McLane knows more than a few people who think it’s the Democrats who are “dangerous”—precisely the message Trump and his campaign are pushing amid a summer of national unrest. McLane isn’t buying it.
“Look, I’m a conservative Democrat in a lot of ways. I think Biden is, too. He’ll hold the line. He won’t give in to the any of the far-left craziness,” McLane said. “I don’t agree with people tearing down these statues illegally, for instance, and I doubt Biden does, either. There should be processes for all these things. We don’t want anarchy. That’s how most Democrats feel, that’s why they nominated Biden. And that’s why Trump isn’t going to be able to paint Biden as some kind of extremist. It just doesn’t sell.”
The liveliest discussion in Scranton could be found on the double-wide front patio belonging to DAVE and ANN SHERMAN, a 75-year-old couple who hosted a small get-together under the awning of their duplex on a boiling July afternoon.
The Shermans’ neighbor from across the street, 51-year-old MELISSA KREINBERG, leaned against their white spindled railing at the far end of the porch, opposite Dave. Her son, 16-year-old JERRY SANDY, stood nearby checking his smartphone, while her mother, 80-year-old BOBBIE SANDY, sat on a small patio chair next to Ann Sherman. The Kreinberg home was under construction—a team of Spanish-speaking laborers clung to the rooftop, installing new, beige-colored shingles—and the five-person audience marveled at the danger of the work and the speed with which the contractors were completing it.
“Maybe they don’t know about the $600 per week they could be getting at home,” Kreinberg said, referring to the emergency unemployment being offered due to the pandemic. “That’s why nobody else is going back to work. They’re making more by doing nothing.”
“Bunch of bullshit,” said Dave, who retired after more than three decades as a truck driver. “Enough of the handouts. It’s not going to do anyone any good in the long term.”
Melissa Kreinberg and Dave Sherman don’t often agree. She voted for Trump and thought Clinton was corrupt; he voted for Clinton and thought Trump immoral. Neither one was willing to give an inch on the ballots they cast in 2016, but both were thoroughly agitated with the present state of affairs in America.
“Enough is enough with the protests. They want to destroy America’s history. That’s the one thing I agree with Trump on,” Dave said. “You don’t see us protesting when some Black kids kill an innocent white person, do you?”
“And all the Democrats can say is ‘defund the police,’” she replied.
“Yeah, but it’s Trump who got us here,” Dave shot back. “He said he was going to Make America Great Again. Now look at us! We’re going down the shitter, and he’s the one flushing.”
Kreinberg wasn’t keen on defending the president. She said his “big mouth” makes every problem worse. “But at least he says what’s on his mind. These people, they’re all crooked, every last one of them. That’s why this city’s in shambles. That’s why this country is in shambles.”
Ann Sherman, who had been content to stay out of the crossfire, finally spoke up: “Democrats and Republicans.”
Kreinberg shrugged. “I agree. That’s why I might not even vote.”
Ann shook her head. “Oh, I’m not voting.”
Her husband was stunned. Both Dave and Ann had described themselves as steadfast Democrats. He told me he was counting the days until Election Day. Now, his wife was vowing to stay home. “What?” Dave asked her. “Why not?”
Ann didn’t miss a beat. “Because,” she said, “Biden is senile.”
The porch erupted in groans and laughter and shouting.
“He is! He is!” Ann raised her voice, trying to be heard. “I’m sorry, but he is. And Trump, that asshole, forget about it. He should have never been president in the first place. So, I can’t vote for either one of them.”
Kreinberg, perhaps trying to change the subject to lessen the tension, chimed in: “What about the Independent Party? What about the one guy—what’s his name, the rapper. Canyon West?”
(Her teenage son, Jerry, politely corrected the mispronounced name, and informed his mother that Kanye West was too late to qualify for the ballot in most states. Despite his age, not yet old enough to vote, Jerry seemed to be the most informed participant in the conversation.)
Meanwhile, Dave and Ann continued to debate Biden’s alleged decrepitness. Ann claimed that he couldn’t put a sentence together and often looked lost on television. Dave countered by noting how sometimes, after coming to the kitchen, he stares at the microwave for 30 seconds before remembering what he needed. “That doesn’t mean I’m senile,” he told his wife. “It just means I’m getting older. My brain still works fine.”
In this marital dispute, Ann seemed to have won—by persuading Kreinberg not to vote this November. “I think that’s gonna be the case with a lot of those Trump people,” Kreinberg said. “They gave him a try, but now they’ve given up on him.”
Of course, this could also be understood as a victory for Dave, who wants to see the president defeated at all costs. A Trump voter staying home, he figured, is as good as a Trump voter switching their allegiance to Biden.
“Can you blame them?” he asked Kreinberg. “After four years of this, who could want more?”
Not far from the Sherman residence, a calmer conversation was taking place beneath a small, shaded veranda. The home belonging to JOHN and ROBERTA SEPKOWSKI backed up against the edge of Cathedral Cemetery, a sprawling green space nestled at the base of mountains that climbed so steep as to eclipse the clouds. As their 2-year-old grandson played with his toys, the Sepkowskis listened to ABC Radio, as they do every day, hearing “mostly bad news,” as Roberta said, and worrying about the world they’re leaving to him.
“I just don’t know how all these people are going to make it,” Roberta said, mentioning the wave of local businesses that shut down even before the coronavirus invasion, and the countless more that have been neutered since. “Some people, when they lost their work—like my daughter, when her bar shut down—her husband still works, so they could get by. But what about all these other people? How do they get by?”
John looked grief-stricken, shaking his head morosely. He made clear this wasn’t just about Covid-19. An 81-year-old veteran of the Marine Corps, John was born and raised in Scranton. After leaving the service, he spent decades struggling to provide for his family working dead-end jobs at companies that kept going under. John has seen enough to know that the sickness afflicting his hometown isn’t going to be healed by any vaccine.
“How do they go to college? How do they buy a house? How do they afford to raise a family?” he said, gesturing toward the youngster playing at his feet. “I’m afraid for their future.”
In the present, both John and Roberta will do what they can. That means voting for Biden in November—even though Roberta is a Republican and John, a Democrat, fears that Biden “won’t live out his first term.”
When I asked why she was voting against her party, Roberta said defiantly that Trump isn’t a Republican—and clarified that she didn’t vote for him in 2016, either. “He’s a bad person, but it’s not just about that,” she said. “He got a lot of these people convinced that our companies were going to come back, that he was going to get places like Scranton back on their feet, that he was going to bring our jobs back. But that was a lie. I knew it was a lie. It’s worse than ever.”