THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) – There has always been a low boiling point in the The Villages retirement community between the Republican majority and the much smaller Democrat cohort, but a veneer of good manners in “Florida’s Friendliest Residence” was mostly on golf courses and at bridge tables.
However, those tensions flared up two weeks ago during a golf cart parade for President Donald Trump’s birthday, in which a man shouted “White Power” when confronted by protesters against Trump. A music video of that confrontation in America’s largest retirement community was endorsed by Trump last weekend, then removed.
Some residents say they have never seen anything like the politically inspired hostilities that have surfaced in recent months.
“It’s kind of a powder keg here,” said resident Alan Stone. “And Trump is just stirring the pot.”
In the past, when conflicting political views emerged in The Villages, residents said it was best to say “I disagree” and change the subject quickly. But the emphasis on good manners has been tested like never before in recent months with the spread of the new corona virus, the resulting stock market tensions for a population largely living on retirement investment, the presidential race and the call for racial justice following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
“This is brewing. Most people agree not to talk about politics … and it was accepted that, because things are so divisive, you don’t get in, “said Catherine Hardy, president of the Democratic Party of Sumter County .
The population of the Villages with more than 120,000 residents – one of the fastest growing areas in the US in the past decade – is approximately 98% white, according to the US Census Bureau. There are more than twice as many registered Republicans as registered Democrats in Sumter County, where most of The Villages are located.
The Trump parade took place on June 14 in the planned community immediately after a wake was held by an African-American philanthropic group to honor Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the attendees at the vigil had left at the start of the Trump parade, although a white woman wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on her shirt was shouting swear words at Trump supporters as they drove by in golf carts. golf car responded by shouting “White Power”, a racist slogan associated with white racists.
“Until now, even if people felt that way, it was socially unacceptable to express it,” Hardy said of the man’s comment. “The difference is in Trump, you can express that hatred. What has changed is that it is now more acceptable. ‘
The flare-up at the Trump parade does not represent the vast majority of residents of The Villages, although with election year there are a number of people “being practiced” who are getting louder in voicing their opinions, said John Calandro, president from the Republican Party of Sumter County.
Because of the corona virus, more residents stay at home than usual and watch the news, rather than go to the rest home’s famous happy hours and dances in the city’s squares, he said.
Some residents are concerned that the stress of recent months may have left retirees thinking twice about moving to The Villages, whose founders have long been sponsors of Republicans and GOP presidential candidates. The Villages is often a popular campaign stop for GOP candidates for national and statewide.
“I don’t think The Villages want this kind of publicity,” Stone said. People say, “What the hell is going on in The Villages?” “”
But Calandro said any disagreement among residents has been exaggerated.
Calandro said that when he plays golf with his democratic friends, the biggest battles they face are not about politics – they are about who can take an extra well on the green without being punished.
“We don’t have a fight here on every street corner,” Calandro said. “The villages are still the villages. We’ve worked all our lives to live here, and it’s a great place to live. ”
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