At the end of a dusty dirt road, surrounded by beat-up chain saws and worn-out lawn mowers, Richard Yarber tries to explain his tortured relationship with the new president.
“If Donald Trump walked in here, within 10 minutes I’d slap him — he’s so arrogant,” Yarber declared. “But we need someone who is going to stand up. We need a man in the White House.”
He raps his fist on the counter of his small engine repair shop to emphasize his point.
“We all voted for Trump because he didn’t come out and sugarcoat anything,” Yarber said. “He told us what we needed to do.”
Virtually no other place in Georgia was as supportive of Trump as Banks County, a sparsely populated area where nearly 9 out of every 10 residents voted for the Republican.
It’s hard to find a Democrat here. It’s even harder to find a Trump supporter who regrets his or her vote. And interviews with two dozen Banks County residents as the president approaches his one-month anniversary in the White House on Monday quickly revealed a few constants.
Most residents here brush off reports of chaos in the White House and reject the narrative that his administration is sinking into scandal and ineptitude. They feel his attacks on the media are justified. And they are somewhat concerned — if bemused — that he remains the same say-anything Trump he was on the campaign trail.
“If he would just stay off Twitter, we would all be a whole lot better,” chuckled Bo Garrison, the 60-year-old owner of a deli in the county seat of Homer.
The smile quickly evaporates. He explains that his wife died of complications of a brain aneurysm a few years back, and his fluctuating medical bills made him lose faith in the promise of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“Listen, I gave Obama a chance,” Garrison said. “But Washington had forgotten about the average person. So let’s give Trump a chance.”
Trump notched a 5-point victory in Georgia in November despite losing most of metro Atlanta in part because of counties such as Banks, an overwhelmingly white, working-class and rural area where he ran up the score.
Support for GOP candidates here has crept from the high 70s in 2004 to nearly 90 percent in 2016, and no Democrats even bothered running in countywide elections last year.
And it is here where Trump’s Inauguration Day pledge to wrest power from the political elite and return it to “forgotten” Americans touches a raw nerve.
“I wanted Trump to win because he’s a self-made man, and we’re self-made people down here,” said Ashly Gibson, 26. “We don’t have too many people helping us out down here, so you kind of got to deal with what you got and we bootstrap stuff and get it done.”
‘A sea of red’
Mary Worley had a confession to make — one that even some of her closest relatives didn’t know.
“I voted for Hillary,” the 40-year-old said.
“You did?” her shocked daughter Maddie shot back.
“I mean, not happily,” said Worley, who works as a server at a nearby Longhorn’s Steakhouse. “To me, (Trump) just seems like a joke.”
Kim Loggins is another of the 684 Banks County residents who voted for Hillary Clinton, and she wears her support for the Democrat like a badge of honor.
Her husband is a Republican — talking politics is a no-no at their kitchen table — and so are virtually all her friends. But when given the opening, she minces no words when describing what she calls the “chaotic wreck” of his first month in the White House.
“I live in a sea of red and I know it. It’s embarrassing for the whole country,” Loggins said. “I hope he gets better, for the sake of the country. But I think he’s compromised. Honestly, I think Trump has a mental imbalance, and at 70, I don’t think he’s getting any better.”
That type of talk makes Vickie Wiggins roll her eyes.
She’s one of the stylists at Turning Heads Salon, the type of place where customers are sent packing with cupcakes and sweets along with a sleek new hairdo. It’s as much a community gathering spot as the town square, and locals trade gossip with beauticians they’ve been seeing for years.
“Nothing has changed at all,” Wiggins said. “I love him and he’s doing a great job.”
The barrage of controversies his administration has faced is merely a test, she said.
“He’s only going to be stronger because of all this,” Wiggins said. “He’s doing such a good job and the others are miserable. The Democrats have lost it. They’re acting like 10-year-olds and they just need to grow up.”
And she shrugged off critical reports of Trump’s free-for-all news conference on Thursday, an emotional 77-minute performance in which he slammed the “dishonest” news media and said his administration was running like a “fine-tuned machine.” Wiggins didn’t catch any of it — she was too busy working — but it didn’t matter.
“My opinion won’t change on Donald Trump no matter what he says,” she said. “That press conference wouldn’t change anything.”
Many Trump supporters in Banks ignore the constant drumbeat of news from his administration. Few have Twitter accounts to follow Trump’s daily social media frenzy, and those that do largely tune it out. They get their information from conservative talk radio, Fox News or by word of mouth.
Danny Glenn, a 53-year-old electrician who also owns a martial arts studio, said he sometimes switches the dial to National Public Radio — “but they’re a bunch of wackos.” His impression of CNN isn’t much better.
“Most of the people on CNN, anything that is mainstream in America, they’re against it,” he said.
He is satisfied that Trump is delivering on his promises. “I don’t expect him to be perfect. He is who he is,” Glenn said. “He’s 70 years old. How many people are going to change at that age? We don’t want that. I want you to be who you say you are.”
William Bramlett, who retired in December from a gig as a Duke Energy mechanic, breaks into a wide grin when asked about the hard-hitting coverage from the national media.
“It’s all noise. Democrats are sore losers. I don’t care about his tweets — actually, I think it’s pretty comical that he’s bypassing the media,” Bramlett said. “He’s going to do things his way and that’s what we need. I’d vote for him again in a heartbeat.”
‘I’m feeling OK’
Even here, though, there are pockets of anxiety about the series of crises rocking Trump’s administration — and the dearth of legislation coming out of his White House.
“I’m feeling OK — I just don’t want him to take away all the insurance,” said Nora Herring, a 43-year-old sales associate in nearby Lula, a railroad junction on the western edge of the county. “Without Obamacare, we weren’t able to afford any insurance and now we can. And it benefits everybody.”
Dismantling the health care program was one of Trump’s biggest campaign promises. So why did she vote for him?
Her 17-year-old son Tyler is preparing to join the U.S. Marines, and Trump’s outspoken support for veterans was a deciding factor.
“That’s what you’ve got to give Trump,” she said. “He is honest.”
Jim Echols, the 80-year-old owner of a farm and produce market, ticked through a few of the controversies that rocked Trump’s first days in office: the bungled rollout of an immigration ban, his battles with the judiciary, the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“He’s going to do all right, but I think he’s stumbling a lot. I think that’s to be expected the first few weeks,” said Echols, who nevertheless said a turnaround is coming.
“He’s going to roll back regulations and lower taxes and end some of this stupid political correctness,” he said.
Back at Yarber’s small engine repair shop, a handful of customers wander in to drop off banged up machinery. Each is asked about Trump, and each proclaims confidence in his young presidency — warts and all. Some can already point to a difference.
“I feel safer now. Since Sept. 11, I haven’t felt safe,” said Glenda Yarber, the wife of shop owner Richard. “Now we’re going to stand behind the military, now we’ll tackle ISIS.”
For her, standing by Trump comes down to a matter of faith.
“I still believe he will live up to all of his promises,” she said. “Sure, I don’t agree with it all. But he is out there being himself. And I like that he hasn’t changed.”