‘Distressing’ election has the Amish in Ohio sitting on the sidelines

An couple ride in a horse and buggy down Mount Zwingli road in Fairfield County, Ohio, on October 27, 2016. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Brooke LaValley)
An couple ride in a horse and buggy down Mount Zwingli road in Fairfield County, Ohio, on October 27, 2016. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Brooke LaValley)

Ohio’s Amish may lean toward GOP, but the current campaign has turned them off.

Here among the rolling hills dotted with dairy farms and the red-tinged leaves of Maple trees, the Amish appear to be paying plenty of attention to the presidential election.

But don’t expect them to have much impact on who wins.

The Amish farms here and in Pennsylvania may be fertile territory for Republican Donald Trump, but it doesn’t look like many Amish in this county about 40 miles southwest of Canton will be lining up to vote for either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Not only do a majority of Amish traditionally avoid voting in presidential elections, but the brutal campaign between Trump and Clinton has seemingly turned off many of the Amish and Mennonites who make up more than half the population of Holmes County.

“It’s distressing to us,” David Miller, Jr., an Amish dairy farmer in Sugarcreek, said of the campaign’s tone.

Jonas, an Amish farmer who declined to use his last name, doubted many Amish “will be voting in an election like this. What I see and what I hear is not good,” he said.

You can barely find a blue “Trump-for-president” sign along the two-lane paved roads where Amish horse-drawn carriages peacefully co-exist with modern cars and trucks. And good luck in this Republican county finding a yard sign championing Clinton’s election.

Because they shun television, the Amish are mercifully spared the barrage of negative commercials employed by Clinton and Trump. But one New Order minister who asked not to be identified acknowledged that he does not “live with my eyes closed,” while many of the 20,000 Amish in Holmes County follow the campaign by avidly reading newspapers and chatting with neighbors.

“Some Amish people will probably vote and those who do vote will vote for Republicans,” said Steven Nolt, professor of history at the Young Center for Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. “But I don’t think there will be enough of them to make a difference.”

In many ways, this area of Ohio is another world, a tranquil and picturesque contrast to America’s ferocious politics. The Amish work hard at farming and building furniture. They are frugal, but not poor. They are innovative business people who treasure self-reliance.

They help fuel a tourism industry that boosts the local economy, with a stop for broasted chicken and mashed potatoes at Der Dutchman in Walnut Creek a must for any out-of-towner.

They pay taxes. They obey the laws that do not violate their conscience or the Bible. But they rarely vote, abhor the thought of sitting on juries and will not take part in wars.

Many are reluctant to give their full names when being interviewed, in large part because they preach humility. Some allow the use of their first name while others prefer to be called either an Amish farmer or business owner.

Past attempts to persuade Amish to vote in national elections have run smack into their religion and tradition. Except for 2004 when a relatively large number of Amish in Holmes County voted for Republican President George W. Bush, the Amish see politics as part of the kingdom of the world as opposed to the kingdom of the church.

“The Amish population voting for president is barely a drop in Lake Erie,” said Dan, an Amish dairy farmer in Holmes County.

Republicans this year appeared to have made some half-hearted effort to reach the Amish in Ohio. Earlier this autumn, a local newspaper carried an advertisement declaring Trump does not drink alcohol, will appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who oppose abortion rights, and has a strong work ethic.

“I think maybe six weeks ago I saw one of their ads in the local publication, but I haven’t seen anything since,” said an Amish business owner in Holmes County who does not plan to vote.

But even as Miller said, “If you are a billionaire you are not complete idiot,” Trump’s style may too rough around the edges for the Amish.

Dan, a Holmes County dairy farmer, joked that Trump should have picked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as his vice presidential running mate so “they could invite their six wives to the inauguration.”

The New Order minister said, “We wouldn’t like” Trump’s “demeanor. We wouldn’t see much distance between him and a dictator and we don’t want a dictator. We want less government.”

The Amish aren’t removed from politics. They are “admonished” in First Timothy 2:1-2 “to pray for our leaders once a week,” the minister said and he takes that to heart. On his desk in an office near his home, he keeps a brochure of a close friend in the Ohio House of Representatives as a reminder to pray for him.

“The political process simply flies into the face of everything we believe except for the fact that somebody has to rule the country and we recognize that,” he said. “When we want to elect or ordain a leader among us, there is none of the electioneering and mudslinging and all that.”

“So we live here,” he said. “We’re happy to live, we want to live here; we love America. It’s not that we are anti-patriotic.”

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