Divided States: Ga. Farmer And Trump Backer Looks Forward To The Debate

Sep 26, 2016
Originally published on September 26, 2016 9:54 am
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I'm Steve Inskeep in Atlanta.


And I'm David Greene in Washington, D.C.

And Steve, you're in the state of Georgia. And I know this is the first of four stops we'll be making around these presidential debates. Can you just remind our listeners what we're doing here?

INSKEEP: Yeah. We're visiting divided states in this divided country. Georgia's a Republican state, it has been in presidential elections. But it's getting a little more competitive as the demographics change.

So we're talking with voters in this debate season, hearing the voter's stories today and then returning to them tomorrow to hear what they thought of the presidential debate.

GREENE: OK. Different voices, very different voters. Like a Clinton supporter we heard elsewhere in the hour, and also the farmer who spoke with NPR's Debbie Elliott.


DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: It's still dark when John Jackson (ph) makes his morning rounds.

JOHN JACKSON: We've got chickens all up in the pecan tree here right now, yeah, up in the roost. And they're just doing what chickens do.


JACKSON: (Laughter).

ELLIOTT: At 40 years old, Jackson is new to farming. He's retired Army.

JACKSON: Did six tours in both - in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Served 11 years with the United States Army Rangers.

ELLIOTT: He came home with chronic PTSD and other problems. And that's what led him to start this 25-acre farm outside the small town of Milledgeville. Here, veterans in crisis work the farm to learn agriculture in a low-pressure setting.

JACKSON: Just trying to create a safe place for vets and kind of build my own bridge for my own health.

ELLIOTT: It's called Comfort Farms, named for a Ranger buddy killed in combat. Jackson says veterans aren't getting the right help transitioning back to civilian life, or the proper medical care.

JACKSON: We have way too many guys committing suicide. We have too many programs out there that aren't working.

ELLIOTT: Jackson's frustration with the VA, and with a system he believes favors global agribusiness over the small farmer, is what's driving his presidential decision. He's with Donald Trump.

JACKSON: We need a bull that's, like, in a china shop to wreck shop. I'm not happy with our government at all.

ELLIOTT: John Jackson is a stocky black man, with an elaborate sleeve tattoo covering one arm. He and his wife live on the farm with their four kids. A new baby is on the way. He's an avid hunter and barbecue pitmaster. The farm raises rare pig breeds, prized for their marbled pork.

JACKSON: Soo wee (ph). They get all kind of crazy. They want to eat. (Laughter) Yeah. Let's get on, guys. Yeah.

ELLIOTT: After he feeds the piglets and checks on the rabbits and billy goats, Jackson sits down to talk politics. He knows it's unusual for an African-American to support Trump, and says some of his friends give him a hard time about it. But he wants drastic change, and says if the establishment is against Trump, that's a start.

JACKSON: I don't want a yes man in the White House. I want someone where everyone just feels like their job is at stake, you know, because it's not the good old boy system. We need, like - the American people need someone that's going to put them first.

ELLIOTT: Jackson says normal folks no longer have a say because they can't afford to hire lobbyists.

JACKSON: Who's out there talking for me? There isn't anybody out there talking for me. Right now I want to raise chickens to go to a restaurant. Well, no, you can only raise a thousand. And they can only go to a farmer's market. Well, the restaurants want to buy them. Well, you can't do that.

ELLIOTT: Jackson likes Trump's stance on deregulation, and his plan to give vets the option of getting medical care outside the VA system.

Jackson was an Obama supporter, but says he doesn't identify with either political party. That hasn't always been the case. He grew up in a New Jersey family that always voted Democratic.

JACKSON: There was no other choice besides being a Democrat. And I grew up thinking, you know, if you're Republican, you're racist.

ELLIOTT: For too long, Jackson says, politicians have been segmenting voters into racial groups, courting the black vote, for instance, or the Hispanic vote. When it should be about the American vote, he says.

The debate tonight provides a platform that Jackson hopes Trump will use to dispel the perception that the candidate is a bigot.

JACKSON: I want him to combat those accusations. Oh, you don't like Mexican people. I want him to combat that. Or you don't like Muslims. I want him to combat that.

ELLIOTT: Jackson says whatever comes up in the debate, he expects high drama.

JACKSON: Trump is - he's a straight shooter. He shoots from the hip. And I can only imagine what he has in store for Hillary. And I can only imagine what Hillary has in store for him. So - and Hillary's tough. I mean, there's going be shots fired (laughter). This is, like, almost as good as MMA (laughter).

ELLIOTT: And for our listeners who don't know what MMA is?

JACKSON: Oh, mixed martial arts. Yeah, in the cage, man, in the cage.

ELLIOTT: The worst case scenario for Trump tonight, Jackson says, is if he comes off sounding like a politician.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Milledgeville, Ga.

GREENE: OK, Debbie introducing us to a voter in the divided state of Georgia. My colleague Steve Inskeep is in the state of Georgia listening to many of these voter voices.

And, Steve, what are you learning?

INSKEEP: Well, I'm learning something about Georgia, or maybe I should say feeling it. Because I was aware that Georgia is becoming more diverse, but we're seeing this now. We were, among other places, in Gwinnett County. So this is not Atlanta. It's not the center city. It's a suburban area and so diverse. You found white families. You found black families. We stopped by an Islamic center. We were talking with Pakistani-Americans. There are Palestinians, people from other countries, Latinos at the county fair.

We should remember, David, this is still the south. It's still a very culturally distinct place. But if you study the history, you discover the south has always been a little more diverse than we might imagine. And it's becoming way, way more diverse as the years go on.

GREENE: Are the different voices giving you a clear picture of this election at all?

INSKEEP: Well, yeah. I guess some of it's obvious, that people have really different opinions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Wildly different opinions of the direction of the country in the world and what's wrong with the country and what needs to change in the world. That's not a surprise.

But I think the challenge for us, really, is to listen at length to some of those different viewpoints, some of the personal stories of people who have those viewpoints. Now, I would imagine that some people are finding it hard to listen this morning to a man who fears civil war if Hillary Clinton is elected, or a woman who thinks that Donald Trump is hateful. Those are just a couple of the voices that we're hearing this morning.

But we think it's important just to listen, to learn about our fellow Americans. And that's the experience we're trying to have here in the state of Georgia - and in other states to follow - and the experience we're trying to share with people at home.

GREENE: All right. And Steve is going to be back on the show tomorrow, bringing some of those voters together to react and respond to the presidential debate, which is happening tonight. We are visiting divided states around the country around the presidential debate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.