For ITV’s Tonight programme broadcast on Thursday, John Irvine took a trip down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St Louis, talking to Americans about the choice they face in the election on November 3rd.
We travelled to America’s Midwest to see if Donald Trump’s presidency can emulate the Mississippi River and just keep on rolling along. After three years in office that looked very likely, but then came 2020, the year that changed everything. There’s a reliability about the mighty Mississippi, a certainty about where it flows, that is somehow at odds with the country it bisects. America seems to have lost its way. The river is the country’s spine, separating east from west. The political divide is between left and right. Ideological segregation has seen rivalry turn to hatred. Our journey began in Minnesota, which earlier this year became a battleground state, quite literally. The police killing of George Floyd in the state capital Minneapolis sparked rioting across the state and the country.
Korboi Balla owned a bar in Minneapolis, where he also works as a part-time firefighter. He brought his wife and children to daytime protest rallies. He felt it was his duty to turn out and to educate the young ones. The rallies were peaceful, until darkness fell. One night he went to the bar to try to prevent looters from ransacking the place. A TV news crew filmed him weeping as, to no avail, he begged the vandals to stop tearing apart his livelihood.
You can hear John Irvine talk about his trip in Episode 12 of Will Trump Win? below...
A few nights later, a second rampage would see his bar burned to the ground. The journalists who had witnessed his anguish urged him to set up a GoFundMe website and when he did the response was remarkable. Within a matter of days, Korboi went from losing everything to being a millionaire. He’s seen the worst and best of Americans this year and is optimistic that after the election the healing process will begin.
Mike Valley isn’t so sure. Like everyone we spoke to he’s worried about the state of the union.
Mike catches Mississippi catfish and carp, which he smokes and sells. He has deep reservations about President Trump’s personality and temperament. Mid-westerners are friendly, polite and kind and most take exception to Mr Trump’s signature abrasive outbursts. Many of those who will vote for him will do so holding their noses. Mike is one of those. He fears Democratic interference if Joe Biden wins. He’s worried about the imposition of more bureaucracy and regulation on his way of life on the river. We visited four key states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. Last time the first of those went Democratic, the other three Republican. All of them are in play and trending towards Mr Biden. His greatest attributes are that he’s not Mr Trump or Hillary Clinton. The visceral loathing many Republicans had for her helped propel Mr Trump to victory in 2016. Mr Biden is a plodder, a safe pair of hands. Had coronavirus not come along he would have struggled. But the pandemic did come along and it has exposed the competence deficit inside the Trump White House. Mr Trump’s attempts to downplay the illness – he has preferred a blindfold to a mask – has damaged him. By the time our journey down the upper Mississippi ended in St Louis, Missouri, it was hard not to conclude that while Mr Trump survived coronavirus, his presidency may not. Can Trump Win? – Tonight is on ITV on Thursday 22nd October at 7.30pm.