OQUAWKA, ILLINOIS - In rural areas of west-central Illinois, near the bluffs and hills along the Mississippi River, there are farmers on relatively small plots of land who get by raising their own food, supplemented by items they pick up at places like the Dollar Store, where Elleen McLaughlin shops with her grandchildren.
“We raise goats,” she said, “We sell some and we eat some.”
In the spring and summer, she and her family also raise vegetables in a large garden but, partly because of the winter months, they need to buy some food at the store.
McLaughlin works at a nursing home and takes care of three of her four grandchildren at home. Health care has been an issue of importance for her. She was pleased that President Barack Obama addressed it, but she was not happy with the result.
“Obama tried to do his best, but I just don’t think he did what he could have done,” she said.
She is unhappy with a number of things about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Her premium is high, $400 a month, and the policy does not allow her to continue seeing the doctor who had cared for her for many years and knew her health history well.
Echoing the complaint voiced by many in these rural areas along the upper Mississippi River, the promise that people could keep their doctor turned out not to be true.
The majority of Henderson County voters who had backed Obama chose Donald Trump for president last November. McLaughlin is among those who looked to him to fix the country’s problems.
“I think our country is in a state of disrepair because we have not had the politicians that we needed,” she said.
As a wealthy man, she said, Trump was not controlled by political groups and corporations that funded other campaigns.
“He didn’t have to answer to anybody,” she said. “He did not have to lie to the country because he did not have anybody behind him saying ‘You need to tell them this if you want my support,' " she said. "I think we need someone like this who is strong-willed and wants to get the country back where it needs to be.”
Not ready for a woman as president
While many women, even Republican women, around the country supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president, McLaughlin cited her gender as a reason not to support her.
“I don’t think that this country, right now, is ready for a female president,” she said. “A lot of the other countries do not look at a female as a high-powered individual and I think, ultimately, that would have been a problem for us, we would have been in a war and probably would have lost a great deal.”
Another issue that concerns her is immigration. There are few immigrants in these rural areas, but McLaughlin claims she has seen illegal activity involving immigrants in larger towns nearby where plants offer low-wage employment.
“A lot of them don’t pay taxes,” she said. “They get the money, they send it home. I think they should be held accountable, too. If we work and pay taxes, they should, too.”
Although some immigrants work for cash and may not pay taxes, most of the immigrant workers at plants have to present a Social Security number and federal and state taxes are automatically deducted from their salaries.
Immigrant advocates say many undocumented workers never file income tax returns and therefore never claim the portion of their withheld wages they are owed. But the notion that they do not pay taxes is widely held in these areas.
Speaking English is a must
McLaughlin is also bothered by another aspect of immigration that is often mentioned in these parts — that many adult immigrants cannot speak English.
“I don’t have a problem with them being here,” she said, “but when they can’t speak English and they have to rely on a 6-year-old child to translate for them, there is a problem.”
When it's pointed out that older people often struggle to learn a new language, McLaughlin agrees, but she suggests schools should then set up programs to teach English to immigrants. But she can't explain how that would be funded since, as she put it, “the state of Illinois is broke” and Trump wants to cut federal spending.
Still, she said she has confidence in the new president and thinks people should give him a chance to take on these problems.