The Doomed Island That Loves Trump

As the summer of 2016 enters its final weeks, the upcoming presidential election looms ever larger on Virginia’s Tangier Island. Tourists travel a harbor channel lined with TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT signs, then step off the boats into a gantlet of them. Golf carts display Trump bumper stickers at bow and stern. One café and cart-rental business is so adorned with Make America Great Again placards and Trump flags that it looks more like a campaign headquarters.

The election even snakes its way into church. “Now, I’m going to get political on you for just a minute,” Pastor John Flood announces in the midst of his sermon at Tangier’s Methodist church one Sunday. “How you vote is between you and the Lord. When you close the curtain, that’s up to you.”

Soon enough, he gets to a but. “There is one party that believes that there should be same-sex marriage,” he says. “How can a Christian vote for that? How can a Christian vote for anything goes?” Many heads nod. “Who would have ever thought that there would be a party pushing the point that you could go in any bathroom that you want to?”

The larger message, the pastor says, is that “The world is still rejecting Jesus Christ. The world is not mourning the pierced savior, or the pierced prince. Right now, the world thinks that it’s doing great. The world thinks that it’s in control. But one day, and I’m afraid that it’s going to be one day soon, they’re going to mourn, because they’re going to see that they’ve made an eternal mistake.” He wraps up with a tacit endorsement of Dr. Ben Carson, whose candidacy ended months ago: “The man, I believe, knows the pierced savior.”

Such talk comes as little surprise on deeply religious Tangier, where faith intersects with virtually every aspect of daily life. Mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the Revolution, the island has never been an easy place: This whisper of marsh and mud in the Chesapeake Bay’s middle, 12 miles from the nearest mainland port, is among the most isolated communities in the East. Its primary industry is chasing the prized blue crab, which Tangiermen fish up, weather be damned, in shallow-draft boats that toss like carnival rides. The nearest doctor is 30 minutes away by helicopter. Prayer matters here.

and Trump flags that it looks more like a campaign headquarters.

The election even snakes its way into church. “Now, I’m going to get political on you for just a minute,” Pastor John Flood announces in the midst of his sermon at Tangier’s Methodist church one Sunday. “How you vote is between you and the Lord. When you close the curtain, that’s up to you.”

Soon enough, he gets to a but. “There is one party that believes that there should be same-sex marriage,” he says. “How can a Christian vote for that? How can a Christian vote for anything goes?” Many heads nod. “Who would have ever thought that there would be a party pushing the point that you could go in any bathroom that you want to?”

The larger message, the pastor says, is that “The world is still rejecting Jesus Christ. The world is not mourning the pierced savior, or the pierced prince. Right now, the world thinks that it’s doing great. The world thinks that it’s in control. But one day, and I’m afraid that it’s going to be one day soon, they’re going to mourn, because they’re going to see that they’ve made an eternal mistake.” He wraps up with a tacit endorsement of Dr. Ben Carson, whose candidacy ended months ago: “The man, I believe, knows the pierced savior.”

Such talk comes as little surprise on deeply religious Tangier, where faith intersects with virtually every aspect of daily life. Mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the Revolution, the island has never been an easy place: This whisper of marsh and mud in the Chesapeake Bay’s middle, 12 miles from the nearest mainland port, is among the most isolated communities in the East. Its primary industry is chasing the prized blue crab, which Tangiermen fish up, weather be damned, in shallow-draft boats that toss like carnival rides. The nearest doctor is 30 minutes away by helicopter. Prayer matters here.

Now more than ever, for the very water that has long sustained the place is poised to erase it. Tangier has lost two-thirds of its land mass to the bay’s erosive force since 1850. Acres more are carved from its shores each year. The onslaught is projected to worsen in the coming few years, as the bay rises along with the planet’s seas, and the island—like much of the mid-Atlantic coast—subsides.

This one-two punch makes relative sea-level rise in the lower Chesapeake among the highest on Earth. And of all the towns around the bay, none is so wide open to the whims of weather, so vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as Tangier.

Except that most of the island’s 460 residents don’t see it that way. Distrustful of scientists (with whom they’ve often disagreed on matters of bay ecology), staunchly patriotic (Tangier contributed more of its young men to fight in World War II, per capita, than any other town in Virginia), and biblically literalist (man is too puny to so affect the works of God), old-school Tangiermen see their dilemma not as a product of man-induced rising seas, but wind-driven waves that have smacked into its flanks since the Creation.

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