Wooing the Amish

It’s not quite accurate, but close enough, that if I walk out my front door and turn right I’m in Philadelphia’s tiny Main Line suburbia and if I turn left I am in Amish country. In truth, I live in a cabin in the woods, and I probably need to drive ten to twelve minutes west to encounter an Amish buggy on the roads.

During growing season, I interact with Amish folks on a weekly basis, usually at local farmers’ markets. But they’re a bit of a curiosity even for those of us who live among them and have the chance to make small-talk with them from time to time.

They certainly don’t use horse-drawn buggies to transport their fresh produce to the markets I frequent. They use vans and small trucks. And they use battery-charged digital scales, just like everyone else. I have an acquaintance who has seen an Amish neighbor using a John Deere tractor at three in the morning, presumably to avoid detection by his disapproving peers. The rules are a little looser than you might expect and their integration into modern society is more complete than you’ve probably been led to believe.

Still, it’s well known around here that the Amish don’t vote. I was under the impression that this was a rule rather than a custom, and I guess that is not the case since MSNBC reports that in 2004 “an estimated 1,300 voted in the Lancaster County, P.A. region (or 13 percent of the eligible Amish voting population).”

Lancaster County is the next county west of me, and the heart of the Amish tourist industry. It’s probably the only place in the state where the Amish have big enough numbers to affect the outcome of an election, although, with only about ten thousand eligible voters, they’d have to vote in a bloc in a very close election to make a decisive difference.

Could Pennsylvania be that close in the presidential election? And would the Amish consider voting as a bloc for someone like Donald Trump?

Friends of Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich must think so.

…Trump supporters with ties to Dr. Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich have founded Amish PAC, which aims to launch the most ambitious get-out-the-vote efforts among the devout religious sect to date. They will almost certainly face an uphill battle, since the Amish don’t watch television or read social media, which could be a net positive or negative for Trump, depending on your point of view. And while voting is not necessarily prohibited by their strict religious beliefs, it’s not exactly encouraged either.

“I’ve got to say, I don’t know that we’re going to change voting habits drastically,” Ben Walters, a fundraiser for the PAC, conceded in an interview with Politico on Friday. “But we can only help them.”

“In Florida in 2000, it came down to a couple polling places,” he added. “What if that happened in Ohio or Pennsylvania? It could.”

I’m less interested in whether it’s even possible to convince the Amish to vote than in the possibility that they would come out of the political wilderness to vote as a bloc for a man like Donald Trump.

I simply have no idea how their religious beliefs translate to our right/left political divide, nor what they might make of Trump if they even know who he is.

Obviously, they’re very religious and socially conservative in some respects. They’re small businessmen and women, although ones who are exempt from a lot of regulation. That might sound promising to the folks who will be running Amish PAC.

But consider this:

Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity), often translated as “submission” or “letting-be.” Gelassenheit is perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, to be self-promoting, or to assert oneself.

Maybe friends of Hillary should be the ones forming an Amish PAC.

In any case, it sounds like a scam designed to bilk clueless big money donors. Who would ever guess that friends of Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich would come up with such a scheme?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.