A group of friends, all former employees at Bangor Blouse Company, exchange presents Dietz Tavern on 13 December 2017 in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Mark Makela for the Guardian
We lost all of our stuff to China
Trump appears to be in political danger. Despite a surging stock market, a flood of new jobs and a humming economic growth rate, the presidents approval rating has been stuck in the mid- to upper-30s
since May. Thats probably at least 10 points short of where it needs to be for Trump to be re-elected, according to postwar precedent for incumbents.
Thats if Trump makes it to 2020. While its a longshot that the special counsel investigation into links between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign would dislodge the president from office, the likelihood of impeachment hearings would increase were Democrats to grab control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.
That possibility drew closer with the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate election in Alabama, and with a weakening in support for Republican candidates nationally. On a generic ballot, Democrats appear to have opened an 11-point advantage over Republicans, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling
The shift was palpable on a recent afternoon inside Detzis Tavern in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, where a cup of housemade Italian wedding soup costs $3.50 and the draft special was $2 pints of Michelob Ultra.
Inside at a big table were seven women, all former colleagues at Bangor Blouse Company, a mill that had closed for good in 1988 after, one explained, we lost all of our stuff to China.
They were catching up and wrapping gifts for the holidays, but when the talk turned to politics, only one would speak up in favor of Trump, in an area where the Republican presidential candidate had dominated.
They dont talk to me about it because theyre all for Hillary, said the woman, who declined to give her name because I dont want to be crucified.
Most of the blouse mills were Democrats, she continued. Because I used to go to all of the Democratic rallies and everything. Because they were for the unions. And the people. They were for us.
But only Trump would confront the threat of immigration, she said. All these illegals in, and theyre putting us out. They dont care about the Americans any more.
Another woman at the table, Carla DiBernardo, 71, said the 2016 presidential election had represented a tragic missed opportunity but not for Hillary Clinton.
Did you see they had Joe Biden on The View? DiBernardo asked. And I think hes a wonderful person. He should have been president. And I was thinking how different it would be, if he had run.
He speaks so professionally, her friend agreed. Everyone at the table thought Biden could have won and for that matter could win next time.
The big disagreement at lunch, however, was over sexual harassment allegations against the president:
Isnt this womanizer thing crazy?
No. Its about time women get the power back. Im sorry but
Get their power back? They never had it. They were always tossed under the chair.
A digital billboard advertises a gun shop located in Easton, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Mark Makela for the Guardian Santas firearms workshop
The imposing slopes of the Blue Mountain ridge at the top of Northampton County, which is traced by the Appalachian Trail, held snow cover after it had melted elsewhere. People wore gloves outside to smoke. Traffic from the big industrial parks and distribution centers seemed to pick up with a seasonal intensity.
There were other signs of the season. At the side of one highway, a digital billboard for a gun shop featured a picture of Santa Claus holding a semiautomatic rifle. The caption: Santas firearms workshop.
A local newspaper had
published a letter protesting against the billboard, drawing responses that ranged from dismissive to caustic.
Did you move here from NJ or the city? asked one. Stop trying to impose your views on the public.
As much as it is a national bellwether, the Lehigh Valley is also a place with a deep sense of local identity and a pride built in part on generational memories of blast furnaces that used to glow orange through the night.
Foxs grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel, as an accountant. Foxs last job, before he got cancer, was as a salesman at the furniture chain Raymour & Flanigan. One of his daughters has worked for a decade at Walmart.
The only debt we have is healthcare debt, said Fox, who receives social security and disability payments. Weve worked our way out of everything else. Its amazing what we do with what we get.
It would be nice for me to say, I got $40,000 of medical bills, so itd be nice if someone paid them for me. Some would say, Itd be nice, the easy way. But its real.
Its not the responsibility of the government to pay the bills.