Residents of the city of Newberry ponder the 2016 presidential candidates and talk of their hopes for American democracy.
By Columbia Voice reporters
November 7, 2016
With its cobblestone streets and village-style shops, the city of Newberry looks and feels like a town out of the Victorian past.
With a population of just over 10,000, residents enjoy a comfortable pace of life and a sense of place. But the presidential campaign has upended some of the tranquility.
Many of Newberry’s residents do not like what they see or hear from the two presidential candidates, and some are making their voice heard.
“This presidential campaign has been hijacked by the circus, and by circus I mean Donald Trump,” Kira Summer, manager of Books on Main, said. “He says so many awful things and the media cannot keep up with him, and they do not report enough on the awful things. They are just glossing over all of that and that really scares me.”
Summer, 35, knows she is outnumbered in this reliably conservative community. Newberry County went for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 and is likely to show up in the GOP column this time around.
Just down the street, Margaret Mozee and Marian Tobias, members of the Newberry Book Club, were reading Pat Conroy’s “The Water Is Wide.” But they interrupted their reading to talk about the presidential debates between Trump, the Republican candidate, and his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I believe that the debate is very heated and each candidate is trying to tear each other down, as you do in elections, but this election is going a little too far,” Mozee said. “I believe that Trump is a man of prestige and power, but his assets do not reflect the character and beliefs necessary to be president.”
“We know Trump as being a very rich man that has a lot of property, but we have not seen any actions from Trump that has to with politics. He has never been involved with politics in his past history,” Tobias said.
Both Mozee and Tobias, along with Summer, agree that the election and debates right now are remarkable and entertaining, to say the least. They also worry that the media is involved with this entertainment and that this is only going to tear down future debates.
If Mozee and Tobias could describe the debates and campaign in three words? Both women were silent for a few moments, until Tobias finally spoke these three words: “Let us pray.”
— Stephen Beson
The sign says, “Welcome to Newberry,” as visitors enter what seems to be the fast food mecca of the county. Farmers wearing cowboy hats grab lunch at El Poblano, truckers order biscuits at Hardee’s and police officers meet at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Beyond that lies the city’s picturesque historic district, with 19th-century houses, cafes and shops of Main Street, Newberry College and the Newberry Opera House.
In the lobby of the Opera House, a group of three works rhythmically to fold and crease information pamphlets for the opera house.
“I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because this other president (President Obama) has more than doubled our national debt,” Thomas Leach, 83, said. “They are letting illegals come here, and if Hillary gets elected, she’s going to open the borders completely.”
Trump “has a business background and knows how to create jobs,” said Leach. “And also he loves America and our military. Hillary could give a squat about our military, or even me or you.”
Leach asked, “Who creates jobs?” and answered his own question: “the rich.”
Leach reflected on his father’s teachings.
“I’ve always been conservative,” said Leach.” My daddy raised me to never make a debt you can’t pay, pay your payments on time, respect women and help anybody that you can help.”
— Danielle Kennedy
Dave Goggans, a 67-year-old African-American retiree, is currently reading Pat Conroy’s “The Water is Wide” with Newberry’s Weekly Reader book club, which meets every Tuesday at the Newberry Literacy Council near Main Street.
Goggans has lived in the small town of Newberry his entire life. He stays on top of the news by reading The State and USA Today, watching CNN and listening to NPR. He described the current presidential election as “troubling.”
“It seems like, too, that it might be coming down to a test of our democracy,” he said.
Goggans voted in the primaries and has already decided on whom he’s voting for, but he still regularly discusses politics with his siblings, who are “outraged by the way that things are going” in the current election cycle. His sister thinks that Donald Trump probably has “surprised himself” with how well he has done so far.
“[Trump] clicked with a certain segment of the population,” Goggans said, “and here we are.”
While some might think that this election cycle’s debates had little impact on voters’ views of the candidates, Goggans believes that the pressure from a live debate helps reveal inner character.
“That really tells you what you are, what your worldview is … It really tells what’s in your heart,” he said.
No matter who is elected, Goggans knows that the future of the U.S. can also be affected by the congressional elections and appointments to the Supreme Court. After the election, he believes the U.S. needs to overcome the divisiveness that has become apparent in recent history.
“With the problems we are facing in the Middle East and all of that, we’re going to need some unity,” he said.
Goggins said he will vote for Clinton, but he said Newberry is still a conservative area.
“Some of them might bring themselves to vote for Hillary,” he said, “but I think that most of them will probably stick with the Republican ticket.”
— Micaela Wendell
It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning and the community of Newberry has has yet to come alive for the day.
Sophia Muliere, a Newberry resident, smoked a leisurely cigarette as she leaned on the window of Gina Marie’s Café. On her head is a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat.
“We move at our own pace sometimes,” she said. She points out the “building for sale” sign in the window.
“But we can’t keep it up for long with how things are going. We’re going to see other closings soon if something doesn’t change,” she said. “Invading companies and corporations, some of which are federal, mind you, are getting too big for the little guys to keep up. If the government keeps letting them get away with it, it won’t be long before the cafes turn into McDonalds.”
Newberry has, in fact, received more attention from large companies in recent months. Newberry County has launched the state’s largest certified megasite for industrial development — the kind of tested, optioned and serviced site that attracts the biggest manufacturers. And Muliere says that isn’t good.
“I don’t like bullies,” she said. “Walmart and McDonalds are bullies. They don’t come from small towns like Newberry. I like underdogs — I like small towns. They’re the real America. I like America. And yes,” she says fixing her hat. “I like Donald Trump too.”
Newberry has historically been a more conservative leaning city. Fifty-eight percent of Newberry residents are registered as Republicans; 40 percent as Democrats. But this election has ensured that even families are divided on the outcome, including she and her brother.
“Trump loves big companies,” Adam Muliere said. “He owns one… But that’s not the problem with him. We want a big company in Newberry, don’t let my sister fool you. The problem with him is his mouth. I don’t want a president who talks about women like he does.”
“I don’t have a problem with it so long as he fixes the economy,” Sophia Muliere said.
— Brodie Putz
On a warm October Wednesday afternoon in downtown Newberry, Beth Hipp helped a customer pay a bill in her women’s clothing store, Elizabeth’s on Main.
She used her business as an example when talking about the future of the country. She plans to vote for Republican Donald Trump because, like many, she believes that Trump’s success as a businessman is a good sign for our future.
“With Trump, at least we’ll be more economically secure and physically secure,” she said.
The economy and national security are Hipp’s top concerns with the election. “If those two things are in place, the rest of it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Running the country like a business is an important aspect of the economy, Hipp believes. “You’ve got to stick to a budget … it’s a whole lot different if you’re running it like a business rather than like an endless pot of money,” she said.
Hips, 54, believes that the future would be “frightening” under Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. “I don’t trust her. Donald Trump’s a cad but at least he’s an honest cad. You don’t have to guess, you know exactly where he stands,” she said.
She doesn’t think Clinton will be good for the country. “She’ll lie, I think she’ll say anything that she thinks will appease whatever group so I’m not sure how strong she would be on national defense,” Hipp said.
Hipp also believes that Clinton wouldn’t be able to run the United States like a business and would be reckless with spending. “She’s never had to create jobs,” she said.
Hipp is hopeful about a future under Trump. Getting the United States under a Republican president is important to her.
Of 2016 America, she said: “It’s not the America I grew up in.”
— Lindsey Hodges
Calvin Sims’s mind was made up the day Donald Trump announced he was running for president; he decided he would vote for the Democratic candidate who opposed him.
To Sims, who spends his days on Main Street working for a photography company and taking breaks to smoke and wave at cars passing by, it didn’t matter who else was running. When he sees Trump, he automatically sees someone who is volatile.
“Trump don’t need to be no president because that man’s mind is not stable,” Sims said. “He’s worse than a firecracker; he might explode at any minute. I think he needs psychiatric help. He’s all about him, he’s not about anybody else.”
Sims doesn’t keep up much with the election. He didn’t watch the debates; he doesn’t ingest news on TV or print. He doesn’t have a smartphone, using a cordless phone to make calls. There isn’t a newspaper or magazine on him, just a few pens and a half-empty cigarette pack in his front shirt pocket.
“When it comes to TV, if there’s a football game on, I’m watching football. If there’s a baseball game on, I’m watching baseball,” he said. “When it’s time to vote, I’m going to make my vote and that’s it. But I’m not voting for Trump. No way.”
Meanwhile, less than a block away, Landis Powers sat on a similar bench smoking a cigarette and explained why he leans toward Trump.
“Trump means what he says, he’s not writing a check with his mouth his ass can’t cash, and he plans to deliver on that and put people back to work and give people a sense of ownership,” he said.
Powers, a 60-year-old, Charleston-based hairdresser, was passing through town on his way back from a camping trip. While they hold opposing political views, he does share one commonality with Sims.
Powers has stayed off social media for the election, declining to post on Facebook. He has watched the debates “as little as possible.”
“It is a circus,” he said. “I turned the first debate on when I was packing for my trip and after 10 minutes I had to turn it off because the negativity and the stress level that was coming off the television was more than I could bear.”
— Collyn Taylor