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North Carolina And Virginia Voters Share Their Thoughts On Trump's 1st Term

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Trump presidency has brought sweeping change on a global, national and personal level. When he took office, everyone had hopes and fears for what the next four years would bring. I took a road trip in the days leading up to his inauguration through North Carolina and Virginia, two swing states that narrowly went opposite ways four years ago, and I asked everyone about their hopes and fears - farmers, pastors, students and service members.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JERRY ANDERSON: You're talking about what we - what you can and cannot do. We cannot un-elect Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If his businesses are profiting, that also means my businesses might be profiting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I said, mom, it's just - we're just - we're all crying.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I think this is something that the nation needs to come together and do, is just love and forgive and let go.

SHAPIRO: Today, as we near the end of that four-year term, I got back in touch with some of those folks to see how the reality compared to their expectations. And each person, supporters and opponents, told me Trump turned out to be the kind of president they expected, only more so, starting with Reverend John Mendez in Winston-Salem, N.C. The first time I met him four years ago, he gave a sermon at Emmanuel Baptist Church connecting Jesus to Martin Luther King Jr. to the politics of today.

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JOHN MENDEZ: I am disappointed, but I am not discouraged. And I ain't in no ways tired.

SHAPIRO: Four years later, I asked the now retired Reverend Mendez if he's still disappointed in the president.

MENDEZ: I think I'm more terrified than disappointed. I didn't realize how widespread and how impactful President Trump would be in terms of a more overt form of racism and attack on our democratic principles.

SHAPIRO: Have you been heartened by the response to that - the Black Lives Matter protests, the vocal sentiment that this is not what we're going to stand for?

MENDEZ: Let me just say, I feel extremely proud of our young people of all races that have come together to raise these protests. And I think they're extremely important, but I also think that it's important that we just don't stop at protests but that we fight for policy change.

SHAPIRO: So when I asked about the hopes and fears that Reverend Mendez has for the next four years, his biggest hope was obvious.

MENDEZ: No. 1, he will be defeated in November.

SHAPIRO: His fear is that if Trump is defeated and Biden wins, people will get complacent.

MENDEZ: It's important we keep the pressure on the Democrats to do the right thing and to make the changes that they promise and more.

SHAPIRO: From Winston-Salem, we drove west to Yadkin County, a rural part of North Carolina that went more strongly for President Trump than almost any other part of the state. That's where Chuck Wooten gave us a tour of the farm that's been in his family five generations. It used to grow tobacco. Now the land sprouts soybeans, pumpkins and strawberries. In those final days before Republicans took full control of Congress and the White House four years ago, he was excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHUCK WOOTEN: I'm not the person that wants to see the wreck on the side of the road, OK? But I am fascinated by the changes that are going to take place.

SHAPIRO: Today, Chuck Wooten has an 8-foot-wide Trump-Pence sign in front of his property. During a pause from his soybean harvest, he told me Trump exceeded his expectations, too.

WOOTEN: I got, in my opinion, one of the greatest presidents that we have ever seen in this country, going all the way back to probably Ronald Reagan.

SHAPIRO: First example he gave was the trade war with China, which surprised me because that hurt a lot of American soybean farmers. And Chuck Wooten said it hurt him, too, for a little while, but it paid off in the long run.

WOOTEN: The Chinese really put a hurting on American farmers, you know? And the first year, it probably cost me personally about $18,000. So I had a lot of skin in the game, but I knew in the long run it would benefit the country.

SHAPIRO: Did you get some of the government support that was provided to farmers to help make up that difference?

WOOTEN: I did. I did, which was also something that Trump pushed through - made sure that the USDA followed through on.

SHAPIRO: His hope for the next four years is that things will return to normal. He says he had a mild case of COVID-19 early this year, and he feels like people are overreacting to the pandemic.

WOOTEN: And I really don't understand how it shut down an entire country. And I really want to see things return to normal.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what normal looks like to you.

WOOTEN: Normal looks like people not wearing masks and people not scared of their neighbors.

SHAPIRO: So when doctors say things like, you know, if 95% of people wore masks, you could prevent more than 100,000 deaths...

WOOTEN: If - all right, if 95% of people just washed their hands like they're supposed to, if 95% of people ate like they were supposed to, if 95% of people exercise like they were supposed to - you know, you can come up with those scenarios all day long, that if you did this, if you lived a healthier life in general, how many deaths would be prevented?

SHAPIRO: You know, I think one big difference is if I don't exercise or I don't eat right, it might hurt me. But if I am spreading the coronavirus by not wearing a mask, it might hurt other people.

WOOTEN: So - and I know you've heard this argument a thousand times - you know, if you have a concern about catching something - same reason that my mom, who is 90 years old, does not go out to restaurants in the wintertime because she's concerned about catching the flu. That's a personal choice that she makes.

SHAPIRO: From North Carolina, we drove up to Blacksburg, Va., where I met Juan de la Rosa Diaz at Virginia Tech's Hispanic Cultural Center. Even though he had a lot at stake in the 2016 election, he didn't vote because he's not a U.S. citizen. He's protected by DACA, the program that allows people to stay in the U.S. who were brought here as children. Back then, he told me deportation felt like a real threat.

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JUAN DE LA ROSA DIAZ: It's always in the back of my mind because when we apply to DACA, we have to do things like turn over all of our information - where we live, how long we've been here, what we look like.

SHAPIRO: Today, Juan is living in Baltimore, working as an admissions counselor at a university, where he gets to counsel students wrestling with some of the same issues he was struggling with four years ago.

DIAZ: Just reminding them that they're not alone, that they have advocates. You know, whatever the national landscape may be in terms of politics, there are people that want to be able to help them.

SHAPIRO: The uncertainty he felt has not gone away either. Over the last four years, the president tried to end DACA. The Supreme Court blocked that effort. Congress tried and failed to reach a permanent solution. And while Juan de la Rosa Diaz has struggled with that, he told me he's also found solidarity with other movements, like Black Lives Matter.

DIAZ: I think I now see the challenges that I've had to face as part of a much larger struggle.

SHAPIRO: So what are your hopes and fears for the next four years?

DIAZ: You know, as I've tried to understand my place as someone who is undocumented, one of these terms that's always resonated with me that scholars who study the experiences of undocumented young people talk about is this forced orientation to the present. We don't necessarily have the luxury to think about the future, be able to plan our futures, given that we live in such a precarious situation that we have to live day to day. And so I - you know, I've tried to invest the willpower and the energy to be able to think about the future, but it's something that I can never really completely wrap my head around. And in a lot of ways, I don't want to set myself up to be disappointed.

SHAPIRO: The very last stop on our trip was Liberty University, where I caravanned with a group of students to Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration. And one of those students was Kayla Bailey.

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KAYLA BAILEY: I come from West Virginia, and so we've seen a really big decline in our economy. And a lot of people are addicted to drugs and just really have no hope anymore. And so I'd really like to see sort of my home state get better.

SHAPIRO: Kayla Bailey has been on a rocket trajectory since then. She graduated from college in three years, did an internship in New York City. She got an MBA, graduated virtually during this pandemic. And when I reached her the other day, she was back in West Virginia.

BAILEY: I mean, when I went to college, the whole goal was to go out of state and was to find opportunities that weren't in the state of West Virginia. But I sort of came to this realization that that's the problem, that I was part of the problem, that young, educated people were leaving West Virginia to go somewhere else instead of trying to stay and make it a better place.

SHAPIRO: So she went back to the town of Scott Depot, population about 8,000. She and her father started a business delivering prepared meals to senior centers and to kids who aren't in school during the pandemic.

BAILEY: Because, you know, for so many kids in West Virginia, the meal that they eat at school might be the only meal that they have. And so it's extremely important to make sure that these kids are fed, even if that means taking these boxes to their front door because, you know, for some kids, their parents might be addicts. And we have parents that literally won't walk to the end of the street to pick up the food when they need it.

SHAPIRO: She told me before the pandemic, it looked like things were getting better in West Virginia. Businesses were opening. Jobs were coming back.

BAILEY: I do attribute a good amount of that to the Trump presidency, for sure.

SHAPIRO: When he says, give me another four years, and the economy will come roaring back, do you find that persuasive? Are you going to give him a chance?

BAILEY: Yeah, I am. I think providing those opportunities for jobs and providing those opportunities to release people from addiction is important.

SHAPIRO: I know you take your evangelical faith seriously. And you had concerns about the Trump administration's travel ban, about the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, about other steps this administration took that were not consistent with your values. How much does that shape your overall feelings about this administration and the prospect of another four years?

BAILEY: I am not a huge fan of his character at times. You know, he says and does things that don't align with my religious beliefs. And the thought of, you know, kids being separated from their parents, that's hard to stomach, for sure. But, you know, when I'm looking at, you know, who I'm going to vote for and who I'm going to support, I try to make the next best decision. And the decision that I've come to is that I am going to vote for Trump just based on the betterment of the United States and the betterment of West Virginia.

SHAPIRO: It's the same calculation American voters across the country are making right now, weighing President Trump's promises and his record against their expectations and experiences to decide whether he should serve another four years.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM-BOX-INFINITY'S "THE RESCUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.