Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.
A year ago, the Times-Gazette was one of just a handful of newspapers around the nation to endorse Donald Trump for president. Seldom has a 58-word statement in a small rural publication garnered such attention, shining a national and even international spotlight on a newspaper and a community.
Over the past 12 months, news organizations nationally and from around the world have discovered Hillsboro, Highland County and southern Ohio in general, exploring the people and interests here in an effort to determine why places such as ours so enthusiastically supported Trump (he won 76 percent of the vote in this county) and why, for the most part, those people continue to support him.
I'll spare you the long list of media outlets that have visited Hillsboro or contacted us for various segments or stories. Think of one, and it will probably be on the list. But I'll mention that in just the past few days, a writer from the Nikkei, one of Japan's largest newspapers, traveled here for an interview, and the BBC's "Outside Source" news program set up shop in our newsroom for a live two-hour broadcast. Host Nuala McGovern interviewed our staff, along with local party and government officials, about everything from Trump to guns to the opioid crisis.
I don't know whether most of the journalists who come here have predetermined ideas about what they will find. Perhaps, if they have read some of the analysis from the left on what defines a Trump supporter — racist, misogynist, uneducated — they expect a wall of Confederate flags, a KKK parade down Main Street and a collection of hillbillies making moonshine on the back porch.
Instead, they discover a landscape that is breathtaking in its physical beauty, and residents who are welcoming, industrious, smart, interesting and, yes, opinionated. People here are well informed and ready to defend their politics, while simultaneously respecting the opinions of visitors with different viewpoints.
The live BBC broadcast from our office happened to take place the day after the tragic massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., that claimed 26 lives and left at least 20 others injured. Naturally, McGovern asked about the incident, particularly in regard to gun-control legislation. Not surprisingly, no one who was interviewed here thought more gun laws were the answer, and they were well prepared to defend that position. The schism that exists between the left and right on the solution to gun violence is deep and wide.
It was also not surprising that local Republicans defended the president, blaming most policy holdups or campaign promises not yet kept on fierce media and establishment resistance.
One lighthearted moment among many came when the sometimes controversial mayor of Hillsboro, Drew Hastings, was casually asked whether he would seek a third term when his second one expired in 2019. "No," he replied, which was big news locally. I sarcastically thanked the BBC for coming all the way from London to scoop us on a big local news story.
The best thing about the year-long "Trump Country" scrutiny on our southwestern Ohio hamlet, population 6,600, and the surrounding region is that members of the national and world media who would never otherwise venture here have been obligated to visit personally, rather than just conduct phone interviews or draw conclusions based on census data or government statistics.
It's very difficult to spend time with people in an up-close-and-personal way, breaking bread, conversing about local issues and family events, or seeing their homes, and continue to hold negative, stereotypical perceptions of them.
Visitors may well return home without changing their minds about what they consider the misguided political views they encountered. But they will almost certainly find themselves unable to cling to whatever animosity they may have previously held.
The same holds true whether it is a case of liberals caught in a conservative environment or, as I know from firsthand experience, a conservative thrust for a lengthy period into a liberal universe. When you are made to feel welcome and respected, it is hard to hate.
Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes, but I think it is truer that familiarity leads to understanding and even friendship, if not agreement. Please, Big Media, continue to explore Hillsboro and other such communities around the nation — communities that seldom were on anyone's radar, until they decided a presidential election.