Is the United States as undemocratic as Putin's empire? Anyone who looks at Wyoming cannot completely avoid this impression. Wyoming is Donald Trump country. 70 percent of voters here voted for him in the last presidential election in 2020, more than in any other state in the United States.
And even in this huge state in the western United States that so overwhelmingly supports the former president, there is a special district: Crook County is in the northeast corner of Wyoming.
In this godforsaken county, whose nearest city with more than 100,000 residents is a four-hour drive away, Republican Trump won an incredible 89 percent of the vote against eventual winner Joe Biden of the Democrats.
Not even Putin achieved such a high percentage of votes in many places in Russia.
Some numbers that put this victory in perspective: In only six of the 87 electoral districts, Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin “reached” or surpassed the 90 percent mark in the completely undemocratic 2018 elections that he controlled, as a Wikipedia list shows .
And one more thing: Of a total of 7,000 residents in Crook County, only 378 decided to vote for Biden four years ago. Four of them are sitting at a table in Randy Leinen's modest one-story home in Sundance, the county seat, or rather the town.
They belong to a rather rare species in this Republican stronghold: they are supporters or even officials of the Democrats. Leinen is the head of the Democrats' district association. “We also have Republicans as friends,” he says, adding dryly: “Otherwise we would hardly have friends.”
No, it is not easy for him and his colleagues to be here in the middle of a wild and impressive natural landscape. There were times when the local tractor dealer, the pharmacist and the owner of a popular restaurant were Democrats, Leinen says proudly.
“We knew because they came to our party events. But, frankly, they haven't, because if you want to do business here, you have to be careful if you're a Democrat.”
Don't buy the Democrats
The 75-year-old tells of tractor drivers who knew better and headed to the neighboring state because they didn't want to buy anything from the Democrat. His friend and fellow party member Earnest Reinhold sits next to him at the table.
He was once angrily attacked by a bank teller because he dared to call her a liberal. “Liberal,” which in the United States is often synonymous with “left” or even “radical left” to one's political opponent, is just about the worst insult many Republicans, especially Trump supporters, can imagine.
Since 1952, Wyoming has only failed to vote for the Republican presidential candidate once. Whether it was Jimmy Carter, the Clintons, Obama or now Biden: they had and have no chance.
Given that in the United States the majority vote is applied and only the winner obtains the electors of a state, so the votes for a Democrat are many, one might think that the work of the Democrats in Wyoming and especially in the county of Crook is pretty useless. So why are Leinen and her campaign colleagues fighting the windmills and accepting their negative side effects?
Objective: show political alternatives
“People here should know that there are people with different points of view,” says Linda Rogers, Leinen's wife, his most important target. Yes, the Democrats would be booed when they set up their booth at the annual fair. But there is also applause, says Rogers.
Her husband points out that elections are also held at the local level, for example for leadership positions in school supervision or in the hunting authority. From time to time, the Democrats would get one of their own to take over. “I just don't want to give up,” Leinen says. She also wants to show her fellow citizens that there is a political alternative to the Republicans and Trump.
Even Trump fans appreciate that commitment. Joey Correnti is one of them, a tough military veteran who has fought in multiple wars. He is a former Republican district chairman in southern Wyoming and is now a hard-hitting radio commentator.
Although he thinks nothing, absolutely nothing, of the Democrats, he says: “There has to be a solid political balance, at least in the debate and political ideas. But in Wyoming everyone wants to be a Republican because it's the only way to get certain jobs.”
Democrat Reinhold knows this and draws his conclusions. “We almost always lose, I have given up on the game. “I'm already fed up, I feel desperate,” says the former vice president of the state party.
“Biden wins, but he will not be president”
But one thing unites Reinhold, his marriage and his niece Sarah Barton: the absolute rejection of Trump and his politics. For them, Trump is, among other things, a terrible racist. Linda Rogers knows what she's talking about. He grew up in the American South and experienced strict racial segregation.
Tears of emotion run down her cheeks when she talks about the fact that Democrat Barack Obama became a black president a few years ago. He and Biden have accomplished so much for equality that she sees everything in danger under Trump.
His friend Earnest Reinhold is once again fatalistic: “I think Biden will win the election again against Trump. But he will not be president. “He had a bad feeling that Trump's people in the various state legislatures would change everything so that the Republican could take office despite losing the election.
They could not prevent Biden's enthronement
The events of January 6, 2021 show that this fear is completely justified: at that moment, a mob of Trump supporters who did not want to accept Biden's electoral victory violently broke into the heart of American democracy, the Capitol in Washington.
They could not prevent Biden's enthronement. But Republican Correnti also believes the Nov. 5 vote will have repercussions. “No matter how the election turns out, there will be a large, loud camp that will say: the election was stolen.
Earnest Reinhold's experience shows that peaceful understanding and mutual respect for each other's political opinions are not foreign words in Trump's Crook County congressional district.
He once met the local Republican representative for coffee at a Sundance restaurant. Among other things, they talked about social benefits. This is one of the biggest points of contention between Democrats, who want to maintain or even expand the benefits, and Republicans, who think it is the work of the devil.
Peaceful communication is possible.
Earnest Reinhold's experience shows that peaceful understanding and mutual respect for each other's political opinions are not foreign words in Crook County's Trump district. He once met the local Republican representative for coffee at a Sundance restaurant. Among other things, they talked about social benefits.
This is one of the biggest points of contention between Democrats, who want to maintain or even expand the benefits, and Republicans, who think it is the work of the devil.
“Then our sheriff came in. He is also a Republican and when he saw us sitting there, he jokingly asked us if we were okay. He didn't expect us, of all people, to have a normal conversation. He sat down with us and we continued arguing.”
They did not reach a common denominator, but they said goodbye peacefully. As is usual in a democracy between political opponents. Unlike Russia, by the way, where members of the opposition end up in prison. So there is hope in America.