Divided States: Georgia Auto Mechanic Ties Racial Tensions To Obama

Sep 26, 2016
Originally published on May 11, 2017 11:55 am

Jimmy and Dami Arno of the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, Ga., say the country is in trouble. "I know that we were a whole lot further along racially 8 years ago than we are today," Jimmy says.

They plan on voting for Donald Trump this November.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Atlanta. We're hearing stories of Georgia voters on this morning of a presidential debate. We plan to bring the same voters back tomorrow to ask what they thought. They include voters we met near Georgia's Gwinnett County Fair.

That's the Ring of Fire. Everybody's upside down now.

The Ring of Fire is a kind of circular roller coaster, which you find not far from the Snake Lady.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Never have you seen anything so strange as the head of a beautiful girl and the body of an ugly snake.

INSKEEP: This old-style American county fair is in a rapidly changing state. People here looked white and African-American but also Hispanic and South Asian. The booths in the exhibit hall included one explaining Islam. We came to Georgia because it's one of the divided states of America, where we heard very different stories. That includes the story of Jimmy and Dami Arno, who live a short drive from the fair, which they love.

DAMI ARNO: You can hear it out here at night.

JIMMY ARNO: It's so nice. You sit out here...

J. ARNO: You hear the music and the kids screaming.

J. ARNO: We sit on the front porch, and you hear the kids screaming. And every now and then, the wind will blow right, and you get a smell of it. And it just - it just makes you feel warm and cozy. I mean, it's just a comfortable feeling I guess.

INSKEEP: The Arnos welcomed us into the living room of the house where they have raised two kids.

J. ARNO: She's always been a stay-at-home mother. I'm a firm believer - because I was raised with a mother at home - you have better children. So we've made sacrifices through the years. We don't drive new vehicles because we don't have the money to because the sacrifices we made by letting her stay at home.

INSKEEP: Jimmy supports the family as an auto mechanic. He identifies as Christian, though, like many Christians, he attends no organized church.

J. ARNO: I have my church every day when I'm test driving a car. I have my conversations with God. Sometimes it's, God, please help me fix this car. Other times, it's, God, what do I need to do about what's going on in the country? What do I need to do to help us?

INSKEEP: The Arnos see a country in trouble, and they told us a personal story to illustrate why. They say that last May, a woman in conservative Muslim dress seized their American flag off the mailbox and attacked Dami. The Arnos' son pulled a gun before the woman was subdued. No shots were fired. Police arrested the woman, and authorities did not say her motive or mental state. But for this family, the incident, which made the local news, symbolized divisions in their ever more diverse county and country.

J. ARNO: I want grandchildren, but the way this country is right now, I don't want to do that to these children. Think about what it's going to be like in 18 years. If a child is born right now, on its 18th birthday, what is this country going to look like if it continues the way it is? And that's what scares me.

INSKEEP: Help people understand what is going that wrong. Because we're sitting here in the richest country in the history of the planet.

J. ARNO: Well, let's see. If you go to a movie theater, you're liable to get shot. If you go to a mall, you're liable to get shot.

INSKEEP: Statistically, crime rates are near historic lows. But at a time of high-profile violence, the Arnos are feeling different.

J. ARNO: If you go to Atlanta or to a major city, you're liable to be shot or attacked.

D. ARNO: What about just going to the local high school right here? We actually had a BLM protest at two of our high schools right here in county. My son's was one.

INSKEEP: BLM - Black Lives Matter, is that right?

D. ARNO: Yes, yes.

J. ARNO: And it was over - Black Lives Matter and confederate flags.

INSKEEP: Some people still fly the Confederate flag around here. The Arnos say they used to fly one too. Then they discovered it made some of their teenage daughter's friends uncomfortable. So they took it down out of courtesy. They kept the framed, full-length photograph of General Robert E. Lee, which hung over the living room couch as we talked.

Jimmy Arno ties racial tensions to President Obama.

J. ARNO: I know that we were a whole lot further along racially eight years ago than we are today.

INSKEEP: You think so?

J. ARNO: Yes, sir. I really do.

INSKEEP: And the Arnos are planning to vote this fall for Donald Trump for president. Jimmy sees Hillary Clinton as just more years of Obama. He admires Trump's business career and dismisses news stories of Trump cheating contractors and ordinary people.

J. ARNO: Hillary wants to be elected, and Donald Trump wants to be elected. They're going to talk bad about everything that they can about the other candidate so that you vote for them.

INSKEEP: You just discount the whole thing?

J. ARNO: I discount the whole thing because I want to know what your plan is to help the country. That's what I want to know.

INSKEEP: What do you think Donald Trump's plan is?

J. ARNO: Donald Trump - if I understand him correctly, and I hope I do - he wants to stop the flow of illegal people in this country - stop the flow. Well, by stopping the flow, more Americans have an opportunity to go to work because they're not losing their jobs to illegal immigrants.

INSKEEP: Now, this is a much debated point, with many studies finding people in the country illegally do not tend to take native workers' jobs. But for Jimmy Arno, the concern about immigration matches his broader concerns about the direction of the country. He's worried enough that on the day we met, he was thinking about whether or not to join a local group.

J. ARNO: It's a militia group and should martial law, civil war, whatever, break out in this country, they will uphold the Constitution and rebuild our laws.

INSKEEP: What war do you mean?

J. ARNO: The war that's going to take place when Hillary Clinton's elected - if that happens.

INSKEEP: What sort of a war would that be?

D. ARNO: Your patriots...

J. ARNO: Your patriots are going to overthrow the government.

INSKEEP: Now, to be clear, the Arnos say they have no plans whatever to start a war. But if some kind of chaos should ever come, they mean for their family to be ready.

This is Divided States on MORNING EDITION. We're hearing voters with very different views before each presidential debate, and we have several throughout this morning. Then we bring them together after each debate to talk about what they heard, as we will hear these voters tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.