Is it safe to talk about politics?

Published 9:57 am Thursday, January 19, 2017

A divisive and tumultuous campaign season has ended. President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office Friday, ushering in a new administration that will be different than President Barack Obama’s. The Tribune interviewed five local residents over the last two days to share their hope and anxiety over what the future will hold.

Q: Who did you vote for in the November election, and why?

Ebenezer Howe: “Donald J. Trump — because he is the one person that was running on the ballot for the Republican Party, and I believe that the Republican Party is the best choice for me for the positions that

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I hold. I am one of the chartering members of the Republican liberty caucus in Minnesota, and I believe that the Republican Party has a better chance of supporting liberty than the Democrat Party. I believe that the two-party system is tremendous. It’s one of the things that has made the United States great and can keep it great. Even though everyone thinks it’s bad, I think that’s one of the things that’s great. You’ve got the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, a common language and a two-party system.”

Mark Anderson: “Clinton. I think for me, the positions that she had are ones that I share. I have no time for bigotry in any way, shape or form, even if it is couched in terms that allow people to be comfortable with their bigotry. I value civility, and I don’t choose to lower my standards to let someone like Donald Trump be president. I think that the best hope for folks in our country is based on the ideals that I just talked about in which Hillary Clinton articulated during the campaign.”

April Jeppson: “Gary Johnson. I am a registered Republican, but I felt that the Libertarian Party this time around, I actually had more in common with them than with my Republican Party, and that’s the short answer of it. Democratic views like Clinton, I couldn’t vote for her because of the things she wanted to do. And Donald Trump, his sidings were almost —  I don’t want to say too much Republican — but he was further off than where what I wanted to go. I am more of a middle ground person. I have some things that I agree with on both sides, and it just happened to be the Libertarian Party.”

Mary Hinnenkamp: “Clinton. I wasn’t originally a Hillary Clinton person. I was behind Bernie Sanders. I thought he really articulated so many of the things I believed in about income inequality, and he was authentic. He had said the same things and had done the same things. He was somebody I could believe in. However, once Hillary had won the nomination, I was comfortable with her as our spokesperson, as our candidate. I thought she’s experienced, she will do a good job, our country will be in good hands. I agreed with most of her policies domestically. Maybe a few concerns internationally, but for the most part I agreed with most of her stances. The prospect of Donald Trump scared the heck out of me and continues to scare the heck out of me. I think he is ill-qualified by experience. I think he is ill-qualified by character, I think he is a small man, and I think he is ill-qualified by temperament.”

Camille Nelson: “Trump. Although I would have rather had the other Republican candidates, I believe that he is going to do something different than the road we’re on. He is going to take us down a different road than the one we’ve been on.”


Q: When a new political party takes office, it’s common to see blame shifting start months or years before the new administration takes office. What do you think Trump will be unfairly blamed for?

Howe: “I have no idea. I don’t believe that he is being treated fairly now. I don’t believe that the media understands that because he has never been involved in the political arena, he plays by the rules that he thinks everybody should be playing by. He has never been in a political position where he had to guard everything he said because it might be used against me but I want to try and promote some legislation.”

Anderson: “I’m amazed at the extent people will go to make excuses for Donald Trump. I am amazed. We don’t have to try to figure out what kind of things he will be getting in trouble for. I can’t know that. But I do know that every morning that if I get up at an unreasonable time even, I will get a full report on everything that was said the previous night on Twitter. So, it is not a question of what, it’s a question of when. I think that there is a strong anti-woman bias out there, and I think that that is really brought out clearly by even this Megyn Kelly thing. She was treated badly, in my opinion. …Trump will be his own problem. I don’t have to worry about what he will get in trouble for.”

Jeppson: “Anything and everything that people can blame him for. People don’t like Trump, and it is what it is. Eight years ago, people didn’t like Obama. And they were super scared because a non-Christian was going to run our country, and that seemed to turn out OK. And I feel that the way our government is run, the president does not have supreme power. There are checks and balances, so whatever happens, he is going to get blamed for various things, but ultimately I think it will all turn out just fine.”

Hinnenkamp: “It’s hard to say what he will be blamed for once he takes office, but there are certain things he could be held accountable for since the election. He gets into Twitter wars, he attacks people. He’s thin-skinned. I really worry about how he is going to react to political leaders around the world. Unless you flatter him, it seems that you are set up for an attack. It doesn’t matter if you are John Lewis and a great civil rights leader who risked his life to change the direction of our country, doesn’t matter if you are a well known actress who criticizes and asks the press to be vigilant — he just seems to have to respond to that. And I think that’s what I was saying, I think he is not qualified by temperament, that’s what I meant. I don’t think he is qualified by temperament. So, I fear for where he will lead our country without even thought, without even knowledge. He is not going to his briefings. I just think he is just ill-prepared, and I think he is incurious. As a teacher, the quality I wanted most in the student was not necessarily that they behave, they were quiet or cooperative, is that they were curious. Because if they were curious, they could learn. He is not curious. I don’t think he can learn. I don’t think he will be better a year from now than he is now.”

Nelson: “For being stupid and for not knowing anything because he has not been in politics and for having bad taste and for the things he’s said in the past which are all on record.”

Q: Eight years ago, it was frowned upon and considered progressive to allow President Obama to be the first president to carry a personal cellphone. Now president-elect Trump uses Twitter to convey his messages. Tweets have sometimes had temporary impact on stocks of companies. Do you support his use of direct social media to spread his message? Why or why not? Should a president use Twitter?

Howe: “I probably am not a good person to answer this because I don’t use social media. I don’t understand it. I worked in software when software was new, so everything was bad and failed. So, I am afraid of putting something out there for fear of what it might look like. Now, he uses Twitter to defend himself, I believe, or he believes. I wouldn’t use it, but I don’t know how to use it. I might if I ever learned how. I don’t think we could take it and say because we’ve never done it, we should never do it again. They used to go down Pennsylvania Avenue in a horse-drawn carriage for the inaugural. Are they going to do it this year? No, I don’t think so. So, we can’t take and say because it’s never been, we can’t do it, or we shouldn’t do it.”

Anderson: “The question isn’t whether the president should communicate with us. Of course he should, that’s not the question. Whether that be on Twitter, live press conferences, TV, whatever. The question really about his Twitter isn’t using Twitter, it’s saying silly, embarrassing things. That’s what the question should be. Should he be saying stupid things on Twitter? The answer, of course, is no.’’

Jeppson: “I think Twitter’s fine. I think President Trump has a history of saying things maybe without thinking, and I don’t think that Twitter is perhaps the best medium for him when he starts to represent our country in a few days. So, I would hope that he has people surrounding him that can maybe refine some of what he says or get his message across in a way that is potentially less offensive or would represent our country in a better way. Twitter’s fine, I just hope there’s somebody there that says ‘no, no, don’t send that. Let’s re-write it.’”

Hinnenkamp: “I think it’s kind of a combination of things. I think Twitter is probably not the best way for a president to communicate. I think he is trying to get around the press, and I think Obama shows a healthy respect for the press as a way to hold people in power accountable. So there’s that end around the press that’s part of it that bothers me, but it’s also just the man and the way he uses it. He’s not a thoughtful, well-informed man. For him to say things off the top of his head, then send these things out early in the morning without running it by people who are much better prepared to help him formulate that message. I think he just has to learn that words matter and temperament matters and going after smaller people than himself as far as power does not make him look like a better person. It makes him look like a small person. So, I think that it’s the matter of using Twitter for the reason he is to get around the press, and he’s just not the person in terms of personality who should be doing it. He doesn’t think it through first.”

Nelson: “Yes, I believe that everybody else is using Twitter, and all of the political parties are using Twitter. So a president should. He can also bypass media, which may or may not be biased. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. This way he can get his message directly to the people who are listening to him, and I think that is a good thing. I think he can also put his foot in his mouth at times. I think when people who were adamant for Trump, they knew what they were getting into. They knew they weren’t getting a polished politician who learns to keep their mouth shut, they are getting someone that speaks his mind.”

Q: President-elect Trump has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The law has brought health care to 20 million Americans, but has raised deductibles substantially for many people. Do you support repealing the law, and do you want a replacement plan in place right away? What should that include?

Hinnenkamp: “I don’t know that we are really clear what Trump plans to do, but I know we are starting to see some plans from the Republicans, or sort of plans. And, if they repeal it without replacing it, 20 million people will lose their health care. I’ve never understood the argument anyway, because it seems to me if 20 million people didn’t have health care and now have it, then who am I, who is working for a company that provides good health care, to criticize that? I don’t have a stake. I don’t have a dog in this fight in a sense. And I just think that people who are denied it, they are the ones who need to come forward and now we are starting to hear those voices. I know Paul Ryan was at some kind of press conference and a man stood up and said ‘I would be dead now without it.’ I worked with a woman who said that they could not get health care before the Affordable Care Act passed because she had a son with a pre-existing condition and he couldn’t get it. I think if they are going to repeal it, they better replace it immediately. I don’t know how they can do it any other way.”

Jeppson: “You can’t just take the rug out. You have to have something there to replace it. Because they have changed so much, that you can’t just remove it and go back to the way things were. That doesn’t exist anymore. It does need to be altered, because there is a huge percentage of the middle class that now can’t afford their monthly premiums and they can’t afford the deductibles in order to receive care, so they are just not going to the doctors anymore. However, we also have all of these people who couldn’t get coverage before because of their pre-existing conditions that now can have insurance, and so it’s trying to find a better balance between these two huge changes. There’s a lot of hope that I have. I am a positive, optimistic person, and I hope that they do some thought before they just get rid of it, because there is going to be a lot of people caught in the middle of it if they are not careful.”

Anderson: “It’s kind of humbling from me where I sit. Medicare is a wonderful thing. I can’t believe how good it is. I don’t know what a plan has to look like, but you all should have as good as a plan for your care as I do. I think that this posturing in opposition to the so-called Obamacare is political posturing. It sounded very good. It shook up the people who were real hard-core believers in the Republican cause. But now they gotta govern; they are going to have to deal with that program or something like it.”

Howe: “I don’t know if I would be able to buy insurance if the government didn’t have Medicare. I do not believe that health insurance or giving health care to everybody — free health care — is a function of the government. That is my problem. I don’t know where you go with it. They’ve opened this can of worms. Insurance originally was shared risk. We get together, we share. We give somebody some premiums, and we share that risk. You share it at the level you can afford.”

Nelson: “I think it should be repealed. I think it had a bumpy start. I think there’s a lot of people on that health care. They can still continue. But I think that all the restrictions where people said they could have their health care plan, I think all the restrictions on that should be taken away. I think people who choose not to have insurance should not have to have insurance. Get something else worked out. He has four years. Still keep those people insured, but not have it mandatory until something can be worked out. Either modify it or replace it.”

Q: Immigration continues to be a major issue as the president-elect is set to take office on Friday. Trump supports deporting illegal immigrants. He has also called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrant. What do you think about his plans, and do you believe Trump and the congressional majority can come up with a sustainable solution? How do we move forward on these issues together?

Hinnenkamp: “That’s a tough one, because I know that Obama struggled with that. I don’t know that he did the best job. So, how do I feel about undocumented people? I’ve talked to undocumented kids, and I just think that they are here, and we just have to figure out a quick path. It shouldn’t be such a terrible, terrible long path to citizenship. The whole idea of the wall feels un-American to me. I just think they have to somehow figure it out, and I think it has to be bipartisan, and it is going to be tough sledding. I fear for the undocumented people who have sort of put themselves out there and now may be in jeopardy. As far as the Muslim ban, I think that’s disgusting. Anytime you want to zero in on people because of their faith — I mean, we had the speaker last night talk about the Muslim faith, and how it’s a faith of peace at the heart of it, like Christianity — I just find that so un-American, so disgusting, that it’s hard to even talk about.”

Jeppson: “I don’t agree with the Muslim ban. I would agree more so with saying, ‘Hey, there’s this country where a lot of terrorist things are happening, why don’t we do a better vetting process when people are coming from this general region,’ I’m fine with that. But it’s a vetting process, it’s not saying, ‘No, I’m sorry, you don’t get to leave your scary country.’ I think America is a safe, wonderful place, and we should keep our borders open, but we do need to also be cautious. We don’t just want to let everyone in without a background check of some kind. If you are here in our country, and you are living and have been living here for years and you are obeying the laws of the land, than yeah, let’s help you become a citizen. That’s fine. If you are here doing illegal things, then maybe we need to take another route.If you are going to school and you are trying to make an honest wage and you are trying to live in a safer country, than maybe where you are from, then yes, stay here. Let’s help you.”

Anderson: “It’s always been the hallmark of the demagogue to be the person who identifies the enemy. … You can go through history — and I don’t want to mention any examples because that usually stops discussion. What alarms me is that Trump has called on that same old demagogic tradition of saying you have to fear this element, whether it be Islam or immigrants. Some of it I think is bigotry and racism. Some of it I think is pure opportunism. It sells. It sells on the campaign trail. What alarms me though is some of these things continue to be said by him now that he’s president. Words matter. Presidents matter. What they say matters.”

Howe: “Undocumented aliens are here. The reason they are undocumented is because they are here illegally. So they are illegal. The Muslim deal — I have not studied Islam that much. I have my opinions of it. I read “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates,” the book. I believe that it was in chapter one of that book where him and Adams met with a representative of the Barbary Coast, who was a Muslim. In that meeting, this guy said, ‘It is in our holy book that we can enslave you and kill you if you do not convert to Islam.’ If we cannot prove that people don’t believe that, I believe we should be able to say no, you can’t come in.

Nelson: “That is something that has to be visited. Ronald Reagan had amnesty, and that should have settled it. That did not occur. People came in more and more. I think it was Bush had something like a work a little bit, go home a little bit thing. I think that the Muslims of yesteryear who came in were not the same as the Muslim terrorists of today. Not that all Muslims are terrorists, but I think it is a different situation than it was a long time ago. So, the people who came in a long time ago are not the same immigrants as today. And that does have to be looked at, and I think that’s why he’s stopping it. I think that every possibility has to be looked at without bias.”

Q: Russian hacking has been a focus in Washington as of late. Trump has found himself at odds with the country’s intelligence authority, and he has cited its role in gathering intelligence during the leadup to the Iraq War as proof that its advice is not infallible. What is your take on this? Intelligence agencies have stated that the Kremlin orchestrated hacks into the Democratic National Convention and Hillary Clinton’s officials’ emails during the campaign. Do you think that influenced the election?

Hinnenkamp: “I don’t know if we are ever going to know if it influenced the election to make the difference between who won and who lost. But, I think it is a fair assumption that it surely could have. So, I think when John Lewis says that this is an illegitimate election, I think that was what he was referring to. We’ll never know.”

Jeppson: “This was one of many things that turned me off towards this election. I felt like I was back in high school and people were breaking into people’s lockers and blaming other people. And I thought, you guys, enough. Let’s just get to the real topics and the real issues at hand. I kind of feel the whole thing was a distraction and trying to take our eyes off of the stuff that really mattered in this election. And so, yeah, I do think that to certain individuals, it probably did sway their vote, it probably scared some people to vote a certain way and whether they made or broke a election, I don’t know. This is the kind of stuff that makes me not care for politics.”

Anderson: “What you’ve got is two problems. One is the validity of public elections, popular elections. And it’s ironic this comes up with a gentleman who challenged the reliability of elections all of the time. As far as I am concerned, the vote is the vote. It’s done. The irony is there, but we gotta go and say it is done. It’s just ironic that it blows his mind so much. The next thing though is this hacking by the Russians. (Jeppson’s) comments are really interesting to me. It shows that that is a serious problem. However, it is going to also have to be faced as a potentially serious problem for the Republicans. If they don’t like the Democrats today, they might not like the Republicans tomorrow. Could very easily happen. It’s been known to happen.”

Howe: “Hacking is going to go back to my complaint about software. Both parties were hacked, or tried to be hacked. The Republicans — I don’t know if they tried as hard, but they didn’t get in. Everything that was leaked through Wikileaks, nobody ever contested the validity of what was leaked. In my opinion, there was a chance they stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders and whatever was put out there they haven’t claimed was false. Whether the Russians did it or not, I don’t know. What I’ve heard about these security briefings is that they come down and say we believe this, and we believe that it is 85 percent accurate. And they might make three scenarios in a presentation and give different percentages, and a person is really supposed to make a 100 percent accurate choice on that? You look at the people that are in that, it’s really political. The CIA and all of that intelligence stuff. That’s become way too political.”

Nelson: “I would not trust what the intelligence agency says. Their job is to misinform. Their job is to protect our country, but they do misinform the public when they do other stuff, so I would say that we can do what we can to learn the truth, but we won’t learn the truth. They don’t tell the truth, you know that. You know that. They can’t. Are they going to tell the press for instance, are they going to tell the press everything that goes on? No, they can’t. They have to. That’s their job. But, we need them.”

Q: According to CBS News, 11 percent of Americans in November said they approved of Congress. Are you confident that with complete control of Congress, Republicans will be able to turn around public opinion? Do you think that Trump will be able to help with that? What needs to happen to turn opinion around?

Jeppson: “I am rarely happy with what the people in Washington are doing. I try to do my part, research who is going to be elected and then vote for the person who best represents my personal beliefs. I don’t think that Trump is going to help the face of the Republican Congress. You know what they did to Biden when he first came out and people realized that Biden shouldn’t be talking in public and they just kind of hid him? I feel like in the next couple of months or in a year we are going see a lot less of our president — that somebody is going to realize that we just need to hide him, because he does these things on Twitter and just around, and I feel that he is not doing us a service most of the time. I am a Republican. I don’t know what they can do. Maybe get along, no name calling and just get some stuff done.”

Anderson: “Getting mad at Congress has been the name of the game in this country since it was founded. My gripe would be that too many folks expect that they have the right to sit back and have the pleasure of cherry picking. My point is, people have to get their little hinders involved. Simple as that. Look at Trump. What happened? He had a court of about 30 percent of people in all of those states who always wanted to vote for him. Well, in a 14-person or 16-person race, all you need in a winner take all is 30 percent, and he grew and grew and grew. And he had the knack for insulting people. Let’s face it, we love to watch somebody else fight. It happened right of us, and it’s our own fault. Get involved.”

Howe: “I voted for Trump. I don’t know how he is going to legislate. I think I knew how Hillary would have legislated that I would have been opposed to, and I don’t know about Gary Johnson. For those people, they have to take and make the right choices. They have said they were going to do some stuff and they need to do some stuff to turn things around. I don’t believe that the press is at all fair in the way that they report things. So, they are going to have to do, in my opinion, an exceptional job to even get ‘well, that’s OK.’”

Hinnenkamp: “I think a lot of people say they don’t like Congress but they like their congressperson, so they like that piece. But also, I think when Obama was elected, Sen. McConnell made it very clear that their goal was to limit him to one term. That was their No. 1 goal. Republicans don’t believe in government, so it’s very easy to be obstructionists. No is the easiest answer in any situation. If somebody asks you to do something, the easiest thing to do is to say no. But I think the Republicans made it a career over six years of saying no, no, no, no. And the only way Obama could get anything through was through executive action. It’s going to be harder for the Democrats to do that because they are in the minority for one thing, but other than that, they believe in government. If Trump presents something — like maybe an infrastructure plan — the Democrats see that there is government doing something good, it will be hard for them to say no.”

Nelson: “I have noticed that when one party is in charge, you would think they can get something done. But often they have infighting and they bicker amongst themselves. What can change it? I think it is a wait-and-see. I think they are going to be skeptical, but it is a wait-and-see.”

Q: There has been debate over the speech by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globe Awards. One topic of debate is whether celebrities should use their stance to promote politics. While it can be safe to say that it’s good for celebrities to stand behind a cause, such as the ones in commercials to help children in third-world countries and homeless animals, is it good for them to use their position to promote politicians? If a celebrity stands up for a politician who you oppose, do you stop supporting that celebrity?

Jeppson: “Celebrities are people, they can do whatever they want. I am going to live my life however I want. And they can say whatever they want. I might listen. I might not. But it’s not going to change my day. I am still going to go get my groceries and raise my family. I could care less. They don’t live my life. I have to make decisions based off what’s happening in my four walls. I am familiar that she said something. I had a whole bunch of people on my Facebook feed post it. Some were angry; some were super excited. I didn’t click on it. I didn’t listen to it. I thought, ‘I really don’t care because it doesn’t change my opinion one way or another,’ I am still going to live my life how I am going to live it, and there is only so much I can control day to day … and I am not going to boycott a movie because of something somebody said. They are an entertainer, and if I like the way that they act, I will still go see their film.

Anderson: Sylvester Stallone is a Republican. I still love to watch reruns of “Rocky.” What the heck. It’s as silly to say that celebrities shouldn’t say something as it is for business people. Also though, just as silly as it is to say because someone is a celebrity they know something the rest of us don’t, it’s just as silly to say that just because you are a businessman you know anything about anything outside of your narrow world. Getting excited about what celebrities say or don’t say makes fools out of all of us, I think.”

Howe: “I don’t watch the Golden Globes. I don’t care what they say. I did watch some in the past when I was conned into it with the rest of the family. I can’t stand them getting up there … patting themselves on the back. That’s why I don’t watch it. I don’t care what they say. I don’t listen to what they say. Normally they don’t come up with coherent thoughts to explain why they believe what they believe. They can say what they want; it doesn’t bother me.”

Hinnenkamp: “I did watch the Golden Globe Awards, and I think Meryl Streep is probably going to go down in history as probably one of the best actresses that ever walked the earth. I think what made people pay attention is that I think there was this residue of real, I mean, the shock when Trump won and this overwhelming sort of ‘I can’t believe it. I feel so disappointed in my country,’ There’s just all of that. And when you see someone that you admire give voice to what you feel, I think that really makes you feel better. You don’t feel alone in what you feel. And I think that’s what she did. I think a lot of people said, ‘That’s how I feel. I hope the press stays vigilant. I’m with her,’ that’s kind of how people felt. I think that’s why they reacted.”

Nelson: “With somebody like that, every person has a right to give their opinion. And the more well known they are, the more their opinion is heard by people. They have every right. She made the mistake in thinking that she was oppressed. If you listen to what Brad Pitt said when a reporter asked him about something topical, he says, ‘Why are you asking me, I am just an actor,’ I understand that most of Hollywood is liberal. They put out sometimes good products. I’m not going to quit watching their movies. At the same time, they can do whatever they want, but they are just celebrities. They are just actors.”

Freeborn County 2016 presidential results

Candidate Votes Percent

Donald Trump 8,808 54.89%

Hillary Clinton 6,041 37.64%

Gary Johnson 511 3.18%

Evan McMullin 258 1.61%

Jill Stein 169 1.05%

Dan R. Vacek 71 .44%

Darrell Castle 48 .30%

“Rocky” Roque De La Fuente 9 .06%

Alyson Kennedy 14 .09%

Online poll

We asked readers online at, “Do you follow President-elect Donald Trump on Twitter?”

Here’s the response:

No: 134 votes, 50 percent

I’m not on Twitter: 109 votes, 40 percent

Yes: 26 votes, 10 percent

I plan to when he becomes president: 1 vote, 0 percent

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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