Not All Small-Town, Working-class Business Owners

October 22, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Cone-E Island, Catskill, NY last Saturday.

(Click for a larger view.)

The sign says Fall Hours are 12 to 9 p.m. (you can read it if you click to expand the picture), but even though this was a beautiful autumn day, Cone-E Island was closed.

“Wanna buy it?” called out a raspy voice. As I was taking pictures, a pick-up truck had driven up and stopped. The driver was a man of sixty or so, fat and wearing a t-shirt. I walked over and asked the obvious question. “Three-fifty,” the man said.

A chocolate brown dog that looked to be part pit bull poked her nose through the half-open window and sweetly licked my offered hand. “Her name’s Mocha.”

Catskill is changing. Once a working-class town, it now has a tattoo parlor, a micro-brewery with its own beer garden, stores selling quirky things like LPs or old film cameras from the 1950s. Artisans priced out of Brooklyn are moving to the area. The New York Restaurant on Main street serves truffle Parmesan Brussels sprouts and salmon with miso honey, ginger steamed rice, and blistered edamame.

Mr. Cone-E Island had owned other businesses in the area. He seemed like the epitome of the working-class Joe trying to make it on his own rather than work for someone else. I thought about him again two days later when the Times ran an op-ed by Florida journalist Darlena Cunha about how the impeachment story is playing in her state.

Working-class Republicans in Alachua County see Donald Trump as a white businessman who made a lot of money. They like to think that could be them. The only thing standing in the way of achieving that dream, they tell me, are policies that elevate people of color, immigrants and poor people without health care. In their eyes, Mr. Trump is a patriotic man doing the best he can, and those who go against him are traitors to the country.

Although Trump is rich and these Republicans are not, they still identify with him because they are thwarted by the same forces. They have the same enemies.

Republicans here can equate these “witch hunts” to things that have happened to them in their own lives. Just like they, unfairly, have not been able to move up in the world, so too is Mr. Trump, unfairly, being hunted down, his words and motives twisted to suit the needs of that same enemy. The investigations only strengthen their kinship with him.

I wasn’t in central Florida. But Mr. Cone-E Island’s girth, his dog, his pick-up truck — I wondered if he had gun in the cab — plus the demographic (older, White, male, small town) all suggested that I shouldn’t be swinging the conversation to politics. I’d stick to business. “This town is going upscale,” I said. “In a couple of years . . . .”

“By then it’ll be four-fifty,” he said, then added, “if this idiot doesn’t ruin the whole economy.” He went on. He wondered how many millions of our tax dollars went to Trump’s golfing trips, to the floors of Trump tower the government had to rent from Trump. “Trump's a businessman.” I said. I was going to add, “like you,” but I didn’t have to.

“What kind of businessman,” he said. “He stiffs his supplies, his contractors, his creditors.”  He could have gone on.

Well Mocha, I thought, I guess we’re not in Kansas. Or Florida.

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