Dear Rolling Stone: Duluth is not 'Trump Country'

Ana Marie Cox and Rolling Stone think Duluth is 'Trump Country.' All the facts say otherwise.

Ana Marie Cox and Rolling Stone think Duluth is 'Trump Country.' All the facts say otherwise. Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Donald Trump spoke in Duluth on Wednesday. It was about what you'd expect

Here's another thing we've come to expect: A writer for a national media outlet tried to capture the spirit of a Minnesota place, and missed by a mile.

And another: City Pages is racing to defend us from these coastal elites! (And act all pissy about it!) 

Rolling Stone's on-the-ground piece about Trump's speech to 8,000-some attendees undoubtedly has some valuable insights. None of them come at the beginning of the story, which frames Duluth like this (emphasis ours):

If you’re wondering why Trump came to Duluth, that’s because Duluth is a reverse oasis in a place known for its natural beauty, good health outcomes, relatively low crime and high standard of living. Like the more prosperous areas of Minnesota, Duluth is strikingly white. Look deeper than skin and you’ll find Duluth is a struggling post-manufacturing cipher with the highest drug overdose rate in the state. U.S. Steel closed its gigantic Morgan Park plant in 1981, causing a slow cascade of desolation that stilled the concrete and hardboard plants and emptied out the grain elevators. Today, the small city of 80,000 scrapes by on tourism and as a port. There’s a paper plant that has been on the verge of closing for 10 years. Duluth has a poverty rate (21 percent) that would rank it among the most desperate counties in West Virginia and per capita income just below that of Wheeling. Lake Superior’s merciless beauty crashes up against a town whose shoreside skyline is dominated by stolid, brutalist mid-century relics and precarious-seeming industrial shipping contraptions, rusty and mostly silent. Downtown, every surface is covered with a thin layer of grime. It is, in other words, Trump Country.

No, in other, truer words, it is not.

Many (probably too many) post-2016 thinkpieces have featured city journalists dipping a toe into rural backwaters that voted for Trump, seeking answers about the souls of these simple people. Rolling Stone seems to have reverse-engineered the whole idea: Duluth feels like Trump Country, or would if someone wrote the right paragraph, and therefore it is.

If only there were election results to back that up.

Some 48,416 Duluth residents voted for president in the 2016 election, and 28,845 (59.9 percent) of them voted for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump got 14,764 Duluth votes. That's 30 percent.

If that qualifies, what isn't "Trump Country"? Three blocks in Brooklyn, San Francisco but only over Pride Weekend, and Barack Obama's house? 

Maybe Rolling Stone was trying to use Duluth as a stand-in for the entire Eighth Congressional District, a massive chunk of northern Minnnesota, where Trump indeed got more votes than Hillary. Duluth is the district's consistently liberal bastion. 

Duluth is white, it's got a drug problem, it's got poverty, its industry has seen better days. So what? It still didn't vote for Donald Trump. This city's facing the same challenges that lured some in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Ohio to fall under the sway of a strongman who promised to fix everything.

Duluth shot his ass down by a two-to-one margin. For that it should be applauded, not insulted.

Rolling Stone could be forgiven for ignorance, lumping Duluth in with "those people out there." The writer of this piece cannot. Ana Marie Cox (who we like!) lives in Minneapolis. She probably drove to Duluth to report this... in the same way a lot of these Trump supporters might've driven in from out of town, warily eying all these weirdo liberals in left-wing Duluth.

If Cox is worried about the "thin layer of grime" she detected all over "every surface" (every surface?), she should bring a towel next time. If she wants to learn about its politics, she should Google them.

Or ask its mayor, Emily Larson, who won election in 2015 with 72 percent of the vote, trouncing a Trump-esque boxing promoter. 

Matter of fact, sounds like Cox and Rolling Stone will be hearing from Mayor Larson soon enough.

UPDATE: As of mid-Friday morning, Rolling Stone's story has been altered to describe Duluth as "potential Trump Country," a phrase that implies about a third of the reliably blue city's electorate could up and change its mind in the next election. (After the last line, Rolling Stone says: "This post has been updated." No kidding!) On Twitter, writer Ana Marie Cox has offered something that is not quite an admission she got something (or everything) wrong.