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The Element in the Room: Peaceful Vermont copes with the Donald Trump effect

Note: Twice a year, Michael Enright travels to rural Vermont, far away from the news of the day and the concerns of a weekly national radio program. The agenda is — walk, sleep, read; rest, recharge and reset. Last week, however, the drumbeat of the news was never far away.
The rising sun lights up the fall colours of leaves 06 October 2007 on Route 9 outside of Woodford, Vermont. Fall foliage in the New England region is reaching its peak this week. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Note: Twice a year, Michael Enright travels to rural Vermont, far away from the news of the day and the concerns of a weekly national radio program. The agenda — walk, sleep, read; rest, recharge and reset. Last week, however, the drumbeat of the news was never far away.

Weston, Vermont -- As the shambolic campaign machinery of Donald Trump continued to wheeze and grind and groan and backfire over the fact that the man has virtually bragged about sexually assaulting women, village folk in southern Vermont tried to concentrate on  Columbus Day weekend festivities.

There was not a lot of political chatter in the air, even with the most critical election in modern times less than a month away.

The Green Mountains are afire with their gaudy fall colours. Besides, there is so much else going on.

There is the Fiddle Jam in Bellows Falls, the Harvest Fair in Ludlow, Cider Days in Belmont and a roast beef supper at the Oddfellows Hall in Mount Holly.

Even in quieter times, notoriously reticent Vermonters are slow to express an opinion on anything, especially on politics.

But when pressed, they sometimes will open up a bit.

''I don't like to talk about politics at work," said the young woman behind the lunch counter, in a low conspiratorial voice.

"See, the thing is, there is this element. That's what we call it, The Element."

When asked about it, she says; "I live on a street with maybe 20 houses. Only one house has a sign in front. It's a Trump sign. That's what I mean by The Element. People worry about it."

(David Donnelly/CBC)
The very idea that there are living, breathing Trump supporters living in their midst is cause for grave concern.

Like the dwindling number of familiar folk in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. To be replaced by The Element.

In fairness, you don't see many Hillary signs either. Like voters in many parts of the country, Vermonters find themselves having to decide the lesser of two very real, to their minds, evils.

Billboards of any kind are illegal in the state. Vermonters consider them visual pollution. What few election signs you do see are small, about the size of a placemat.

Vermont is fiercely independent, especially in its politics. Its three Electoral College votes don't count for much nationally but attitudes here are reflective of attitudes in larger states.

Between 1854 and 1988, Vermonters voted a straight Republican ticket — except for 1964, when they elected Lyndon Johnson over GOP ideologue Barry Goldwater. Since 1992 it has been solidly Democratic.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) waves to supporters before he speaks during the kick off of his presidential campaign on May 26, 2015 in Burlington, Vermont. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

This is, of course, Bernie Land — fiefdom of the independent Senator, former Burlington Mayor and Clinton pursuer Bernie Sanders. He is not up for re-election this year but would win in a walk if he was. Many people are genuinely saddened he is not the Democratic nominee.

In the March primary, Trump took 33 per cent of the Republican vote. The Democratic vote broke 14 per cent for Hillary Clinton and 86 per cent for Bernie Sanders.

The state's economy is one of low unemployment, slow growth and high taxes.

But people here worry. Many have stopped looking for work. Young people often leave Vermont for work in New York or New Hampshire.     

"People are moving in from Connecticut and New York," said the gas station attendant in Rutland, "but when you see the size of the houses they are buying or building, you can bet they're Republicans."

Five years ago the government launched something called the Office of Creative Economy.

The idea was to marshal the energies of Vermont's so-called "knowledge workers" in music, film production, technology, theatre to lift the state from its reliance on small industry and agriculture.

Last year the government shut it down. It simply wasn't delivering on its promise.

(Susan Mahoney)
Nobody here is looking to Washington to solve Vermont's economic woes. Nor is anyone counting on Clinton or Trump to make much of a difference in their lives.

As in much of the rest of the country, Clinton is seen as Washington establishment, likely to carry on the policies and practices of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Trump is the outsider, the vulgar loudmouth who ignores convention and good manners and is more likely "to kick over the table," according to one older voter.

With the number of young people in the state, many of whom have already voted, Vermont should be an early win for Clinton on election night.

That, of course, depends to some extent on the impact of The Element.

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