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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

A town where Trump is the only politician people talk about

America's president is not up for election on Tuesday, but his name is a constant refrain, writes Arthur MacMillan from Sun City, Arizona

US President Donald Trump. AFP Photo
US President Donald Trump. AFP Photo

America, as far as Robert Terry is concerned, is on the up. A retired blue collar worker originally from California, he has voted Republican all his life. Almost seven years ago he decided to move to Arizona and spend what will, in all likelihood, be his last few thousand days here. He chose Sun City, a half-accurately named place of 40,000 people just an hour's drive from Phoenix which has a desert climate that keeps ageing bones warm all year round.

Residents here have defining qualities of their own that are politically relevant in a nation constantly referred to as divided. Sun City's average age is 75 and when the last census was taken 98.44 per cent of its people were white. These demographics were pivotal in helping Donald Trump get elected two years ago.

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The group will again be of immense political relevance in Tuesday's midterm elections, which are widely seen as at least partly a referendum on Mr Trump's presidency. While the race for the state is tight with latest polls showing just a few points separating Republican and Democrat candidates seeking a Senate seat, in Sun City the signs of the US president's popularity aren't hard to spot.

Sat outside the Royal Cafe restaurant after enjoying his Sunday breakfast, Mr Terry, a spirited 82-year-old with a soft but determined sounding southern drawl, has a resounding response when asked if he approves of Mr Trump's performance.

“Hell yes. He's doing great, doing all the common sense things that we'd gotten rid of.”

The “USA, made in 1776” cap that Mr Terry wears is white rather than the red "Make America Great Again" variety beloved by Mr Trump's supporters, but the political talking points sound much the same.

In a tight race, Arizona's Sun City is a town resolutely behind US president Donald Trump. Arthur MacMillan/The National 
In a tight race, Arizona's Sun City is a town resolutely behind US president Donald Trump. Arthur MacMillan/The National 

Particularly topical in this southern US state is immigration from Mexico. Until prompted, many residents make no distinction on whether it's only illegal immigration that is bad for America. But an octogenarian retiree can offer at least a partial perspective that goes deeper than Mr Trump's explanation about why in the past week he has sent thousands of American troops south to try and deter a caravan of migrants from approaching the US border from the Mexican side.

“It was different in the days of Bracero when Mexican people came up here and worked in our fields. They then went home. They were happy, we were happy. But when I look back that is when the problems started. They can't come in here now and take up what our people need. It's not fair on our kids,” says Mr Terry.

The Bracero programme was a series of agreements between the United States and Mexico, started in 1942, that saw the latter provide farm labour for American workers overseas during the war. In fact, it lasted much longer and ended up causing numerous disputes that in 1961 required a law to ensure that American workers would have equivalent benefits as Mexicans had acquired over the years.

Early voting has allowed Mr Terry to already cast his ballot for the Republican candidate, Martha McSally, in Tuesday's elections for the US Senate. But despite his high approval of Mr Trump, he admits with some embarrassment that he did not vote for the president two years ago.

“I just couldn't bring myself to do it,” he says. “After what he said about women. But I think he's mellowing. He's getting used to the job. I'd vote for him now.”

One can only imagine those words being music to Mr Trump's ears.

Mr Terry's breakfast companion was of much the same opinion. Aged 73, the weather in Sun City was a big attraction for Bob Cook, originally from Nebraska where winter temperatures are unforgiving. He also enjoys golf. Sun City's first few homes were opened in 1960, along with one golf course. There are now eight.

Robert Terry, 82, is on the right, and his fellow Trump supporter Bob Cook. Arthur MacMillan for The National
Robert Terry, 82, is on the right, and his fellow Trump supporter Bob Cook. Arthur MacMillan for The National

Such is the popularity of the game here that local supermarkets have cart parking as well as car parking; a local law allows the vehicles on any road with a speed limit no higher than 35 miles per hour and for many retirees a golf cart is their main transport. Many sit in residential carports rather than being left at the golf club.

“I voted for Trump. He wasn't my first choice but I think he's doing all right,” says Mr Cook, sat on a bench outside the restaurant, where the numbers of customers are high on account of a popularly priced $4.99 buffet and coffee at 99 cents.

“He's done a lot of what he said he would. I just wish he wouldn't go over the top with those tweets,” he adds, confirming that he is a registered Republican who cast his ballot early for Ms McSally.

Away from the many restaurants and shops within Sun City's strip malls are the thousands of single storey houses where people live. Low local taxes, on account of there being no schools and fewer associated services to pay for given the lack of children in the local area, prompts arrivals from all over.

Given the election, many front lawns are dotted with the placards of political candidates seeking local or national office. The advertising is predominantly Republican, interspersed with the American flags that hang from many US citizens' homes year round.

Terry Agosta points out a Stop Trump poster. Arthur MacMillan for The National
Terry Agosta points out a Stop Trump poster. Arthur MacMillan for The National

On a street called Tropicana Circle, however, stands the rare exception: a host of Democratic Party endorsements. Going one step further, the living room window of Terry Agosta and his wife Kathy confirms their non-conformity in what is a Republican neighbourhood. “Commit to truth. Stand for fairness. Fight for justice. Stop Trump,” the sign says.

As registered Democrats, they received the poster ahead of the 2016 presidential election, but have chosen to hang on to it.

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“You won't find another one like it around here,” says Mr Agosta, 65, and only recently retired after a career in construction in New Hampshire. “Fortunately we have really good neighbours.”

Despair at America's political divisions – and President Trump's often bellicose tone in particular – has occasionally threatened to overcome him.

“I was so depressed I quit Twitter,” Mr Agosta says, adding that he has tried to persuade his wife of the merits of moving to Chapala Lake, a retirement community in Mexico. So far, she has resisted.

While Mr Trump's supporters in Sun City talk of the country doing better, Mr and Mrs Agosta speak of poverty and people having to resort to food banks and begging. “I see elderly people with signs at the side of the street that say 'help me pay my bills'. I flew the American flag upside down after Trump was elected. That's how badly I feel about it,” Mr Agosta says. “I don't know how I'll take it if Tuesday goes badly. Please, make America normal again,” he adds, parodying President Trump's most famous campaign slogan, which remains present on placards on many Sun City lawns.

The couple voted for the Democratic Party's Arizona candidate for Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, at the earliest opportunity when their voting papers arrived on October 16. In the state as a whole, the race will be tight.

Mrs Agosta, a retired nurse, adds: “We are a compassionate country, or at least we were. People need to know there are decent Americans. Trump is falling short.”

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