Among thousands of people ambling toward the US Capitol on Friday, Dallas Horton shares an admission: He is, he says in a quiet voice, one of the key “architects” of Donald Trump’s election.
He wasn’t a Trump staffer, Horton clarifies, and he never worked in politics. He has only met Trump once. But Horton says that at a campaign event in Colorado this October, he told Trump that the Republican nominee needed to soften his rhetoric on immigration to beat Hillary Clinton — and lo and behold, two weeks later Trump said he’d only deport “criminals,” implying that other undocumented immigrants would be allowed to stay.
“I know he gets lots of advice from lots of people, but I think he really listened to me because I told it to him straight,” says Horton, 63, who has a white “Trump-Pence” sticker taped to his beige cowboy hat. “And I think that’s a big part of the reason he won the election.”
Horton is a cattle rancher in western Colorado, and says President Obama’s decision to designate new national parkland in his state — thus sealing it off from private enterprise — has cost him tens thousands of dollars. He’s friendly and talkative, emphasizing his hopes for “national unity” and how Trump will help all Americans — not just the ones who voted for him.
“I know now how the early settlers of America felt after they won the Revolutionary War,” Horton says, teary-eyed. “I really believe what he says. He’s going to Make America Great Again — for everyone.”
Don’t lose sight of the “average” Trump voter
Since the Trump phenomenon began on that escalator all those months ago, news reporters have often focused on the most outrageous and fanatical members of Trump’s base: the avowed white supremacists who endorsed his candidacy, the Pizzagate conspiracists, the alt-right fanatics at the “Deploraball.”
In reality, Trump’s election was not powered by an alienated fringe of internet trolls, but rather by a majority of America’s predominant ethnic group. As Vox’s Brian Resnick and Sarah Frostenson detailed right after the election, close to 60 percent of US white people — about 62 million of them — voted for Trump.
It was an overwhelmingly white crowd that turned out in Washington on Friday to celebrate Trump’s inauguration — and an overwhelmingly polite one.
These attendees did not grab the headlines amid the chaos, bullhorns, chanting, and fanfare. But they were most representative of the group that brought Trump to power.
Polite white people are central to Trumpism
Almost none of the Trump supporters attending the inauguration who spoke with Vox knew anything about “Pepe” or the “alt-right.” By and large, they talked in simple, optimistic terms about their soon-to-be-sworn-in champion.
Waiting in line to access the inauguration, husband and wife Ken and Kristen Fritschel, who hail from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, say they’ve never heard of the alt-right, and they don’t mind peaceful protests. They are, they say, excited to take in the sights of DC and see some of the national monuments.
“I think Trump surrounded himself with people who are very level-headed,” says Ken Fritschel, a consultant. “I’m just optimistic because he promised to make government more efficient again and create a business climate that helps us.”
On H Street, Northwest, still in line for the inauguration, George McCall, an executive at a community bank, and three friends from western Virginia — including a dentist and a real estate executive — express similar sentiments.
“We felt it was important to make this pilgrimage,” McCall says. “Anyone who has been paying attention knows he’s going to Make America Great Again by ‘draining the swamp.’”
A little ahead in the line, David DiPietro, a local assemblyman from Aurora, New York, brushes off questions about Trump’s demeanor. “The ‘alt-right,’ the ‘alt-left’ — all that stuff is way overblown,” he says. “I don’t consider myself a Republican. Forget that label. He’s an American, and the people love him. Just look at this.”
Ken and Deborah Heath, two Trump supporters waiting in line with matching ponchos, watch a parade of protesters march down the street. Deborah shakes her head.
“We don’t get into all that,” she says. “I think what they’re saying is ridiculous, but we respect their right to free speech and to protest if they want. They can shout and do all they want to do.”
Greg Jones, adorned in a Confederate flag cowboy hat and American flag boots, says he was swayed by Trump’s promise to restore manufacturing jobs. After watching Trump get inaugurated, he hangs around at Union Station, hoping to strike up friendly debates with protesters.
“They see my hat and tell me to go to hell,” he says. “Just come talk to me. Give me a damn chance. You’ll see I’m a nice guy, capable of engaging in a conversation.”
Jones, from Daytona Beach, Florida, came to DC for the first time in his life to support Trump. “I used to work on trains as a factory worker,” he says, leaning up against a railing. “I’m a simple guy. I have a family to feed.”
As hundreds of protesters marched by the seating area of the train, Jones said he’d been trying to talk with someone the whole time. Nobody had stopped for more than 30 seconds.