81 years of living, I think I can make that statement unequivocally,” he said.
West is sharper than a man half his age. Black with a wee bit of Native American, he is intensely proud of serving more than a decade in the Air Force. And he is part of the movement that is frustrated by the people who run and own things — corporations and governments.
His unvarnished opinions defy the conventional wisdom of what the political class says his views should be because of his race.
“I don't see how anything changes in Washington if we place Hillary Clinton in there,” he said. “It will just be business as usual.
“Politicians from the grassroots level to federal all talk about jobs and creating new opportunities, but they are the same people who have allowed the technologies we have developed here to be outsourced to second- and third-world nations.
“The rich get richer and the very people in this country who broke ground with the different technologies are left behind with no jobs ... this continues with Clinton,” he said.
West does not like the way Donald Trump says things, “but he will shake things up, turn everything upside down, and that is a good thing.”
Placing him in one ideological corner would be tough. Yet his worldviews serve as a microcosm of how, many feel, government and big companies have impacted not only the little guy, but the little guy's community and family.
He is unhappy that jobs created here are eventually moved overseas for cheaper labor: “By bringing these jobs back to our country, it would offer more work for the middle class, increase the tax base at all levels, and drastically drop the unemployment rolls.”
He is unhappy with the mess that is our immigration process, and appalled that he cannot say so without being labeled a racist: “I assure it has nothing to do with race. As an African-American with some Cherokee in my ancestry, all sides of my forebearers have faced prejudice, including me.
“It is about doing the right thing and following the laws.”
Partisan politics, he believes, is the worst part of Washington's ineptness: “It has become an internal civil war. It is disturbing, gut-wrenching ... to see good ideas or bills that are nationally beneficial shut down because of partisanship.”
West said that the way the country came together after 9/11 shows what can be accomplished when we work for a common goal. “I am not naïve. I realize we all come from different points of view and have formed our opinions based on our experiences. But the end result should be the welfare of our country and its citizens.” Not political one-upmanship.
The West family has lived in this Westmoreland County town since 1898; Ligonier's history goes back to George Washington's days as a young colonel who led a detachment of 500 Virginia soldiers from the town's fort.
Ligonier has prospered, fallen on hard times, prospered again in its 200-plus years, becoming a home to middle-class families like the Wests as well as a recreational playground for Pittsburgh's wealthy since the robber-baron days of the Industrial Age.
West's story is not unique but it is often unheard and rarely reported. To fully understand the deeper reasons why people vote the way they will this November, we need to do a less superficial job of understanding their concerns.
People like George West have never heard of the “alt-right,” never watched cable news with the ferocity of a zealot, never participated in a Twitter fight over some perceived outrage, but that doesn't make them less informed, as some pundits suggest.
West's distaste for Clinton is real, and it's personal, but not personal toward her.
It is personal in the sense that, for him, she represents everything wrong with Washington's culture — and he believes that is something which has to change.
Salena Zito covers politics for the Trib (email@example.com).