Small town, rural America helped elect Donald Trump. And Greentown, a community of less than 2,500 people, was one of those places where voters threw their support behind the president, with 77 percent casting their ballots in his favor.
This conservative community, where the Kokomo Tribune held its first Pizza & Politics event, is also very well-informed. Pizza & Politics is an ongoing series where locals host "pizza parties" and discuss a wide range of topics.
The Greentown Pizza & Politics was held recently at the Greentown Library in Eastern Junior & Senior High School, and was hosted by Rachel Jenkins, who is running unopposed for a seat on the Liberty Township board.
Jenkins, a retired photographer, invited five Greentown residents to participate. They ranged from a social worker to a healthcare professional to a librarian to retirees from Delco and Delphi corporations.
Despite the town’s conservative nature, the group spanned the range of political viewpoints [although one attendee bemoaned “labeling” others by their politics]. Two voted for Clinton; two for Trump; and two declined to identify who they favored in the November 2016 election.
Jenkins asked each attendee to write down three issues they wanted to discuss, and there was no shortage of ideas. Their lists included climate change, polarization of the electorate, Russia and the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller III, health care, the attack on American institutions, gun control and more.
Librarian Renda Hurst kicked off the discussion, saying that she feared the Russians interfered with the American electoral process in an effort to “undermine our democracy … to what end, I don’t understand, but Russia is not our friend.”
Mark Lantz, a healthcare operations professional, said he simply doesn’t think there’s enough information yet to make that judgement. “The one thing I’ve learned when it comes to national security is that there is information we are not privy to, and for me to come to a conclusion or opinion when I don't have enough information, well, I just have to sit back and trust in America’s best interests despite what we hear spoken in the media. ... Is it fair to have an opinion when we don't have enough information?” he said.
Jolene Rule, who is retired from Delco Electronics, and was speaking on the Russia topic on behalf of a friend who couldn't make it to the discussion, said, “As far as I can tell there was no collusion by Trump, but we do know Russia did interfere on the Democrat side. My question is why those on the left don’t want an investigation into the FISA courts [which oversees requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies] and Hillary. … I am concerned that the ‘dossier’ was paid for by Hillary and the DNC [Democratic National Committee].”
But clinical social worker Katie Regan disagreed. “I don’t think anyone wants to block investigations," she said. "What’s disturbing to me is how this is undermining American institutions like the FBI.”
Rule also took the media to task on the Russia investigation. “I just don’t think when you listen to the news that you get all the information. … The media is just very biased.”
Regan then expressed concerns about the use of “alternative facts,” while host Jenkins asked the group if “there are legitimate news sources anymore?” Rule said she relied on some media sources more than others, while the rest of the group nodded in agreement.
However, they disagreed whether American institutions, such as the FBI and intelligence communities, were being attacked.
Regan, the social worker, said, “Law and order institutions are being undermined and I think our country is very fragile right now. … Democracy depends on following rules. If you are at a four-way stop when no one is around, do you stop? If you do then you can participate in democracy.”
But Rule noted that “there were huge failures by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the Parkland [Fla.] school shooting."
"It could have been stopped," she said. "The FBI was warned. I’m not talking about every FBI agent, but people who didn’t take action need to be held accountable.”
Lantz, the health care professional, said, “Look, we have a value system that permeates our culture and we all hold that to a high degree. … That’s what sets us apart. We tend to have more goodness than not. We expect our police officers to do the right thing. But we do have societal influences who are trying to tear that down.”
The group agreed with their host, Jenkins, who said, “We’re all in this together. The map of red and blue upsets me. We are the United States.”
However, the group differed on environmental issues.
“We think of the earth as being big, but it’s not so,” said Jenkins. “We are polluting the land and water and we could make it uninhabitable. We are pretty finite.”
Patricia Shrock, who is retired from Delphi and spent several years teaching overseas, said, “Changing the national parks and opening them up [for drilling and mining] has serious ramifications. We need to take care of the land. Regulations are also being lifted for offshore drilling and fracking.”
But Lantz said he has confidence in the “earth taking care of itself.”
“The oil spills in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico got cleaned up fast. And no one wants dirty water or air, but we are drinking clearer water than ever and breathing clearer air than ever,” he said.
Rule said, “We’ve been recycling in Greentown and we are responsible for our waste, and compared to other countries, we are doing pretty darned good. … It’s important to plant trees, but we need to understand that oil and coal are as natural as the air that we breathe. I love nature and the earth does renew itself.”
But, Hurst said, “It’s not happening quickly enough. … Globally we need to get our act together.”
Lantz, however, said he is pleased that Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement because “we were subsidizing economies and Trump said, ‘Enough of that.’”
The group then switched subjects to health care.
Schrock, the retired Delphi employee, opened the discussion, saying, “Someone asked me if I thought health care was a right. Thirty years ago you could afford to go the doctor of the pharmacy. Now it’s an industry.”
Librarian Hurst agreed. “The right to be healthy has become only for those who can afford it or who work for a company that offers insurance. Are others just doomed to die a miserable death? That’s just not America. The ACA wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. Health and wellness shouldn’t just be the right of the rich.”
Lantz, however, said health care costs need to be “consumer driven.” He also advocated for patients to work with doctors to lower costs by paying cash instead of using insurance since the cost of billing drives up health care costs.
And Rule said national health insurance is not the answer and health care issues should be left to the states.
At the end of the discussion, they agreed that they don’t regret how they voted in 2016 and are looking forward to voting in November. And while there were differences, the group agreed that people need to be respectful and listen to other points of view.
“My family doesn’t agree politically,” said Hurst. “But we love each other. We don’t have to agree, but we can respect each other.”