Author To Speak About New Book That Chronicles Luzerne County’s Shift To Trump
Ben Bradlee Jr. is coming to town tonight to tout the book he wrote about Luzerne County’s pivotal role in electing Donald J. Trump president in 2016.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author interviewed more than 100 local residents for the book, “The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.”
Bradlee will appear 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble pop-up shop in the East End Center in Wilkes-Barre Twp., where he will host a panel discussion featuring those who appear in the book. Following that, he’ll take questions from the audience and then sit down for a book signing.
“With much of the country still stunned that a candidate as unusual as Trump got elected president, ‘The Forgotten’ uses Luzerne County as a way to more closely examine the white working and middle class that served as the backbone of Trump’s support throughout the United States,” Bradlee writes.
In the book, Bradlee writes that white working class voters nationwide delivered the presidency to Trump, but nowhere was it more evident or crucial than in Luzerne County.
Long a Democratic stronghold, the county single-handedly swung the 2016 election in the Republican’s favor, he said.
In the 2016 election, Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 58 percent to 39 percent in Luzerne County, where Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage. Trump garnered 78,303 votes compared to 52,092 for Clinton.
Barack Obama won Luzerne County the previous two elections and the county hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.
Bradlee made five trips to Luzerne County over 14 months to write the book.
Democratic State Sen. John Yudichak told Bradlee he thinks the national media mocked Luzerne County residents and others like them when describing Trump supporters as merely “uneducated white voters.”
“I would hear TV pundits use that phrase all the time. That was attacking the dignity of people that go to work everyday,” Yudichak told Bradlee Bradlee.
County Manager David Pedri, another Democrat, offered a similar sentiment.
“I’m proud of this area and I don’t like it when metropolitan areas look down on us — whether we voted for Trump or not. I don’t like being called a country bumpkin when I’m not,” Pedri said.
Pedri told Bradlee he oversees six unions and when he suggested to one group, the corrections officers, that voting for Trump would be against their economic self-interest, they “didn’t care.”
“They were all voting for him anyway because it was time to shake things up,” Pedri said.
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EXCERPTS FROM BOOK
Of the 100-plus people Bradlee interviewed, he wrote in depth profiles on 12 Trump supporters and also quoted some upset Democrats. Here are some excerpts:
Bradlee’s first profile was of Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who obtained a national profile for his stance against illegal immigration as Hazleton mayor.
“Before Donald Trump ever talked tough on immigrants and made it his signature issue in his run for president, there was Lou Barletta,” Bradlee writes.
Barletta was one of the first in Congress to endorse Trump.
“My hope was Trump was going to make change. He couldn’t make change without being elected. I’d hoped after he won the nomination that he would act more presidential. It was extremely interesting to me that I believed the media were beating the hell out of him on a number of issues — any one that would have sunk any other candidate. But because the media was so insistent on Trump not winning, all they did was turn his mini controversies into white noise. If anything, his name just got out there more and more. Trump supporters looked at all this and concluded he was the underdog.”
— Attorney Vito DeLuca, 50, a self-described Reagan Democrat, said he didn’t want to tell his union advocate father he was voting for Trump. DeLuca was the lone Trump supporter that Bradlee interviewed who didn’t commit to voting for Trump in 2020, saying Trump is still “auditioning for my vote.”
“At first I sort of laughed at Trump. I didn’t think he was credible, but the more I listened to him and watched him in action, (the more I saw that) he was an advocate for things I believe in, like getting rid of TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). No more trade agreements. And something had to be done with immigration.”
— Ed Harry, 72, a Vietnam War veteran, said he resigned as president of the Wilkes-Barre Labor Council after the union endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump.
“I felt I didn’t leave the Democratic Party — the Democratic Party left me. I think that’s what happened in Luzerne County: more and more people realized the Democrats weren’t helping them. And the establishment Republicans didn’t seem to be fighting for me at all either. I thought, ‘Washington is broke and I need someone to go down there with a sledgehammer.’ That was Donald Trump.”
— Brian Langan, 57, a retired state police Liquor Control Enforcement officer, said he was raised in a union, Democratic household but became a Republican in 1980 to vote for Ronald Reagan.
“I came out for Trump the day he came down that escalator in Trump Tower. I went right online and got some pins. I did it to see what kind of reaction I’d get when I wore them in public. Most of the time it was a positive. Sometimes it was a relief, like ‘Oh my God, here’s another Trump supporter I can talk to.’”
— Lynette Villano, 72, a Republican state committee member from West Pittston, was recently described by Bradlee as Trump’s No. 1 fan in the country.
“I was very impressed with how he gave jobs to women. He’s kind. I heard about things he’s done for people. I heard him speak on Jay Leno years ago about what he said he would do if he ran for president. He said we’ll take care of ourselves before we take care of others.”
— Donna Kowalczyk, 60, who owns a hair salon in Wilkes-Barre, switched from Democrat to Republican to vote for Trump. She said she used to be a big liberal until she got frustrated with abuse of the welfare system.
“I think he’s doing very good. I like his directness, though I think he should tone it down a bit. There obviously have been things he said that I rolled my eyes at. But that’s because he’s not a career politician. He shoots off the cuff. He says what he thinks ... But who gives a crap about political correctness anymore? We’ve been worried about saying and doing the right things and not offending people for too long. Political correctness hasn’t gotten us anywhere … Trump has changed politics for the rest of our lives.”
— Kim Woodrosky, 55, a local real estate investor and property manager, has been featured by media outlets around the world, including Time Magazine, since appearing on the front page of The Citizens’ Voice following Trump’s election.
Bradlee also included the thoughts of area Democrats, such as:
“It feels different here under Trump now. You get the sense there’s been an emboldenment among whites, not just in Luzerne, but throughout Pennsylvania — a spiking of the football, a sense of, ‘We’re going to put you back in your place.’”
— Ron Felton, former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Since the beginning Trump was aggressive against the Mexicans. I’m not Mexican, but I am an immigrant and that makes me feel bad.”
— Amilcar Arroyo, a Peruvian immigrant and publisher of a Hazleton-based Spanish-language newspaper, said he was a Republican but switched when the party drifted too far right.
“Trump still has his base here. Sometimes I think it’s the stubbornness of not wanting to admit they voted for him. But they hated Hillary. There was such disdain for her. At his rallies, what people were wearing was appalling and what they had their children wearing. Still, to this day, I see bumper stickers like ‘Hillary for Prison.’”
— Alicia Mendoza Watkinson, 35, of Hanover Township, who works for an electric company, told Bradlee she cried when Trump was elected.
“The people I know that voted for Trump were either very racist, or, I hate to say this, the losers. Their failures were not because of the economy and they were looking for a scapegoat for why they were not doing well. Trump gave them the excuse to say this.”
— Johanna Habib Czarnecki, 72, a Democratic activist, think race played a big role in Trump’s election.