A Return to Trump Country, Part 1
Washington County, Pennsylvania, lies just south of Pittsburgh, close by the West Virginia line. It was the center of the Whiskey Rebellion against Alexander Hamilton’s tax on liquor to pay off the Revolutionary War debt, and it sits above the massive Marcellus Shale, the largest source of natural gas in the United States.
Although it’s a traditionally Democratic region, with a strong labor history and an 8.5% edge in Democratic voter registration, this is Trump country. Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by 25 points in the county, and he remains hugely popular here.
It’s a working-class county, 95% white, 3% black, and barely 0.5% Latino. Its median income ($56,450) is slightly above Pennsylvania’s, and its 5.5% unemployment rate has dropped considerably since the onset of fracking a few years ago. It’s a fiercely patriotic place, where flags are proudly flown and military service honored, where Democrats and Republicans share deeply conservative social values. The number-one issue, a Democratic county commissioner told me, is the Second Amendment.
It is also a region racked by an opioid epidemic. From afar drug overdoses are statistics. Here they are a tragedy – everyone seems to have a family member or friend who has died.
I’d come to Washington County last summer as I made my way across the so-called Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Republican convention in Cleveland. I had talked to some people here, Democrats and Republicans, who strongly supported Donald Trump, and I wanted to talk to them again, almost a year later.