After 16 days at residence, Rice instructed his co-workers that the illness was scary and actual. However Trump held onto his vote for one purpose: The inventory market was climbing.

“The 401(ok)s, simply the economic system,” Rice mentioned. “He bought jobs going. Simply gathered a variety of jobs, being a businessman.”

Rice’s perception represents the muse of Trump’s hopes — that Individuals consider the economic system is robust sufficient to ship him a second time period.

However in Appleton, a metropolis of 75,000 individuals alongside the Fox River, the well being of the economic system isn’t judged on jobs numbers, private financial institution accounts or union contracts. As an alternative, it’s considered by way of partisan lenses — filtered by way of the info voters wish to see and listen to, and people they don’t.

By nearly any measure, Trump’s guarantees of an financial revival in locations like Appleton have gone unfulfilled. The realm has misplaced about 8,000 jobs since he bought elected.

Whereas supporters like Rice are immovable, others have had sufficient. President Barack Obama gained right here in 2012, however voters flipped to Trump 4 years later, and Trump can’t afford a lot erosion in a state that he gained by solely 22,000 votes out of greater than 2.Eight million.

Biden holds a slight lead over Trump within the newest Marquette Regulation College ballot of Wisconsin voters. Trump’s disapproval score has risen to 54% from 49% firstly the 12 months. However 52% of Wisconsin voters applaud Trump on the economic system, whereas 56% dislike his dealing with of the pandemic.

Even Rice concedes that the economic system isn’t just an argument for Trump — it’s additionally an argument in opposition to him. His 20-year-old daughter, Cassidy, tells him so. She is learning public well being at George Washington College and can forged her first presidential vote for Biden.

“The truth that there was a pandemic and the truth that it had these penalties on the economic system ought to be a watch opener, like, hey, perhaps we’re not doing this appropriately,” she mentioned.

Trump gained the presidency by wringing tens of 1000’s of votes out of small cities and medium-size cities throughout Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

He did it in locations like Appleton. Town of stone and brick hugs the Fox River, its currents powering the smoke-stacked paper mills that constructed fortunes. Now condos, cafes, workplaces and a jogging path line the riverbank.

The path ends downtown at Houdini Plaza, a monument to town’s most well-known offspring, illusionist Harry Houdini. His phrases are inscribed on the monument the place his childhood residence as soon as stood: “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the thoughts believes.”

There could also be no higher clarification of American politics on this confounding second.

Trump voters hearken to his cheerleading for the economic system and consider the businessman president has labored his magic. Biden’s backers see an phantasm — an economic system that was recovering underneath Obama, however now, with the pandemic, is making an attempt to crawl again to well being, with no actual plan from Trump.

Folks can’t even agree on the phrases of the financial debate.

“What we’ve executed with politics is gotten right into a tribal warfare that appears solely at elections once we ought to be taking a look at insurance policies and outcomes,” mentioned John Burke, CEO and chairman of Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycles, one of many state’s most outstanding enterprise leaders.

After 2016, native Democrats wasted no time mourning. Lee Snodgrass turned chair of the native social gathering and started a blitz of door-knocking to construct up volunteers and voters, a activity that led her into areas that have been firmly for Trump.

As a candidate now for the state legislature, Snodgrass finds Republicans nonetheless defending Trump after she recited info concerning the economic system and the pandemic: a number of thousands and thousands jobs misplaced, a rising physique depend.

These Republican voters discovered Trump’s demeanor crude. However the unemployment price was a powerful 3.5% earlier than the pandemic. Trump had up to date and changed the North American Free Commerce Settlement. They offer Trump credit score, though he inherited a wholesome 4.7% unemployment price and the commerce deficit with Mexico on items had jumped to $101 billion final 12 months — greater than in any 12 months underneath Obama.

On the Midwest Paper Group, the place Scott Rice works, there’s a story of restoration, however one the place credit score lay with the union and the Outagamie County govt, not with Trump.

Greater than 600 employees have been handed pink slips in anticipation of the mill being shuttered, in an space the place practically one in 5 jobs are nonetheless in factories.

“Most have been resigned to destiny,” mentioned Tom Nelson, the county govt. “The paper business was deemed previous and outdated, uncompetitive due to imports, unfair commerce offers, digital substitution.”

The employees, their union illustration and Nelson lobbied the chapter courtroom and struck a deal. As an alternative, the mill added new machines to make supplies for cardboard, capitalizing on the rising variety of individuals procuring on-line at Amazon. For 12 hours a day, Rice mans the management room in a crimson face masks that claims “USA.”

Trek’s three U.S. warehouses have been emptied of bikes by August due to a rush of pandemic shopping for, but Burke, its CEO, was agonizing concerning the destiny of the broader economic system.

Burke, 58, pedals 110 miles on his customary Saturday trip, lengthy sufficient for the nation’s issues to show over in his thoughts. He determined to jot down a ebook in 2016 and up to date it this 12 months, “Presidential Playbook 2020: 16 Nonpartisan Options to Save America.”

As Burke sees it, Trump has ruled with a harmful set of blind. There are the hurricanes and wildfires unleashed by local weather change. Not sufficient cash invested in youngsters. And Trump initially downplayed the virus’ menace.

In Appleton, practically 40% of the leisure and hospitality jobs have been misplaced. Eating places have been closed, inns vacant. Downtown, Mondo! wine bar is getting by with retail gross sales and out of doors seating, till the climate adjustments.

The bar’s proprietor, David Oliver, 59, mentioned American companies desperately want one other spherical of support and Oliver blames the president.

“They’re alleged to be pro-business,” Oliver mentioned. “However a lot of the Republican Celebration has reverted to this magical considering that Trump has that the economic system is ok and the virus goes away.”

What the pandemic has shattered is client confidence, mentioned Marvin Murphy, the 80-year-old proprietor of Fox Cities journal. He estimates he has spoken with each enterprise inside 70 miles of Appleton.

“The COVID has put a lot pessimism into the economic system — that’s the massive killer,” he mentioned.

Murphy sipped a recent cup of espresso in his yard overlooking the Wolf River and lamented that so many individuals solely course of the world primarily based on what they see and listen to on TV.

“Actuality is just isn’t crucial factor,” Murphy mentioned. “The perceived actuality is what’s vital.”

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