Many people are beyond angry with President Donald Trump right now. Some are calling for his impeachment. But many still believe in the president and his signature message: "Make America Great Again."
Consider Dave McNeer in Newton, Iowa.
When Trump was running for president, McNeer helped spread the candidate's signature slogan, printing Make America Great Again on hats, T-shirts and signs distributed throughout Iowa and several nearby states.
When I asked McNeer how he became Trump’s merchandise guy in Iowa, he gave me a thoroughly entertaining 22-minute answer. Here’s a condensed version.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty wild story,” said McNeer, beginning the tale a few years after Maytag — Newton’s major employer — left his small city and took some 4,000 jobs with it.
“2010 midterm elections, my friend at that time, the mayor, calls up and says, ‘Hey "60 Minutes" is going to be calling you,’" McNeer said.
“So I did the interview, Scott Pelley came here … And then the program ran, and my phone starts blowing up. And everybody is like, ‘Oh my God, do you know you’re on "60 Minutes"?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I do know.’”
Then, the local mayor called McNeer again and told him he’d be getting another call from New York. “I’m like, 'Who’s this from?'” McNeer said.
A voice on the other end of the phone said, “I’ve got Mr. Trump on the other line, he’d like to say, 'Hi.' "We wanted to reach out to you, we saw the '60 Minutes' piece last night and were really taken aback by all the struggles your community has had and wanted to know what we could do to help.”"
Trump’s associate suggested a business relationship working with Trump’s Chicago hotel.
Flash forward a few years when Trump was visiting Iowa, and McNeer went to go meet him.
“And I said, ‘Hey, Mr. Trump, I’d like to thank you for reaching out to me after the "60 Minutes" piece.’ And [Trump] goes, ‘I remember you, absolutely I remember you.’ And I’m shaking his hand, and he says, "Hey, hey, everybody, I want you to listen to me just a second here. This guy told his story on '60 Minutes,' really touched my heart." And he goes, 'You know what, if I ever run for president, I want you to do stuff for us.’”
And the rest is merchandising history. McNeer, who is 56, says Trump helped save his small business, twice. First, working with Trump’s hotels, then manufacturing campaign merchandise.
I asked McNeer, as an American from Newton, Iowa: What does the slogan he helped distribute — Make America Great Again — mean to him?
“It’s [about getting] back to some of the things that growing up as a kid, or my 20s and 30s, I remember the economy was rolling. When the economy is good, people are happy, and they've got jobs," he said. "And I always remember the Ronald Reagan days, he talked often. If you’re the toughest kid on the block, people don’t pick a fight with you; strongest country in the world in terms of military and economy and everything else. And so, that’s what Make America Great Again means to me.”
The US still has the world’s strongest military and economy, but for Dave McNeer, it hasn’t felt that way in recent years. When Maytag left town, McNeer had to lay off two-thirds of the employees at his small firm, Maxim Advertising. The pain was felt throughout the community.
No surprise, Trump’s message caught on big-time in Newton. Jasper County twice went for Barack Obama. In 2016, the county went for Trump in a landslide.
I asked McNeer his thoughts on one of Trump’s major platforms: erecting more trade barriers and putting the brakes on globalization.
“It seems like we’re always on the short end of the stick," McNeer said. "And you can’t continue to do that and can’t continue to lose production jobs. We lost 3,500 years in Newton, Iowa. It is hell, hell, hell to rebuild those kinds of jobs.” (It was actually closer to 4,000 jobs lost when going back to Maytag’s employment in Newton in the 1990s.)
We spoke a couple of weeks ago, and McNeer said Trump was doing a great job as president and was being unfairly maligned in the press. So, I asked what he thought President Trump’s three signature accomplishments were at that point.
“Number one, I’m very, very happy with the Supreme Court nomination. We drew a line in Syria four years ago, and we never did a damn thing about it. They crossed that line again, and he did something about it. He's decisive, and I’m happy with that. And then, the reaching out to world leaders, that’s huge,” he said.
I pointed out to McNeer that every president reaches out to world leaders; it’s part of the job description. I told him I wasn’t arguing, just trying to understand that last point.
“Who has reached out to as many world leaders?” McNeer quickly countered.
“Obama, Reagan, Bush, Bush,” I said, before McNeer cut me off saying, “In the first 100 days, as many people as [Trump] has?”
I replied, “All of them.”
McNeer said, “Maybe they have. But in my opinion, maybe it’s not factual, but to me it is, I think he’s reached out to them pretty darn quick.”
To be precise, President Trump hosted 16 meetings with foreign leaders in his first 100 days and hadn’t yet left the country. By comparison, at the same point, President Obama had met with dozens of foreign leaders and visited nine nations.
Yes, I was nitpicking … because that’s my job, but I was also trying to really understand how McNeer thinks Trump is making America great again.
We spoke for nearly an hour, and I asked McNeer what single thought about Trump he wanted to convey to our audience.
“I think he’s got a huge heart, I think he really cares about America," he said. "I believe in his heart that he wants to make America great again. And that’s his whole job description. He’s a human guy, man. People take him off for this big ego, this or that, he’s a lot more like me and you than any of the politicians I’ve ever met.”
I called McNeer back this week after the firing of James Comey and asked if he still felt as positive about Trump. McNeer said, “Absolutely.” He said Comey is acting like a disgruntled employee and the president was right to fire him. McNeer says he feels for Trump, for what he's going through right now.
“I’ve never seen in my lifetime — I’ve seen a lot of presidents come and go — I’ve never seen one treated like this," he said. "Everything that he does is under a microscope, there’s a negative spin on it. President Trump could cure cancer and there’d still be people that are mad at him because he’s putting doctors out of work.”
McNeer concluded by saying that he wished people would just give the president a chance.
From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI