For mother and daughter, Trump era lays bare divide

Shaun TANDON
1 / 4

Jocelyn Evans and her mother Donna Baldwin, like many American families, have seen the divergence in their views widen in an era of deep political polarization

Jocelyn Evans and her mother Donna Baldwin, like many American families, have seen the divergence in their views widen in an era of deep political polarization (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Defiance (United States) (AFP) - Donna Baldwin felt excitement when she went to a rally for President Donald Trump but when she got home, she was aghast -- the media, she says, distorted what he said.

Whenever she goes on Facebook, though, she has her own fact-checker -- her daughter, Jocelyn Evans, who doesn't hesitate to tell her that some of what she posts is "definitely not true."

The mother and daughter in the bellwether state of Ohio, like so many American families, have seen the divergence in their core views -- even their sense of what is real -- widen in an era of political polarization and incessant social media.

But Baldwin and Evans -- who bear a strong resemblance with their rich, dark blond hair -- have also learned to avoid confrontations as they instead prioritize providing a solid upbringing for Evans' two children, eight and four.

As the US election season opens, a team of AFP journalists is taking the country's pulse by driving from Washington to Iowa, which on February 3 holds the country's first contest to choose presidential candidates.

Defiance, Ohio, population 16,663, is home to a General Motors engine part plant. On the road to Defiance's small private college, multiple fast-food restaurants advertise job openings.

Baldwin, a realtor, sees the jobs as evidence of a healthy economy under Trump. Her daughter, who is studying to be an archeologist, is not convinced.

"I have friends that are married and have children and both them and their husbands are working three of these jobs and they still aren't making ends meet," Evans, 34, said at a diner in Defiance's historically preserved downtown.

Her mother, 59, calls herself "a realist," saying, "not everybody is cut out for college" and that too many "live off government subsidies."

"Now there are so many jobs available and they won't take any of those jobs."

- Climate divide -

Younger voters by significant margins picked Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016, although older people, as in past elections, went to the polls in far higher numbers.

Baldwin and Evans do not fit neatly into political boxes.

Evans, her upper arm covered by a tadpole-design tattoo inspired by her son, first registered as a Republican, like her late father, and, disliking Clinton, voted for Trump.

Her mother was long a Democrat but said, "I felt like the party left me."

One issue that especially divides them is climate change. Evans said it dawned on her at university how "it's not a debate, it's not something we can take a side on, we just have to decide what we're going to do."

Her mother said climate change is "at the bottom of the rung" for her.

"I live in the now. I don't live in 15, 20 years, because I've been hearing this for years -- we only have 10 years left. I'm just not buying," she said.

In India, "they can't see the car in front of them because of smog, but we here in the United States are to blame?"

Her daughter briefly rolled her eyes before switching to a warm smile and pointing out India's population density.

"I agree that it's not completely the United States' job to fix it, but I think we have to admit at some point of time that we can't claim to be a real world leader and go around and take all the glory from it and then when it comes to helping the little guy, we're not really for that."

- Diverging backgrounds -

Baldwin, who considers Fox News among her most trusted sources, attends church weekly and said her faith influences her view on climate, explaining, "I don't believe that the world is here forever."

Her daughter sharply disagreed, saying that religion can be divisive and that, as an adult, "religion definitely isn't important to me."

While her mother has spent her life in Defiance, Evans said her views were shaped by living across the United States including New York City.

Evans also feels passionately about health care for veterans, saying with outrage that her husband, a disabled veteran, has never seen the same primary doctor twice.

For the latest election, Evans supports Andrew Yang, backing the entrepreneur's proposal of providing $1,000 to every American.

The universal basic income could help everyone from single mothers struggling to buy their sons' football equipment to people who want "to go back to school rather than choosing to stay at McDonald's working their way up the chain," Evans said.

Her mother, while calling Yang the "least offensive" Democratic candidate, said the money could just as well go to buy drugs.

The mother and daughter can still find some common ground. Both say they are tired of lobbyists' influence. And both support term limits, saying politicians should not be in office for life.

And they can agree on preserving their relationship.

"There are certain topics we don't agree on and we try not to have those conversations face-to-face over dinner," Evans said. "That's the time and place for family."