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‘Enthusiasm for Trump hasn’t diminished one bit’ downstate

Chuck Griswold, in 2017 when he was still mayor of Fairfield, Illinois, presiding over a Rotary Club meeting.

Chuck Griswold, in 2017 when he was still mayor of Fairfield, Illinois, presiding over a Rotary Club meeting. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Saturday is the first anniversary of the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Since my views on his administration should be familiar to the careful reader, I thought I’d mark the occasion by looking beyond myself.

If you list Illinois’ 102 counties by how they voted in the 2016 presidential election, at one end is Cook County, which voted 74.4 percent for Hillary Clinton. On the other, Wayne County, 275 miles due south, voted 84.3 percent for Trump.

You might recall that one year ago I visited Fairfield, population 5,000, the Wayne County seat. It was pleasant and informative. In getting to know a small, tight-knit community, I met the mayor, the newspaper publisher, the bank president, the police chief. They were pretty much of one mind.

“It’s kinda nice having a nonpolitician running the country,” said one retiree having his early-morning coffee at the Barb Wire Grill on Main Street.

One year on, has anything changed? How do they assess the Trump presidency so far? Still kinda nice?

OPINION

“Most people I know haven’t really changed their opinion of Trump yet,” said L. Bryan Williams, who owns an insurance company. “He says a lot of cringe-worthy things that some of us wish he wouldn’t. But, by and large, we’re judging things by what we’re seeing regarding unemployment dropping, the price of oil is higher, more job opportunities throughout America — sadly none to Wayne County yet.”

The price of oil being higher is a good thing around Fairfield.

“That’s important to us,” Williams said. “A lot of people here work in the oil and gas business.”

“I don’t agree with everything he says; he probably shoots off his mouth when he shouldn’t,” said Mike Copeland, president of the Fairfield National Bank. “But that’s beside the point. The thing I’m most interested in is what he can do for us economically. And from a business standpoint, he has taken some steps in the right direction.”

Nationwide, Trump’s approval rating has fallen to 39 percent, the lowest ever for a president after one year in office. You wouldn’t know it in Wayne County.

Founded in 1935, Airtex once employed a thousand people making fuel pumps in Fairfield. The production jobs were sent overseas and now only 40 administrators work there.

Founded in 1935, Airtex once employed a thousand people making fuel pumps in Fairfield. The production jobs were sent overseas and now only 40 administrators work there. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

“I think the year has gone well,” said the Rev. Donna Blythe of the Fairfield First United Methodist Church. “Some of our parishioners are not happy with the kind of administration it has been, but almost the whole majority are very happy. Very happy with the economics, currently.”

Chuck Griswold, who was the mayor when I visited, has noticed a certain puzzlement about the president.

“I think people were pretty excited,” said Griswold, who retired in June. “Now . . . all the antics of the president leave us scratching our head a little bit. Personally, I think a businessman should, at the end of the day, make an excellent leader. Some of the stuff he’s pulling, golly, get it under control. I’m disappointed in that element of him. Fundamentally he makes some sound decisions.”

Internationally, Trump is doing the job.

“His handling of Korea is kind of scary but, hell, it was kind of scary to begin with,” said Griswold. “At least he has those two countries talking. The whole Russia thing is the Democrats looking for something that doesn’t exist. Let’s bury it.”

The problems are seen as mostly a matter of style.

“We’re partially satisfied but disappointed in the way he’s handled his mouth,” said Griswold. “Basically, he needs somebody there to smack him, say ‘Shut up, you’re killing yourself.’ That’s my personal assessment.”

The new mayor hopes Trump’s economic success finds its way to Fairfield.

“I am hopeful with some of the policies that he’s starting to put in place,” said Brent Maguire, 44. “It’s going to be beneficial. Trump is going to be able to give some hope for the economy, in economically depressed areas like ours right now.”

A year ago, Tom Mathews, publisher of the Wayne County Press, was enjoying “the hell out of” Trump’s style and success.

“I still am,” said Mathew, 70. “I think he’s accomplished quite a bit in his first year. Of course he has no help from the media; he’s got a lot of stiff headwinds. But I’m very encouraged; he was far superior to what the alternative was. My enthusiasm for Trump hasn’t diminished one bit. I’m just ecstatic that he is not a career politician. I enjoy his brash style. It’s refreshing.”