Ever since it became clear early Wednesday morning that Donald J. Trump would win the 2016 presidential election, national media outlets have been devoting a significant amount of energy into understanding how they seemed to have shortchanged his chances.
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that the media didn’t want to believe Trump could win.
“To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different,” she wrote. “And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.”
Sullivan quoted Peter Thiel, the billionaire Trump surrogate and co-founder of PayPal, who spoke at a recent National Press Club event: “The media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally,” she quoted Thiel as saying.
Sullivan said she’s no fan of Thiel, but the Republican’s comment was perceptive. “But a lot of voters think the opposite way: they take Trump seriously but not literally,” she wrote.
Indeed, many professionals working at the intersection of journalism and politics across print, radio, TV and online were stunned by Tuesday’s result, with some calling Trump’s victory the biggest upset in U.S. political history.
While Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won New York as a whole with 56 percent of 7.6 million votes cast in the state, it’s worth noting that she won only 16 of New York’s 62 counties, while the remaining counties all voted Trump.
And despite Clinton winning the popular vote nationwide, in rural New York, as with much of rural America, it’s safe to say Trump won the day. So are his supporters in the area’s rural counties surprised by the outcome?
At New York Lunch in Gloversville, Carol and Dennie Young were getting dinner with their daughter and granddaughter. Both voted for Trump and stayed up until past 3 a.m. when major news organizations began declaring Trump as the winner.
“I had planned to go to bed as soon as he lost Florida. When he didn’t lose Florida, then I knew I was up to watch all the Rust [Belt] states,” said Dennie Young. “I wanted to see how far he could go, then he went right through the Rust Belt and it actually got exciting.”
Carol Young said they “couldn’t believe” the outcome of the election, “but we were delighted.”
The Youngs live in Gloversville in Fulton County, which cast nearly 13,000 votes for Trump – or 65 percent – of the 19,500 votes cast. Clinton received 5,961 votes, or 30 percent, in the county.
Carol Young said she heard the same idea on TV that Sullivan posited in her column, and strongly agrees with the assessment that the media didn’t take Trump as seriously as they should have.
“The media took Trump literally but not seriously, the voter took Trump seriously but not literally,” she said. “And that’s what we felt.”
Carol Young said it doesn’t matter to her if Trump builds a wall along the Mexican border or not, “just be careful you don’t let dangerous people in the country. He was putting voice, though hyperbole, putting voice to things everyone else was covering up and not addressing, and that’s why he won.”
Dennie Young agreed. “They were so busy tearing down Trump and every word that he said that they didn’t report properly,” he said.
Carol Young said a vote for Trump was “almost” a vote against the media.
“You know what was the most fun? Watching the media humbled,” she said. “Because they’ve been so biased. And believe me, Trump gave them plenty to beat him up with, but they were so biased.”
Clinton supporter Mike Gutowski at Russo’s Grill in Amsterdam said he never counted Trump out.
“I always thought there was a possibility that Trump could win,” said Gutowski, who is from Amsterdam but lives and voted in Massachusetts. “I thought that there was that much discontent with the government and with Hillary.”
Gutowski’s friend Greg Hovak, who lives in Schenectady County, declined to say definitively who he voted for, but said he didn’t make his decision until he was looking down at his ballot on Tuesday.
“This was the toughest election I’ve ever voted in since Nixon,” said Hovak. “I couldn’t make a decision until I had it in my hand filling it out.”
Hovak said originally he was going to vote for Trump “because I want to see the Supreme Court go that way. Then I realized that Trump was a buffoon, and Hillary was better with foreign policy. And then I realized that Hillary is a … well, you can’t print that. But it was tough.”
Hovak thinks the political establishment and structure in Washington, D.C. will absorb a Trump presidency.
“I think the system will work,” said Hovak. “We got through Nixon resigning with no troops in the street and coups and people in jail. The system works. I think it will work with Trump.”
Four friends who were eating dinner at Russo’s took different approaches to the presidential election.
Suzy Malavasic and Linda Cecconi, who have known each other since they were kids, wrote in their respective sons’ names on the presidential line.
“I have very, very good friends who are staunch Democrats, who wanted Hillary. I kind of wanted Hillary. And then I didn’t want Hillary,” said Cecconi, noting that her children and brothers were all pro-Hillary. “And then I had very, very smart, good friends, intelligent people, who wanted Trump. And I could not honestly tell my brothers if they asked me that I voted for Trump.”
Malavasic voted her son for president for much the same reason.
“My children couldn’t stand Trump and they were saying all kinds of things about him … and I didn’t want to vote for Trump because my kids will never let me live it down. They’re just that way,” said Malavasic.
Malavasic said growing up her parents always voted opposite sides of the aisle, canceling each other out. “But they never fought. This contention that you’ve got to fight over the person and you’ve got to degrade the other one, why? Because both [Trump and Clinton] were not outstanding human beings. Neither one of them.”
Theresa Mattarelliano was also with the group and voted for Trump, while the fourth member of the group, Marcia Bentley, voted Clinton.
“[Trump] said everything that everybody wanted to hear,” said Mattarelliano, who wasn’t all that surprised by the result of the election.
Bentley said she voted for Clinton because Trump had “zero political background” and because of Trump’s “basic personality.”
“I want a president that is going to be somewhat dignified and respectful,” said Bentley. “I just couldn’t get past that.”
Malavasic said she was surprised Clinton did not win.
“Well, because that’s what the media was saying,” said Malavasic. “I mean, how would we know unless they said that?”
Regardless of who they voted for, the four friends, who have all known each other for decades, aren’t letting the election affect their relationships with one another.
“We actually didn’t talk a lot about it. I try not to discuss it because I knew she liked Trump,” said Bentley of Mattarelliano, with a laugh.
Trump took Montgomery County with 60 percent of 10,579 votes cast to Clinton’s 34 percent.
At the Duanesburg Diner in Schenectady County, Ron Baakman of Center Bridge said he thought Clinton would win the election via the Electoral College and Trump would win the popular vote.
“It was the other way around!” said Baakman, who voted for Trump. “I was happy.”
Baakman, who characterized Clinton as a “snake in the grass,” said he supported Trump because he’s a businessman.
“He’s a little scary, too. He’s not politically correct and he will say things off the cuff, and he should be a little more diplomatic to get his point across,” said Baakman. “But he is a businessman and the way the country’s been run, it’s too political. Too many people have their hands in the pot and are getting money out of it.”
Baakman said he thought Clinton would win because of all the many gaffes Trump committed throughout the campaign. He mentioned specifically the incident last November where Trump appeared to mock a reporter’s disability. “That offended me, very classless,” he said.
Baakman said most people he’s spoken with about the election were Trump supporters, especially those in rural Schoharie County who are involved in agriculture. Trump took Schoharie County with 64 percent of 12,818 votes cast to Clinton’s 30 percent.
“If you ask them, every single one of them will say they voted for Trump,” he said, “because the government has for so long has overlooked these people.”
Clinton won Schenectady County with 49 percent of 62,380 ballots cast to Trump’s 44 percent.
Roy Pechtel lives just down Rt. 7 from the Duanesburg Diner and decorated his lawn this campaign season with a large Trump sign.
He wasn’t at all surprised by the election results and said he recently went on a road trip with his wife for their 40th wedding anniversary. The trip took them through 20 states, and Pechtel said he wore a Trump hat and spoke with around 700 people about the election.
“They would tell me Trump,” said Pechtel. “Throughout our travels I found one woman in Pueblo, Colorado, who admitted she was going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
During the five-week trip Pechtel said he travelled through small-town America and saw Trump signs everywhere. “No Clinton signs,” he said.
Pechtel chuckled when it came to talking about the media.
“Trump was laughing at you guys right from day one,” he said. “You’re so transparent. People like us, we’re old school … I believe that things were better back when I was younger.”
Pechtel said what attracted him to Trump was that “he ain’t a politician. And the difference between him and the politicians is he feels in his heart, not in his mouth, he feels in his heart the way the average American feels, people that I talk to in my travels.”
He added that he and almost everyone he talked to about the election feels like there isn’t room for the middle class in America anymore.
“Every four years it’s shoved down our throat, they just show us over and over again that there’s no place in this country for a normal person financially,” said Pechtel. “Well, Trump came along and guess what, he’s gonna give us our damn country back.”
Reach Gazette reporter Daniel Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.