From Day 1, Donald Trump’s presidency has roiled Austin.
But on a gorgeous February day barely an hour northwest of the Texas capital in bucolic Burnet County, habitués of the Blue Bonnet Cafe were savoring the first two weeks of the Trump presidency like a slice of the timeless eatery’s best-selling coconut cream pie.
“Love him,” said Dan Ross, who lives in Cottonwood Shores and is a police officer in Horseshoe Bay. “Think he’s doing great”
“I see the confidence,” said Ross, 59, who was having breakfast with his wife, Sharon Ross, 57. “Everybody I talk to, they are more confident. The stock market’s doing awesome right now.”
“If we can feel like we’re strong again, … you know a weak person can’t help anybody, you can’t help yourself,” Sharon Ross said.
In a nation where, if a new poll is to be believed, 40 percent of the American people are prepared to go straight from inaugurating Trump to impeaching him, in places like Burnet County, which voted even more overwhelmingly for Trump than Travis County did for Hillary Clinton, every item on the bill of particulars against Trump is a cause for celebration.
The 2016 presidential race wasn’t just the usual red vs. blue matchup. In an even more exaggerated form than in the past, it pit small towns vs. big cities. And much to the surprise of the smart money, the retro America that longed to be great again triumphed over the America that thought it already owned the future.
At the Blue Bonnet Cafe, two weeks of Trump has only made them hungry for more. They love his executive actions, his Cabinet choices, his media-bashing, his disregard for historical norms and even, or maybe especially, his Twitter messages, which they recite with delight.
“I love his tweets,” Dan Ross said. “He was tweeting about Iran testing ballistic missiles and he’s not having any of that.”
“You know exactly what he’s thinking. You don’t have to wonder what’s going on,” Sharon Ross said.
“The normal people mattered”
In a booth by the wall are morticians John Dorbant, 55, of Boerne and Roger Bumsmith, 38, of Houston, who sell caskets and other supplies to funeral homes across a vast expanse of Texas, from “Feel the Bern” and “I’m with Her” Austin to endless miles and miles of Texas Trumpland.
Trump, Dorbant said, has simply cut out the middleman.
“I can’t tweet. I don’t even know what tweeting is,” Dorbant said. “But one of things (Barack) Obama said in his first go-round was I am going to be the most transparent. Bull.”
“Trump is tweeting. How transparent is that, huh? He has got followers in the millions,” Dorbant said. “You can’t get any more transparent than that. You know why I think the press is pissed off? They’re used to the president having to go through them, and he’s going directly to the American people. What a concept that is.”
For his faithful, Trump’s presidency is a fanfare for the common man.
“He didn’t act like, because we’re not all college professors that we’re worthless,” said Londa Chandler, 65. “Everybody seemed to have this attitude that if you weren’t part of the elite you didn’t matter, and that whether you have a degree, a good job, raised wonderful families, you were worthless.”
Trump “looked at people and said, ‘The iron workers are important, the normal people mattered,’” said Chandler, whose father, Troy Pollard, proudly filled out a mail ballot for Trump days before he died at the age of 90.
He didn’t live to see Trump’s victory, but, Chandler said, “he knows.”
“A little rough around the edges”
Burnet County, with a population of about 45,000, is not some forgotten and forlorn stretch of rural Texas. This is a place of contentment, not despair. It is a lot whiter and older than the rest of Texas, and growing older with retirees drawn to the lakeside communities.
In its 88th year, the cash-only Blue Bonnet bustles without hustle, warmed by community and shared history.
But politically, these parts are about as Trump-happy as any place you’ll find.
While Clinton crushed Trump by nearly 39 points in Travis County, Trump walloped Clinton by more than 56 points in Burnet County, which Donna Holland Wilcox, the county’s GOP chairwoman, likes to note is the reddest county adjoining Travis.
The balance of power was in places like Williamson County, where Trump beat Clinton by 10 points, very close to the state average, and where the more contested terrain might yield some more nuanced takes on Trump.
“Maybe the wall is wrong and maybe it isn’t, but we have to protect our nation, and if this is the only way to do it then we need to do it,” said Sonia McMasters, 56, who is Hispanic and lives in Round Rock. “He’s not willing to bow to anyone, and that makes me happy.”
“I don’t like his Twittering,” said Richard Dimery of Leander. “Some of his rants seem like useless deceptions. He is determined to make everything into a conflict. I could care less what the crowd size was at the inauguration.”
But, Dimery, 75, a retired engineer and member of a national leadership network of black conservatives called Project 21, compared Trump to a prophet in the Bible.
“In the Bible, prophets were generally despised, but God had a purpose for them,” Dimery said.
Mike McFadden, 49, who lives in Round Rock and has his own air conditioning and heating business, said of Trump he loves “the fact he’s being proactive to the point where he needs to take a nap and rest back up, or he’s going to burn himself out.”
“Some of the stuff is of course controversial, or at least some people attempt to make it controversial, and I personally feel bad for the people who inadvertently got stuck at airports,” McFadden said.
But McFadden said he “had to adjust to our former president, whether I liked him or not. He (Obama) was still president, and now it’s time for these others to get on board because it’s about us — American citizens.”
Southwestern University student Jim Brymer, 22, said Trump is “a little rough around the edges,” but “I think the media needs to take it down and stop acting like everything he’s done is horrible.”
Cathy Cody, 64 an officer with the Sun City Republican Club, said Trump is “obviously living up to his campaign promises” and is “known for picking the right people for the job.”
“The immigration executive order could have been rolled out probably a little better, but there were only 109 people stopped on flights coming in and hundreds of thousands of people did come back into the country,” she said.
“I just sit here and applaud”
Back at the Blue Bonnet Cafe, Dave Kithil, 77, a former Burnet County judge, said the coverage of the immigration executive order, was “a good demonstration of fake news.”
“People were inconvenienced at the airport and they make a mountain out of a molehill,” Kithil said. “Another example of alternative facts.”
Kithil, 77, didn’t expect Trump to win.
“It was amazing to me, just amazing,” Kithil said.
“What’s more amazing to me is all that he has done in the first two weeks. I just sit here and applaud,” said Kithil, applauding.
Kithil was especially impressed by Trump’s nomination of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
“That has impact on the country for 30 years,” Kithil said. “It’s secured our gun rights and secured our Christian rights.”
“He’s done exactly what he said he was going to do,” said James Oakley, the current Burnet County judge.
“From the get-go I said, you better get ready to say ‘President Trump,’” Oakley said.
“A strong alpha male with gonads”
Going around a big round table, diners offered a personal President Trump epiphany.
For George Pangborn of Burnet, president of the Highland Lakes Tea Party, “It was his speech, the inauguration speech. It was America First, and that was the headline the next day, the 21st, in the Statesman. ‘America First.’ You finally got a headline right. That was the gist of how he is.”
For Mike Brennan of Kingsland, an IBM retiree who turned 70 on Thursday, it was Trump’s essence.
“If I were to sum up Trump, the reason why I fell in love with him, it is the fact that that man is a strong alpha male with gonads. And he is a patriot, and that’s something that has been lacking in the chief executive for as long as I can think of — except maybe Reagan,” he said.
Brennan said that while Obama “bowed” to foreign leaders, Trump on a Jan. 28 call reportedly hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after complaining about what Trump tweeted was a “dumb deal” in which Obama had agreed to “take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”
“That’s the alpha male,” Brennan said, though Trump later tweeted that the report of him hanging up was “fake news.”
“He scares the living bejesus out of me”
Not everyone at the Blue Bonnet Cafe was down with Trump.
At a corner table, three men talked about cinema and likened Trump to the evil Vladimir Harkonnen from Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”
And, having a cup of coffee at the counter, Blue Bonnet Cafe regular Steve Cowan, 55, who grew up in Austin and retired in Marble Falls after more than 27 years in the Marine Corps, Army and Army National Guard, offered a dissent in hushed tones.
“I’ve been in combat and I’m scared,” Cowan said. “I’ve seen police states all over the world. I’ve seen fledgling democracies turn into police states. This is how it starts.”
“We’ve never had a man in the White House that — he can’t seem to take a breath without violating the Constitution. It’s only a matter of time,” Cowan said. “When he was being sworn in, I was hoping the best for him. If he succeeds, we all succeed.”
But after two weeks on the job, Cowan said: “He scares the living bejesus out of me.”
“People ought to get behind him”
Lenwood Nelson, 74, said his only disappointment the first two weeks of the Trump administration has been the resistance to it from the political opposition and the media.
“If he didn’t win, we would have cooperated in the peaceful transfer of power,” he said. “They have not.”
It’s a common lament, this feeling that Republicans were more civil to Obama after his first election, than Democrats have been to Trump. The same, in spades, for the media.
“People ought to get behind him. You know if Hillary had won, I don’t think the Republicans would be demonstrating,” said John Collins of Spicewood, director of Wheelers for the Wounded-Texas, a charity that gives wounded veterans off-roading opportunities. Collins was at the Blue Bonnet Cafe with Jerry Sargent, a veterinarian from Canyon Lake, who is the charity’s president.
Do Collins and Sargent know anyone who voted for Clinton?
“Some women that did,” Collins said.
“Both my sisters and my cousin,” Sargent said.
“Not friends,” said Collins, before remembering Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick, who he went to school with.
“I cut him out of my Facebook for a while — he said so much Hillary stuff,” Collins said.
“It’s not the same old, same old”
At a middle table, two 80-year-old men — Jim Builta and Wes Lott — are having breakfast. They have known each other since sixth grade in Kerrville, and both are back living close to where they grew up.
But in between they had big careers. Lott was a top executive with H-E-B. Builta was a lawyer who worked for the Texas Railroad Commission and for House Speaker Pete Laney.
They both voted for Trump, but, Builta said, “the biggest shock of my life was Trump getting elected.”
“I’m glad he did,” Builta said. “I think him putting these kinds of people in the Cabinet is the best thing that ever happened to this country, because they know how to handle business. They are not career politicians. Look at his secretary of state: You’ve run Exxon. You know how to get things done.”
“It’s not the same old, same old,” Lott said.
“It’s not the same old crap,” Builta said.
“The country is tired of that crap,” he said. “That’s why Trump got elected. Because people were tired of the politicians.”
“I think he’s doing all right,” Builta said. “I think it’s proved that the media is doing everything it can to hurt him. I think everybody’s tired of the media trying to knock everything that happens. I think they ought to get behind him — get the country going, instead of trying to mess it up.”
“I think Trump’s going to be all right,” Builta said. “He needs to be president and quit campaigning.”