In North Dakota, it’s opening week in the Grand Forks Softball League. So while the firing of U.S. FBI director James Comey may be making international headlines, the local priorities are beer, buddies and baseball.
“Very exciting, look forward to it every year,” says Sun Bros team manager and pitcher Ben Hoefs.
“It’s a great night, fun to do. We come out, drink a lot of beer and enjoy everyone’s company,” adds his buddy, Darrick Richardson.
These men don’t know much about the Comey controversy and don’t much care. Their take on Donald Trump’s presidency is that it’s had more hits than misses.
“Somebody has to lead. He stepped up and he was voted in. He’s trying, anyway, and you can respect someone who’s trying to make a difference,” Hoefs says.
North Dakota lies south of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It has experienced a boom in oil extraction from the Bakken formation, which has driven strong job growth and low unemployment.
The state, with one of the smallest and oldest populations in the U.S., has voted Republican since 1968. In the 2016 presidential election, 63 per cent of its votes went to Trump
“People here in North Dakota are willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. We’re very early in a presidency, and people forget that almost every presidency in the United States in my lifetime, the first few months are kind of a mess,” says Mark Jendrysik. He teaches political science at the University of North Dakota.
In this case, many North Dakotans would say Trump was perfectly in his rights to fire Comey because he had lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Jendrysik says.
Meanwhile, he says staunch Republicans here reject the mainstream media as much as Trump does.
“They see a lot of the national media’s negativity to him as a justification perhaps of their own vote for him, that he was going in there to bust up the political elites and drain the swamp and that this is causing people they distrust, the political elites in Washington, discomfort. And to them, this is a positive thing,” Jendrysik says.
Down a picturesque university street at the student union building, two card-carrying Republican students are scanning the headlines online.
“Both sides argued so hard to have the guy pulled out and as soon as President Trump decides to, it turns into a scandal,” Jonathon Nord says, sounding frustrated.
“I didn’t think it would be such a big deal,” Benjamin Olson agrees.
These supporters know the timing of Comey’s dismissal raises questions. He was overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians in last year’s election.
However, they believe Trump is doing what all new presidents do — replacing top bureaucrats with ones more aligned with his way of thinking.
“I think it comes from a slogan that Trump coined during his campaign of ‘drain the swamp,'” Olson says.
“We believe there are many individuals in our government and in the bureaucracy especially that are not doing things in the best interests of America and I think this is one thing Trump is looking forward to, is replacing these people.”
Nord adds, he likes Trump’s bold action.
“If you’re looking at the accomplishments or the decisions that he’s made, whether it’s to bomb Syria or to stoke up some different tensions … those are all are actions where he’s actually moved forward on something and for any Republican president, that’s pretty close to what they’ve done. It’s nothing too off-the-wall.”
Other students, however, disagree. Brandon Williams and Cody Hepper are focused on their final exams, but still happy to share their opinions.
“I feel like it could be an abuse of power, like put his foot down, show people he’s the boss,” Williams says.
“At first, I thought it was kinda a power move by him but then it hit me that Comey is the guy who’s investigating him about his Russian ties and whatnot,” Hepper adds.
‘I don’t think my view is very popular here’
“He’s firing someone that’s investigating him, someone who could bring on impeachment. In his first 100 days, a lot of people are questioning his moves. It’s a worrying time and concerning. I don’t think my view is very popular here. We have a lot of Trump supporters in North Dakota.”
Back at the softball game, Hoefs has as much confidence in Trump as he does in his team.
“We should be able to put them down pretty quick,” he says, before jogging out to pitch another inning.
He was right. Sun Bros beat Rhombus Booze on First twice that night, 14-6 and 14-13.