Charles Coe, a member of CambridgeEditors’ Editorial Team, is also a poet and prose writer. His latest essay, “A Hard Road” published in Plume, recounts his thoughts while traveling through Western New York as a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute. Getting “a lay of the land,” Charles opts to have his driver take the scenic route to Chautauqua, where manufacturing jobs have dwindled and the abundant Concord grapes have little demand. Coe notes this landscape is “a common one in the rust belt and farm country.”
Commenting on “A Hard Road,” Coe states his essay “reflects on how a common attitude shared by people who support the current administration is suspicion of and antipathy toward art and artists.”
This common attitude is established in the collapsing barns and beat-up homes he sees along the drive, and Coe notes the Trump 2016 signs at seemingly every home and turn. The duality of poverty and political agendas, aligning with the side of wealth baffles Coe. He likens his own understanding of the signs to the following Lindon B Johnson quote:
“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
He goes on to list the political beliefs and agendas of the Trump voter: a disbelief in climate change, Covid-19, and the desire to fund football teams over libraries. In “The Hard Road,” Coe considers the driving principles behind The Trump Voter without high-income. He also takes into consideration Trump’s view on the arts, leaving readers with the question of whether Trump even reads poetry.
Coe teaches English at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island and is a poetry and nonfiction professor for their low-residency MFA program. You can read more of his work in his 2019 book, Memento Mori, a poetry collection capturing mortality, change, and loss.