Cut off from America, but not from the campaign

Travelled to the tiny U.S. enclave of Point Roberts, Washington to shoot a video report for the Globe and Mail on how ordinary Americans are feeling about the presidential choices before them on election night. Reporter Ian Bailey was also kind enough to share byline in the print and online editions, Nov.6.  Watch the video below.

Cut off from America, but not from the campaign | Globe and Mail | Mychaylo Prystupa

Cut off from America, but not from the campaign

While some say the polarizing divisions haven’t been as bad in Point Roberts, they worry about the future of their country, report Ian Bailey and Mychaylo Prystupa

Mark Robbins is feeling the tension as Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election looms. Not even isolated Point Roberts, Wash., a piece of America cut off from the rest of America, has escaped the feisty debate.

“I’ll either be celebrating or slitting my throat,” the self-described 69-year-old progressive says wryly when asked about what he’ll do when the outcome becomes clear.

He’s reserving the second option for a Donald Trump victory.

Mr. Robbins, head of the non-partisan taxpayers association in this 13-square-kilometre U.S. enclave on the southern end of the Lower Mainland, has come around to supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She has won his support, although he’s against family dynasties in politics and has doubts about Ms. Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts.

But Mr. Robbins, who earlier liked Senator Bernie Sanders’s policies, says he won’t vote for Mr. Trump. “I don’t think Trump is the change I can support, so I am going to vote for Clinton,” he says.

“I’m not afraid of [Ms. Clinton] being president. And Trump to me is such a bundle of unknowns, maybe deplorables,” quips Mr. Robbins, who has lived in Point Roberts for 11 years since settling on the area as a retirement home after a career in public health.

As British Columbians watch the U.S. election from afar, their closest American neighbours in Point Roberts, which exists literally as a piece of the Lower Mainland, are actually casting ballots. The community, created in the mid-19th century when the 49th parallel was run through the area, officially has 1,008 voters registered.
Mr. Robbins says the presidential election hasn’t been that big an issue here.

There are few visible signs. Politics in Point Roberts is “mostly local,” Mr. Robbins says, noting that the biggest issue on election day is whether residents will vote to allow a special tax to raise $300,000 to finish renovating an old building as a new community library.

“I think Point Roberts is a very unusual place and a unique place, but I am not sure that makes the way the election plays out here different,” he says.

Voting records suggest that the Democrats have an edge in Point Roberts, which is officially part of Washington State’s Whatcom County. In 2000, Democrats won 72 per cent of the vote. In the last election, in 2012, the Democratic ticket won 69 per cent of the vote.

(Among Republicans in Point Roberts, Mr. Trump was the favoured candidate among would-be presidential nominees. He won 89 per cent of the vote in the 2016 Republican primary.)

The existence of Point Roberts, with the need to answer to border guards to enter or leave, puts a twist on former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 statement about how the United States was an elephant to the mouse that is Canada. Here, Canada, looming to the north, is the elephant and Point Roberts the mouse.

While Mr. Robbins plays down the election as a point of debate, some remain troubled by its implications.

“This country is very close, in my humble opinion, to almost a civil war,” says 64-year-old George Gibson, pausing in the midst of a regular 6.5-kilometre run to talk politics by the side of the road. “Either way it goes, there’s going to be some serious unrest. That’s where we are as far as I can tell.”

Mr. Gibson, who has lived in Point Roberts for six months – “I’m a newbie” – after transferring here as part of his civil-service job, says the United States has become so polarized that he cannot see it coming back together as one nation.

“People go to Thanksgiving dinners now and they can’t even be civil with each other.”

Despite the support for the Democrats, Republican caucus leader Shelley Damewood has high hopes for the election. She says newcomers have moved into Point Roberts, possibly swinging the vote toward Mr. Trump.

Ms. Damewood, who has lived in Point Roberts since 1976, says she likes Mr. Trump’s credentials as a political outsider – a quality that may help him break the cycle of influence that has been taking the United States in the wrong direction.

But Virginia Lester, Point Roberts caucus leader for the Democrats, says Ms. Clinton has worked throughout her career for the benefit of all Americans.

As for Mr. Trump?

“I watched The Apprentice a few times and found that the way he treated people on that television show was really wicked,” says Ms. Lester, 83.

Regardless of who wins, Mr. Robbins has concerns about the future of America.

“I don’t think we’re heading for civil war, but I do think we’re, unfortunately almost inevitably, heading for a continuation of the gridlock and hyper-partisanship that we’ve had,” he says.


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