WILKES-BARRE — About one week after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, West Hazleton bar owner Marty Beccone was interviewed by a television crew from China.
Now that’s about as bizarre as it gets.
But Beccone, who was also featured in Newsweek magazine, was eager to tell the world why he supported Trump for president and why he was not the least bit surprised his candidate won.
Beccone turns 54 Monday and he has owned and operated the 4th Street Pub in West Hazleton for 15 years. Beccone is one of 12 key Luzerne County voters featured in Ben Bradlee’s book, “The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.”
The book hits the shelves Tuesday and Bradlee will be in town Oct. 10 at Barnes & Noble at the East End Centre for a book signing and panel discussion, featuring several of the Luzerne County people he interviewed for the book.
Now depending on which side of the argument you sit, Luzerne County is being either credited or blamed for electing Trump.
“Yeah, I got interviewed by the White House correspondent for the government of China,” Beccone said. “He told me that there is only one news organization in China and that the interview would go out to 1 billion people. I thought about that and I wanted to be sure I didn’t cause an international situation.”
Beccone said the interview, like several he did with Bradlee, centered on why he supported Trump and how a Democratic county like Luzerne could go for a Republican.
Beccone said Bradlee accurately portrayed how he felt, unlike the way he was depicted in the Newsweek article. He said he enjoyed his talks with Bradlee and he agreed that Luzerne County did play a significant role in electing Trump.
“But I am sure throughout the country there were lots of counties like Luzerne,” Beccone said. “It wasn’t only us. But facts are facts — we supported Obama by like 80 percent and four years later, we supported Trump the same way. That is a significant change.”
Beccone said he is “absolutely happy” with Trump’s performance to date. He said supporting Trump has gotten him a lot of notoriety.
“Like P.T. Barnum said, there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Beccone said. “I’m a businessman, so when I get some publicity, it’s all good.”
Bradlee was asked what were the most puzzling, hard-to-explain discoveries he made while researching his book.
“I guess you would call it listening reporting,” Bradlee said. “I went in without judgment — curious about what I would find. I’m from a blue state and I have my own political leanings. I was welcomed by everyone I talked to in Luzerne County. They was genuinely interested in why people voted for Trump, in what was a shocking election for many, not the least of which was Trump himself.”
Bradlee said he asked people what moved them to vote the way they did and he was surprised at the depth of alienation they felt from Washington, D.C.
“It was to the extent that the people felt they were not being heard, that they were ignored,” Bradlee said. ”They felt they were heard by Trump.”
When talking about the 2016 presidential campaign and the way the “mainstream media” covered it, Bradlee said he felt the press misunderstood the role of the large crowds that consistently came out for Trump rallies.
”Trump consistently drew huge crowds,” Bradlee said. “There clearly was an enthusiasm factor. Joe Biden came to Scranton and he drew a fraction of a crowd that Trump had.”
Bradlee said he decided to focus on Luzerne County because of the numbers — the number of registered Democrats over Republicans, the large margin of victory for Trump over Clinton and the significance of the county vote in deciding the state race and its 20 electoral votes.
What made Luzerne County so distinctive was how so many Democratic voters, who voted for Obama in 2012, clearly and enthusiastically flipped to Trump.
“Obama had hope and change, Trump knocked down the door of change,” Bradlee said. “It was hard for many people to imagine jumping from Obama to Trump, but there was that feeling of alienation from Washington.”
Bradlee said the book’s title, “The Forgotten,” plays off Trump’s campaign when he would repeatedly say he was the one representing “the forgotten people” — those feeling left behind by the economy and the culture in Washington.
“There were so many poignant moments while interviewing people for the book,” Bradlee said. “One of the most poignant was how the election came between many family members. This was how polarizing Trump is. There were many heart-wrenching, dramatic stories.”
Bradlee said evangelicals, like Jessica Harker, who is featured in the book, were a big part of Trump’s support base. He said some 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump.
“Jess was enamored with Trump, but her husband hated him,” Bradlee said. “The election was a no-fly zone in their house. They couldn’t discuss it.”
Bradlee also said there was a huge dislike for Hillary Clinton that alienated voters here.
“The dislike for Hillary definitely contributed to Trump’s success,” Bradlee said. “The large affirmative vote for Trump was no doubt helped by the intense dislike for Hillary.”
Why Luzerne County?
Bradlee said he was obsessed with the rise of Trump and his “totally unlikely, improbable rise to victory.” He was looking for a way to write about that and traveled to Michigan and Wisconsin, in addition to Pennsylvania, searching for the right story.
“I really was struck by Luzerne County, a traditionally Democratic county that surged for Trump,” Bradlee said. “And when I looked at the numbers, it was clear that without that 60 percent victory margin, Trump would not have won Pennsylvania. I guess you could say I went micro to get macro. Without Luzerne County, Trump doesn’t win Pennsylvania and without Pennsylvania, he likely doesn’t win the election. So I decide to use this one county as a prism to tell the story.”
Bradlee said the November mid-term election will “be very telling.” But he said Trump still appears to be as popular as ever, especially in Luzerne County where 11,000 turned out for a rally that featured Trump campaigning on behalf of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican from Hazleton trying to unseat two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton.
“They just love him personally,” Bradlee said. “But if you look at his actual record, in some ways he has gone against the economic wishes of his base.”
Bradlee noted Trump has promised he would eliminate the national debt in eight years, yet his proposed budget would add $7 trillion to the country’s deficit.
“People … have an emotional attachment,” Bradlee said. “But the important question for the future is has he created a movement here that will outlast him, or has he created a cult of personality?”
Bradlee looks forward to returning to Luzerne County on Oct. 10 for his book-signing.
“I wanted to come back to the county that the book is about,” he said. “And I wanted to visit the people I feature in the book and talk to people who are interested in what happened there.”
Bradlee said the mainstream press “has certainly been excoriated” for not seeing the Trump phenomenon coming and for not getting out of the major markets and into middle America and talking to regular folks.
Like he did.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.