by Steve Lopez
One year ago this month, I went to a Denny’s in Redondo Beach to have a cup of coffee with a guy who liked what he saw in a candidate by the name of Donald Trump. I didn’t get it, and I thought I should make an effort to find out what I was missing.
Dana Martin, a hardware salesman from Temecula, told me he didn’t care much for Hillary Clinton. Not that he loved everything about Trump, but he was impressed with his penchant for taking on the political establishment.
Martin also supported Trump’s views on immigration and national security. In particular, he thought Trump was the best hope for bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas, because he was likely to trim regulations, reduce corporate taxes and slap tariffs on foreign imports.
I left that meeting a year ago with two thoughts. First, Martin and I didn’t agree on much of anything. Second, I really liked the guy, partly because he couldn’t be stuffed into any particular box.
A fiscal conservative, Martin supported gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose and reasonable gun control. The father of three was fond of his Latina daughter-in-law and proud of his wife for her nearly full-time volunteer work at a Temecula charity. He was, in other words, sort of an old-fashioned California Republican.
So one year later, and 10 months into Trump’s presidency, what did Martin think of how it was going? He’d have to admit he was taken in by a fraud, right?
I reached out and he agreed to talk it over. So on Thursday — the same day the Pew Research Center released a study that said political differences between Republicans and Democrats had grown wider than ever — Martin and I slid into a booth at the same Denny’s in Redondo and ordered two cups of coffee.
Naturally, I’ve got my own thoughts on Trump’s first nine months. Not to sound dramatic, but I’d say it marks a low point in the history of the universe and I’m building an ark in my backyard.
But I felt that way about Trump’s campaign, and yet clearly a lot of voters saw it differently. Martin, for one, and although I couldn’t have disagreed with him more, he was a decent, hard-working husband and dad who certainly didn’t fit into Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables.
Tom Pennington / Getty Images
President Trump (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)
So here we go. Denny’s in Redondo, Act 2:
I took a sip of coffee, leaned back and got to the point.
What does Martin think about his guy?
“I really like what Trump has done and what he’s been trying to do,” he said without equivocation.
It struck me, at that moment, that it might have been better if we’d met at a bar. With a couple of stiff ones in me, I wouldn’t have been able to hold back.
“I’ll tell you what I like,” Martin went on. “I took a look at the stock market and it’s up another 87 points. It’s up over 4,000 points since he was elected.”
But can you attribute that to Trump?
“For one thing, I think it’s consumer confidence. I think people believe in the future,” Martin said, adding that he believes Trump is attempting to do just what he promised on tax deductions and creating a more business-friendly environment that will grow the economy.
We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, what grade would Martin give Trump?
“For achievement, I would probably give him a B,” Martin said, noting that some Republicans — and, of course, the Democrats — have tried to torpedo Trump. “I think for effort, I’d give him an A.”
If Martin had been one of my teachers in high school, I could have gotten into Stanford.
It was my turn, so I took a look at a few notes I’d prepared. Trump spent the first full day of his presidency on Twitter, disputing estimates on the number of people at his inauguration. I give him high marks for consistency, because Trump hasn’t deviated from that course. Most recently, he insisted his tax cut proposal would not benefit him despite evidence to the contrary, and the master of distortion answers every criticism with cries of “fake news.”
He stocked his administration with the swamp dwellers he railed against. NAFTA is still NAFTA. There are no tariffs. Better and cheaper healthcare for all was never a possibility. There is no infrastructure plan, no border wall or plan to pay for it, no framework for rebuilding inner cities. Trump said both sides were to blame for bloodshed at a white supremacist rally, Cabinet members have been forced out in scandals, and Trump screamed about President Obama’s travel but now uses Air Force One like it’s a golf cart.
Meanwhile, a special prosecutor is investigating Russian meddling in the election, Trump’s former campaign chair is a chief target, it’s been nine months of chaos, corruption and contradiction, and guess what:
This is the short list.
Martin listened politely and responded calmly.
“I think you make some good observations,” Martin said, but he didn’t do any backtracking. John F. Kennedy and lots of other presidents had tough starts, Martin said.
Is it possible, I said delicately, that Trump told people what they wanted to hear on the campaign trail, but never had a plan, left everything to impulse, and still lacks the discipline, knowledge and intellectual curiosity to develop workable strategies?
Some of that may be true, Martin said, but he thinks Trump is going to get it together. Martin sees this as a businessman, and still believes that whatever Trump’s shortcomings, tax breaks and a more friendly business environment will deliver the prosperity Trump has promised.
Martin said he told three business colleagues he’d be meeting with me again and asked what they thought of Trump’s performance. Martin said the president of a foundry in Oceanside, an executive for a Southern California lumber yard chain and a retired hardware manufacturer in Pennsylvania all gave Trump high marks, and they’re optimistic about growth in jobs and revenues.
“I remain hopeful,” said Martin, who watches Fox News every night at dinner with his wife. But he often gets tired of Sean Hannity’s schtick and switches across the universe to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, so he can get another perspective, and that’s one of the things I like about him.
“I think you bring up some relevant observations, some I agree with and some I don’t,” Martin said. “But I do believe we’re headed in the right direction, and I have a lot of associates who agree.”
More than ever, we are a divided nation. But Martin and I did reach full agreement on one thing.
We’ll meet again next year, but it’ll be somewhere in Temecula.
And alcohol will be involved.