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Trump’s America: Rural-urban divide in Georgia

  • A woman goes to a yoga class as dusk falls in the East of Atlanta, Georgia, in Dekalb County, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The county is a Democratic stronghold east of the city centre of Atlanta. Hillary Clinton has won four of the five DeKalb votes, to play on a heavy Afro-American population, a growing Hispanic community and a bevy of white liberals, many of them from elsewhere. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    (Associated Press)

  • A logging truck passes through the main street business district, a cross stands in a flower shop window in Lula, Ga., in Hall County, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. “This is good country up here,” says Margaret Luther, who works part-time at the flower shop, decorated with fresh and artificial flowers, Christian crosses and a wreath celebrating the University of Georgia Bulldogs. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    (Associated Press)

  • A sign greeted drivers outside a shop in the East of Atlanta, Georgia, in Dekalb County, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. As Donald Trump prepares for the Oval Office, the citizens with different views of urban and rural areas illustrate the broadening of cultural fissures that help explain Trump’s rise and will define his presidency. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    (Associated Press)

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LULA, Ga. – Patti Thomas is the owner of a flower shop in the north Georgia town of Lula. Xavier Bryant runs an independent pharmacy just outside of Atlanta. Looking to the inauguration of an entrepreneur as chairman, the two parts of this expectation: Donald Trump will be good for the business.

“He has already proven that he can turn things around,” the 52-year-old Thomas says, crediting Trump with Ford Motor Co.’s recent announcement that it will scrap a planned Mexico plant, while expanding in Michigan. “Just his business enthusiasm, we have failed.”

“My intuition,” the 33-year-old Bryant once, “tells me that the owners of small businesses will win” Trump the economy.

But aside from that commonality, Thomas, and Bryant — a white baby boomer from a small town and a black millennial from the big city — relieve the broadening of cultural fissures that help explain Trump’s rise and may well define his presidency.

Trump draws its strength from places such as Lula, a railway line, with 2,800 residents and no stop in the central business district. He won nearly 3 out of 4 votes in one of the neighbouring County Hall, which is adjacent to the multi-county cluster that makes up metro Atlanta. Even with a growing Latino population, the Hall is whiter than Georgia and the United States as a whole, and the conservatism carries the day.

“This is good country up here,” says Margaret Luther, who works in Thomas’ flower shop, decorated with fresh and artificial flowers, crosses for religious arrangements, and a distinctive wreath to celebrate the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

Bryant, meanwhile, hails from DeKalb County, a Democratic stronghold next to the city center of Atlanta. Hillary Clinton won 4 of the 5 DeKalb votes, to play on a large African-American population, a growing Hispanic community and white liberals, many of them from elsewhere.

The dynamics at play in these two Georgia institutions, it is only a short interstate drive away from each other, consistent with the national trends that helped Trump his victory. According to the Associated Press count, Clinton won only 487 counties in the U.S., most of them urban, while Trump running 2,626, especially in the suburbs and in the countryside.

The conversations in the Hall, and DeKalb counties revealed that a number of the sharp dividing lines between the different Americas Trump will lead, even if some are exaggerated by the perceptions each side has about the other.

In Hall County, Joe Thomas, Patti’s husband, praised Trump as a “non-politician”, who do not meet the founding players. Patti Thomas says that the style spoke to non-citizens who are a nation increasingly dominated and determined by cities. The fact that Trump himself is from New York City, her husband added, because of his “force of personality.”

But on a graffiti and murals covered the hipster coffee shop in East Atlanta, on a 37-year-old Jessica Greene counters that what people like the Thomases, see refreshing moxie amounts to “egomaniacal … control issues” that leave her suspicious and “in a very dark place about it all.”

She adds that, even if it “makes me sound like a jerk,” she sees Trump’s base outside the urban boundaries as reactionary and ill-informed, driven by religious and societal beliefs that can amount to bigotry, intended or not. Greene, a stay-at-home mother, and Bryant, and the pharmacist, both pointed to their own faith as justification for their more liberal views.

In Lula, “the most Christian-based houses were for Trump,” says the 33-year-old waitress Ashley Chandler, but neither they, nor those on the Thomases’ flower shop of their faith, or hot-button social issues like abortion or gay marriage, until prompted.

Discuss the differences in the city life and small towns, Patti Thomas mentions crime, with the question aloud whether Atlanta residents feel safe. Chandler refers to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, she is seen aired on Atlanta tv stations. “I mean, there were people in the streets to protest against the police,” she says.

Back in the East of Atlanta, the 36-year-old Kenneth Bota errors that portrayal of urban life as part of Trump’s “false story” about African-Americans. Over the weekend, Trump took to Twitter to blow up Atlanta, in particular, the district Rep. John Lewis, who gave him an “illegal president.” Trump said the district was “in a terrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime is forgiven).”

Instead of “dividing our communities,” Bota says Trump and his supporters must see places such as Atlanta, DeKalb County, as “different religions and cultures living as neighbors.”

If there is a fair agreement on the other side of the gap between the Hall and DeKalb, it is, perhaps, that Trump is only one citizen, but powerful.

“They all make promises to get elected,” said Chandler, Lula, waitress, explaining that her size for Trump’s success is modest: “Perhaps he may be less of a struggle” for people like her.

In DeKalb, Xavier Bryant says he will embrace Inauguration Day as a reminder of what he can do himself — including “give you more good energy.”

He adds: “It is all the small parts that are part of the whole.”

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