Politics

Red State Vermont: High School Voices, part 2

by Adelle Macdowell, of Lamoille Union High School, for the Underground Workshop, VTDigger’s platform for student journalism.

Editor’s NoteVermonters cast 112,704 votes for Donald Trump and 248,412 votes for Phil Scott last November. The people behind these numbers often have little in common with each other or with traditional political labels. The interviews in this series explore just a few of the wide-ranging perspectives and attitudes among Vermonters who identify as conservative or RepublicanThey do not represent the views of Vermont’s Republican Party, the student journalists who conducted the interviews, or VTDigger — each of these Vermonters speaks only for themselves. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Cameron Russin, photo by Adelle Macdowell

In 2016, Cameron Russin’s social studies teacher would often start off class with news about the presidential election. It seemed to Russin that then-candidate Donald Trump was discussed only in a negative light, and that frustrated him.  

Russin says that when he brought his own perspective into the conversation, his teacher sometimes sent him out of class. 

“My classmates thought it was funny,” Russin recalled. He admitted that he may have been immature and disruptive in middle school, but a similar theme has continued in classroom political discussions in high school.  He says he’s found that both teachers and students at Lamoille Union High School tend to express more liberal views, as well as a dislike for President Trump.  

For Russin, who has supported Trump and many of his ideas, these conversations seemed almost personal. 

“I felt targeted by it,” he said. 

According to Russin, being shut down by teachers and fellow students reflects politics on a larger scale in Vermont. His perception is that liberals in Vermont mostly talk to each other and don’t want to hear the conservative point of view.  

Russin is a senior, and plans on testing for his journeyman’s license as a plumber, a trade he learned from his father. Working for his dad has taught him a lot about what it takes to run a small business, and this experience has helped form some of his political views.  

Eventually, Russin wants to go to college for engineering. He spends his free time playing video games, hanging out with his friends, and working on his Eagle Scout project, which is creating an established trail for a portage on the Lamoille River. 

Something Russin wants people to know about him is that he’s “a generally inclusive kind of person.” He tries to accept changing times and go with the flow of things, and above all wants people to hold on to their core values and remain true to what they believe in. 

Cameron Russin, center right, at an airsoft match with his friends.
Photo courtesy of Cameron Russin

How do you identify politically?

I like to identify as more conservative than anything. I feel like the way I see the world and how the conservatives see the world align....  I like to see the government keeping out of companies and not regulating them so much, so that the companies can grow and expand and develop themselves in their own way and make their money how they want to.  

Right now, it's kind of hard for small businesses to work because when they try to make an honest living, they have to pay so much back in taxes. I don't really think that's fair to the small businesses that have a hard enough time making money as it is. I think the government should just step back from that, and I feel like conservatives kind of feel that way — government shouldn't be controlling everything; they should just be there to help and protect their country. 

I define  “conservative” as someone who wants a small government that doesn't have a lot of power and wants commercial freedom. Freedom for the businesses to do what they need to make it in the world. I think “Republican” is not the same as being conservative, because there's a lot of things that Republicans believe in that I don't. I wouldn’t define them in the same way.

Russin, right, picking apples with friends for a Scout cookoff. Photo courtesy of Cameron Russin

Is the political scene too divisive right now?

It is way too divisive right now. I think people need to calm down and not focus on people's political opinions. I don't even think people should be causing issues based on political opinions. I don't even think news sources should be really covering news stories in a certain political opinion. The BBC kind of takes a neutral stance on everything, and I think if every other news source did that, then we wouldn't be so politically divided. 

I like to go to the BBC a lot of the time. I almost never go to Fox News because they're very opinionated about everything. At the BBC, they’re looking at it from an outward perspective, and it doesn't seem like they usually have a stance on the political spectrum. You can tell through their articles and in their writings and how they cite their sources and everything like that. American news sources almost align their articles in America to get views and make money.

I think the start of the 2016 election was the cause of all this divisiveness between everybody. The media started attacking the president-elect and then, once he actually became president, the media kept attacking him and so he fought back. That’s what really caused a divide, because you have people that are conservative that are attacking the media, and then you have everybody else kind of defending the media. The media is such a core component of our country, so that caused a divide.

Editor’s Note: In an initial interview, Russin said he supported President Trump in both the 2016 and the 2020 election, as well as most of his policy decisions. On Jan. 6, the storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump extremists further illustrated the divide Russin was talking about. In a follow-up interview regarding the events on the 6th, Russin expressed continued support for the president. He also voiced opinions on what happened when protesters broke into the Capitol building. 

Some of Russin’s statements regarding the events of Jan. 6 are inconsistent with accredited independent reporting sources and video evidence from the Capitol. 

You’d said that you supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election and in this election. After the events of Wednesday, Jan. 6, do you still support Donald Trump?

I do support him. What happened at the Capitol wasn't really good — when people started going in — but I supported him in asking people to protest election results. I think that there was election fraud during the election.  Any fairness was taken away and it was blatantly in favor of Biden.

I think they should have just stayed outside the Capitol and protested, not gone in, but I can understand why they wanted to go inside because they were very emotional about it. In August, nobody was listening to them so they wanted people to listen.

Their hearts were in the right place, but their actions weren't. They stood behind the president, and they wanted to help the president, but what they did ended up causing more harm than good. So I think it was a good thought, but what they did wasn’t. 

I don't think that was terrorism — terrorism is if they ravaged the building and whatnot and harmed people, and politicians. But they just went inside the building, took a few things, and were pushed out. If they resisted and pushed back and caused a huge, violent altercation, then that'd be terrorism, but they just kind of walked right back out.

Do you think Donald Trump was wrong not to call off the protesters and tell them to leave?

That wouldn't have worked, because I don't think a lot of people saw the message who were inside the Capitol. I think the people that did see the message were the people that were either outside, or at home. And if he was more firm about it, I don't think that would have been received well.  I think him asking them respectfully and politely was really a good approach. These people seem to have been wronged in some way, and if they were scolded, then I don't think that would have been received all that well. 

What do you think after seeing the response of the police at the Capitol to these violent protesters, versus the police response to Black Lives Matter protesters this summer?

I think the people at the Capitol were rather respectful to the police, and actually treated them like human beings. Like they were public servants. Whereas Black Lives Matter protesters were there to protest the cops. I think that's the key difference that a lot of people don't see — they're different in how the people treat the police. If you're going to treat the police with disrespect, you're going to get disrespected. If you're not going to treat people as people, you're not going to be treated as a person. 

If the police used force at the Capitol, they probably would have been injured or even killed, and all for what? Just to stop a few people from getting in? I don't really think that would’ve been a smart move on their part. The people obviously would have been angered more or even scared, and when people are scared or angry, they act a lot faster on things and I feel like more people would have been hurt.

The events at the Capitol further illustrate how divided our country is. Is it possible for people on both sides of the political divide to find common ground again?

People have very openly expressed their distaste for other people, and I think they should relax. Calm down, and just mellow out for the next four years or two years.

I think they should look at this great country that we're in and realize that if they were in any other country, they wouldn't be able to express their political opinions or even be divided. They should really appreciate the fact, and everybody should just bond over the idea that this is a great country and if they don't like this country, then they should find a way to fix it or propose a way to fix it. 

There are no other countries like ours, and the parts of our country that are different and unique are really what makes us a lot better than other countries. If you look at the European Union, they’re all separate countries but they're all part of one big power. We have a huge, big country that's quite powerful, and we're only one country; we don't need anyone else to make us so great. Our people in our country are happier and have so many rights that other people don't have in other countries.

Is there a moment you became aware of politics and the fact that it affects you?

When I was a junior in high school I started to really think about it, like “hey, I'm actually gonna have a say in the world,” and I should start looking into what every party really wants for the government and whatnot, if they got in power. 

One thing I've never really learned about is all the third parties — the Green Party and the Libertarian Party — nobody really talks about them. You have to fight a lot harder than just the mainstream two parties, if you're a third party, like Jo Jorgensen [the Libertarian Party's candidate for president in 2020].

She never really got into any of the debates and nobody could really hear what she was saying. I feel like they need to bring out the third parties more in the political landscape, and not just have it confined to two parties. 

I tried to follow Jo Jorgensen, but couldn't find much on her. I didn't really look hard into it, since I wasn't voting this year. I'm not old enough to vote yet, but I think next election I will pay more attention to the third parties just to see if there is a third option, rather than two candidates that just want to yell at each other. 

Has politics affected your friendships?

Politics hasn’t really affected my friendships that much. My friend Griffin and I both see things differently. So does my friend Zander, and it has oftentimes sparked conversations that led to greater resolutions than just our normal chit-chatting. I don't think they've really hurt my friendships — if anything, they helped them grow.  

One day I was hiking with Zander up Mount Elmore and we were talking a lot about different types of government, like socialism, capitalism, and communism. And we found that all these governments may be different but their core values are similar.  They want the people to be better, but in their own way. 

Socialists want to help out their people more so that they don't have to worry about certain things, so that they could have a better life, and capitalism wants the people to have more room to grow themselves by kind of discovering new things on their own, to be better. It was a very good conversation, and taught me a lot about other types of government.  I'd still prefer capitalism, because I want to have the freedom if I want it to grow as an entrepreneur and do new things.

Does religion play a role in your views?

I'm not really religious at all, so not really. I like the principle of Buddhism; if you do good for others, that's really the way of life. I like to try to live by that, but it doesn't really affect me, politically.

What do you think of liberal vs. conservative attitudes in Vermont?

Most conservatives listen to liberals when they speak and give them time to speak. Then, after conservatives start speaking their part, it almost always devolves into an argument. Nobody listens after that. They're not really inclusive of us, and it is what it is. I've learned to accept that, being in a mostly liberal state, I can't expect everyone to hear my opinion, or even listen to my opinion. I feel like most conservatives are like that. 

The  key difference between liberals and conservatives in Vermont is that liberals are more compassionate towards everybody — small groups, large groups — everybody. Conservatives more or less care more about large groups of people. They care more about the majority of people, and want the majority of people to do better. They’re more centered on the middle class and the majority of people that are in the middle class, whereas liberals like to attack the upper class because they make more, and want to give more to the lower class. I feel it's more class boundaries that divide them than anything.

In a very short time, Biden is going to be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. What do you hope to see him do?

I haven't seen anything that Joe Biden has proposed, or is going to do when he gets into office. If he starts instantly making policy changes that anger the far right, then we're gonna go into a civil war — either major gun reform, or major tax changes where they're gonna start taxing the middle and upper class a lot more and giving a lot more money to the lower class.  Also going after gas companies and trying to convert everything to electricity very quickly.

I hope to see him try to get our economy back to what it used to be, or at least a little bit better than what it is right now. Also bring some jobs back to America and start really going into negotiations — not to help other people, but to help ourselves. 

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