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Photo essay: ‘I thought I voted for the lesser of two evils’

Consistently red state Utah will soon have its first chance to weigh in on the 2020 presidential race, when Super Tuesday comes on March 3. Voters there will get to help winnow down the crowded Democratic field, or pick a Republican, most likely President Donald Trump. But as a largely Mormon state – nearly 62 percent — Utah has had a complicated relationship with the GOP incumbent.

The president won Utah in the last general election, but by the state’s lowest percentage for a Republican in more than two decades. Compared to the strong majority of white evangelical Protestants polled who said they approve of Trump (69 percent), a 2019 Pew study found that just about half of Mormons (52 percent) approved of his performance in office.

Not to mention that Utah is the home state of Sen. Mitt Romney, who earlier this month became the sole voice to break from his party by voting against the president on the first article of impeachment for abuse of power. But while Romney’s decision has been the target of GOP anger around the country, he’s received support — or at least understanding — in Utah.

During the impeachment proceedings, photojournalist Sebastian Rich went to Provo, Utah, and the largest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionary training center to examine the dilemma now facing a community whose steadfast, historical loyalty to the Republican cause is somewhat fractured by a president perceived as immoral or divisive. More than one person he talked to said that they had voted for Trump in 2016 as “the lesser of two evils,” or wished for a viable third-party option. But there was another common theme: They would be more carefully be considering their options in 2020.

Rachel Wilkerson with her 2-week-old son, William Charles Wilkerson. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Rachel Wilkerson

Farmer, 25

“The reason I voted for Donald Trump was mainly because I am the kind of person who likes to say and hear things as they are. There were a lot of policy issues that he just came right out and said. I liked a lot of those. I didn’t however like Hilary Clinton at all. I think she says a lot but with no real substance.

I don’t necessarily like the way Trump talks. I think he likes to get people excited and part of him always wants to be the entertainer, and in doing that, he pushes people’s buttons.

But on the flipside, he doesn’t do things perfectly and nobody does. Everybody has got baggage, especially when it comes to sexuality and morals, everybody is different and has different ideas. I am not looking for a president that is perfectly in line with what I believe in.

As a woman and a Mormon, a disciple of Jesus Christ, I find his words and actions against women hurtful, of course. It certainly doesn’t make me happy he is saying things like that. I think he needs to tone down his views about women and race, as it is very divisive. He is trying to get people riled up and I don’t agree with that.

On foreign policy, I don’t think he knows what he is doing. But I am hoping that he has people around him that do know what they are doing, and advise him accordingly. But honestly, I don’t listen to the news anymore because it’s just all negative.

We are living in a very divisive time. People are very vocal, but they don’t have to be mean and cruel and call each other names.”

Seasons Warner. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Seasons Warner

Midwife, 45

“My faith rings true to my heart and will follow good above all else. I didn’t vote for Trump last time and I won’t vote for him in 2020. I will be voting third party as I did last time.

President Trump is a totally immoral person and certainly not a good role model for my children or anyone’s children. Morality in my sense, is having respect for family, having respect for women. I feel Donald Trump is just so hurtful to the American people.

The whole country was founded on diversity and immigration. This man just represents prejudice and bigotry and I feel that he has blown all that is good about our country out of the water. His hate speeches are just so awful and those dreadful tweets, those tweets really drive me crazy.

When that audio tape came out describing in detail what he could do to women, that was my turning point. Any person that can treat another human being that way is not going to be a good representative of our country.

Nobody in my household wanted Trump in office, nor did they want Clinton in office either — we were between a rock and a hard place.

We did not feel there was a good moral choice out of those two.

Trump, we felt, was the lesser of two evils.

With Trump now in office, my family believes that America’s reputation has gone down the tubes. My husband, my whole family is disgusted with Trump.

One of my biggest concerns is that my children are looking to Donald Trump as a role model, so I have to tell them that he is not a good person. But also I have to tell them that some of his policies are good, but he is just not a very nice person.”

Christina Kreitel. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Christina Kreitel

Salon owner, 29

“Yes, I voted for Donald Trump because I believe that Hilary Clinton is an evil person. I would love it if we had a woman in the White House. I think that would be the best thing ever, but I want that woman to be a good woman.

I don’t believe Trump is a good man, but he has done everything he said he would do. He may be kind of a jackass. He may be rude. He may be inappropriate, he may be extremely brash. He is definitely not my favorite person.

As a woman and a devout Mormon, I didn’t vote for him for his nice personality — I don’t care if he is rude, a jerk and a misogynist, I just don’t care.

I know who I am, I know the good in my beliefs. Trump will have to one day reconcile with himself.

He definitely doesn’t have the same moral standards that I believe in and grew up with. But he fixed a broken economy that desperately needed fixing.

Since he became president, my business has been flourishing.

My whole family voted for Trump across the board, all for different reasons.

I really don’t give a crap what kind of a man he is. What I care about is, are you a good person to run our country, and I believe he is.

In my gut I feel he has got more good than bad inside him. But I do wish that he would be more lenient about border issues and things like that.

I will never be completely happy with the way that I voted last time. I was so busy trying to set up my new business that I didn’t do my due diligence.

Before the election in November 2020, I will be looking at not just Republican and Democratic nominees, but all the other parties to be able to decide who is going to do the best for our country.”

Jaxon Ludtke. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Jaxon Ludtke

Student, 18

“I will be voting for the first time in my life in November, for sure. I will be voting on policy issues, not the character of the candidate. I mean, Donald Trump can get kinda a little crazy at his rallies. Sometimes, I think the energy really gets to him at his rallies. He has some pretty crazy ideas and that reaches out on social media to my generation and to my friends. Donald Trump has made me wake up politically and take notice of what’s going on, and that’s a good thing.

I can see how [Trump] can represent the United States in a negative way by some of the things he has said. I do think some of his policies are sound and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. However, I will be doing a lot more research before I vote and I will be taking in other points of view, that’s for sure. My values though are more conservative, and that is how I was raised. But my generation is breaking away from voting Republican because it’s traditional or just because my family did so in the past.

As I said, I will be voting on the policies of the candidate not the character of the candidate. If the candidate has good policies but his character is bad, that kinda sucks. But I will still vote for him. It’s policies that run the country, not character.”

Angell Gann. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Angell Gann

Outdoor goods retailer and adventurer, 35

“I am not Mormon anymore. I left the church, but I was raised strictly Mormon and my entire family are active Mormons. I did not vote for Trump and I did not vote for Hillary. It was a real struggle for me, as I take my right to vote very seriously. I could have voted third party, but there is just no one there. I am not going to vote for the lesser of two evils.

My family voted for Trump and they are good people, but for me as a woman and a citizen of the United States, it was really painful realization for me that my family could support somebody whose morals were so blatantly non-existent, and it was very confusing for me to see my mom and dad turning a blind eye.

After my parents had voted for Trump, I sent my parents that clip of Trump on that Hollywood Access bus saying he could ‘grab pussy.’

My mother was so upset with me. Not upset with Trump for saying such things, but upset with me for sending it. I just wanted to see if my parents knew what kind of person they were voting for.

My parents way of dealing with it was just to pretend that it didn’t happen, and they said that they felt he was ‘the lesser of two evils.’

For me, policies and the character of the president are fully intertwined. To me, Trump is a part of a bigger problem and I am not surprised that we have got to where we are today.

He is waking us up because he is not just hurting America, he is hurting our planet. He is passing laws that are ripping our hearts wide open. Trump being our president is such a traumatic event. There are so many horrible things that are happening because Trump is our president, which I think is making people realize that their vote is now so important and we have to stop being complacent.”

James R. Beckstrom. Photo by Sebastian Rich

James R. Beckstrom

Teacher, high priest

“I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have held high positions in the church.

I think Trump is a misogynist jerk and he does a lot of things wrong, but it’s not my place to judge him. Right now, he is my president and I support him as our elected president. It’s not my place to say he is bad or a horrible human being. I don’t particularly agree with some of his tactics, his sleeping around, his sexism, but it doesn’t mean he is not a good person.

I support the office of the president of the United States, him as a person and his choices not so much. For instance, the tweets are an example of his lack of self-control. Also, his speeches are horrendously bad — they are all about him and his success and not about the success of the country.

Initially, I looked to him as a businessman to run the country. He says politics doesn’t get things done and business does — that’s why I voted for him.

But I do have to say, he is not presidential, and at this point, I don’t think he is a good president and is making some bad choices. But as a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, I don’t hold that against him and call him a bad or evil person.

I just say he needs to make changes, as we now have a president who has polarized our society. I would like to see him be presidential and to be a little more humble. With that, I would be thrilled.

If the Democrats were to put up someone who wasn’t crazy, I would vote Democrat. I am policy-driven, not character driven. At this point in my life, I would love to see a third party step in. At the time I thought I voted for the lesser of two evils.”

David Ruiz. Photo by Sebastian Rich

David Ruiz

Barber, 43

“I didn’t vote in the last election. I pretty much stay out of it. I feel I have no control, it’s all out of control. I just don’t want to get involved. My life doesn’t change, whoever is in office.”

Isaac Barahona. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Isaac Barahona

Barber, 23

“I did vote — voted third party. I have a lack of faith in our present mainstream politicians. To be honest, I feel a little powerless to what goes on, but I will be a little more prepared for the next election.

This president doesn’t feel genuine, it’s all very fluffed up and very Hollywood. There is no political substance behind the man.”

Reise Malachowski. Photo by Sebastian Rich.

Reise Malachowski

Barber shop owner, 25

“I was raised Mormon and was baptised, but I decided to stop going to church when I was about 12 years old. I didn’t vote last year, as I felt that my view was not being not represented, and to be honest, the whole thing was just a pony show. The system, I feel, is a little broken.

I think Trump is just a distraction and he really doesn’t know what he is doing. Trump is just a celebrity, and when he won the presidency, I thought it was just a joke. But here we now have to deal with the fallout and the consequences.

I also think he is going to win [in 2020], as there is not another valid alternative to challenge him.

I think that Trump’s views on women and race are terrible. People who have similar views now feel empowered and that is bringing out the worst in them. But also, it’s bringing out the best in people by coming together and saying, ‘Hey, this is not what I believe in.’

I want to believe in a good president, a president I can trust, and not a president, for instance, who pokes the hornet’s nest of Iran, bringing us to the possible brink of war, and to and try and divide as many people as he can.

The good thing about all this is that my generation has now become more politically aware and realize that their vote counts. Because my generation believes that this wrecking ball of a president does not represent my generation or the American people.”