Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series of interviews I’m conducting with people across the country. This is an effort to get to know the stories of the people whose status updates I see on Facebook. It is the discovery of how people came to form their political beliefs, what worries they might have and what gives them hope. These are #PeopleoftheResisance. If you have a story to share, shoot me a note.
SUPERIOR, MONTANA – The homestead out on Trout Creek has been home to Joe Magone for the bulk of his 93-years. It’s a place of unspeakable beauty, what with the mountains and creeks, endless streams to fish and hills to hike, an overabundance of huckleberries to pick and, not so long ago, gold to mine. The kind of place near about every child, girl or boy, dreams about growing up in and near about every parent longs to provide.
In the 1800s, people flocked to Superior, Montana. The area was home to one of the largest gold-strikes in the West. People came from all over the country in search of fortunes.
“It’s not a rich man’s paradise anymore,” Mr. Joe said. “Not since the sawmill and lumber industry is gone. There’s no gold mining any longer. It’s kind of a dead area economically, but it’s been a wonderful place to live. I have freedoms that I wouldn’t have anywhere else.”
In 1929, Mr. Joe’s parents moved from Bellingham, Wa., where he’d been born, to Montana, right before the bottom fell out of the country’s economy. With a passel of children to feed, Mr. Joe’s dad did what so many men did during those years – he became an itinerant worker, moving from place to place in search of work.
“Most of the jobs he got didn’t pay much at all. He might get a week’s worth of board at a mining company. A construction job here and there, but he traveled a lot.”
In their father’s absence, the ranch chores fell to the boys. It was his older brother, Hugh, who really saddled up.
“Hughie took care of the ranch and took care of us, too,” Mr. Joe recalled. “Twelve-and-half years older than me, Hughie was more of a dad to me than anything else. He quit high school and dedicated his life to taking care of us. He spent his young life taking care of the ranch, which was pretty run down.”
Hugh taught his young brothers how to dig holes for fence posts. He taught them howto bait a hook to fish for dinner. And when another brother, Jim, drowned in the river when he was only 12, Hugh taught his siblings how to grieve and move forward.
Mr. Joe’s love for his brother runs clearer, purer than a Montana stream in spring. When he speaks of his older brother, Mr. Joe does so with a reverence that only the honorable deserve.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hugh volunteered for duty and got shipped off to Alaska, so sure was the assumption that the Japanese were going to attack the West Coast. Copying his big brother’s example, Mr. Joe volunteered on January 6th, 1943.
Once basic training at Sheppard Field in Texas was nearly finished, Mr. Joe wound up in Macon, Georgia, training with chemical weapons. The focus was initially on the North African Campaign, but instead the chemical warheads ended up on the Queen Mary headed to England.
Mr. Joe spent three years in Europe, repairing machine guns, loading highly explosive bombs onto the B-26 Marauders, moving from base to base – Colchester, Braintree, Dunmow – in anticipation of D-Day.
“D-Day was the best kept secret,” Mr. Joe said. “We knew it was going to happen but us enlisted men didn’t know when it was going to happen.” He was at Dunmow when it did. His outfit flew into Normandy a short while later.
From 1943, when he first volunteered for duty, until 1946, Mr. Joe never set foot in Montana. Three years of his young manhood were devoted to one thing – stopping Hitler. Even now at 93, Mr. Joe feels he has a lot of fight left in him. If only his body were as strong as his patriotism.
Diane Magone lives with her father out on Trout Creek. The former school counselor/social worker returned to the family’s homestead in 2001 after her mother died.
During the time she’d been away, Superior, Montana, had undergone a lot of changes. The mill, which used to provide a lot of living wage jobs, shut down. The timber industry had long gone belly up. One of the things Diane noticed pretty quickly was how all those economic changes impacted the demographic of the area.
“Superior used to be a town of Democrats. My father was a state legislator back in the ‘70s. Now Superior is mostly Tea Party Republicans.”
When Mr. Joe returned from the war, he went to work at the mill. Raised up Democrat, like most everyone else in Superior at that time, Mr. Joe was a staunch union supporter.
“If we hadn’t had a union for counter strength, things would have been a lot tougher for us workers,” Mr. Joe recalled. “The Union enforced the contracts that gave us better working conditions.”
He attributes his involvement with the union at the sawmill for laying the groundwork for his later legislative tenure.
“I was kind of politically-minded and definitely a Democrat, which has always been the party of the working class. One of the reasons I won the election was because I’d been financial secretary for the union at the mill. I was respected for that. Quite a few people voted for me because of my work in the union.”
As a state legislator, Mr. Joe worked on issues related to the timber and Forest Service industries. He’s rightly proud of the work he did as a state legislator. The loss of the state share of forest receipts threatened state budgets, eliminating monies the states received for the Forest Service and timber sales. The state was able to stave that off during Mr. Joe’s tenure by winning federal subsidies.
“Republicans have never represented the working people. They are all about the business sector,” Mr. Joe said.
That has him worried now that Donald Trump is going to be president.
“Trump believes, ‘I have money. I have power. I can do whatever I want.’ It could come to anything. I’m fearful there’s going to be a blow-up of some kind. I hope it’s not a war of any kind. Maybe Congress might straddle him down where he’s something we can live with,” Mr. Joe said.
Like a wild horse, Donald Trump will be a danger unless he gets broke in.
“The Presidency isn’t the right place for a man who thinks he can do whatever he wants, for a man who thinks he holds all the power. That’s Hilterism in my opinion,” Mr. Joe said.
As you might expect, Mr. Joe isn’t a man prone to hyperbole. His worries about Trump are blunt, told by a man who has lived long enough to see some the country go through some hard things and recover, only to go through them again.
“My dad is a true patriot,” Diane Magone said. “He lived through World War II, the Civil Rights era, Vietnam, all of it. But this is different.”
Diane wakes her father every morning. The morning after Trump won the election, Diane was afraid of what state she might find her father in.
“When I woke him that morning, I told him I was worried he was going to die on me. I was half-joking, but only half.”
It’s not for himself that Mr. Joe worries.
“At my age, he can’t bother me too much, with what little life I’ve got left. I just have a bad feeling about him. I think he’s a mad dog waiting to howl. Trump think he can do whatever he wants. I hope I am wrong. I definitely hope I am wrong about him. But I’m fearful. He thinks he doesn’t have to listen to anybody else and I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
Mr. Joe had hoped that in his lifetime, the US would have elected a woman president.
“I think it’s time. Women have different perspectives. I think it would be a great thing for the US. I was hopeful that Trump wouldn’t win.”
It’s not nukes that worry Mr. Joe.
“I think we may have a Great Depression like we had before. We may lose privileges and rights that we have today. I think Trump wants to be a dictator.”
Since returning to Montana in 1946, Mr. Joe said he’s led a pretty good life.
“As long as we weren’t using atomic bombs on others and as long as we weren’t being invaded by any foreign countries, I lived my life and I didn’t worry too much about anything.”
Trump’s election changed that.
“I’m almost afraid it’s too late,” he said. “I hope the powers that be are combatting him. People in D.C. will have to fight him. I think they will. I just don’t know if they have time. It takes six months to make a change in DC. They can’t do it overnight. There’s very apt to be an awful downturn in the economy.”
It’s hard on Diane Magone to hear the father who has dedicated his life to being a man of integrity and decency and a public servant express his despondency over a president-elect who is so woefully lacking in goodness, kindness and just common decency.
And it’s confusing, too, to have grown up in a place which had been so staunchly Democratic, so committed to the values of common decency, become so bifurcated in population and politics.
Since the sawmill closed and the timber industry left town, Diane said Superior’s population is comprised of undereducated unemployed people and wealthy retirees.
It is these two seemingly disparate populations that coalesced around Donald Trump and elected him president. And as far as Diane can surmise the one thing bridging the gap between the undereducation unemployed and the wealthy retirees is FoxNews.
“They listen to those commentators ranting on FoxNews all day long,” she said.
Around town Diane is known a liberal. That’s because when she first moved back to town, Diane worked at local bar and she never hesitated to speak her mind to the regulars. When her brother-in-law ran for the position of Justice of the Peace, Diane’s “flaming liberal views” was pinpointed by curmudgeons as his biggest liability.
Not that it matters to her, but Diane has lost a lot of Facebook friends over her opposition to Trump.
“What is really odd, though, is that people on Facebook have disagreed with me in a fairly aggressive way, but, when I go into town nobody ever says anything to my face,” Diane said, chuckling.
Facebook has helped her find a community beyond Superior. A community of people committed to building a #Resistance to Trump.
She joined Pantsuit Nation. She even signed Mr. Joe up with a Facebook account and helped him join Pantsuit Nation. When Mr. Joe complains that he’s too old to change things, Diane reminds the once state legislator that you are never too old to write letters.
They even have reservations in Helena, Montana, for the 21st. The date when millions of people – men and women – will join together to protest the election of what is arguably one of the worst individuals to be elected president of the United States of America.
“Dad has compared Trump to Hilter from the very first,” Diane said. “My father has lived through a lot but he has said this is the most scared he’s ever been for this country.”
Sleep eluded Diane in those early weeks after the election. She’s been encouraged lately, though, excited about the growing #Resistance she sees coming from all across the nation and even members of Congress.
“I’m heartened by the fact that some Republicans are questioning things. Men like John McCain and Lindsay Graham.”
And she takes heart that her own daughters will be participating in the Women’s March in Boise. Along with her 12-year old granddaughter.
But back on Trout Creek, Diane Magone tends to the chores and is thankful each and every day to have been raised up in Montana by a true patriot.
“I’m so thankful I have my dad,” she said.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press) and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (MUP).