Was it “really disgusting” or “right on the mark”?
Those show the range of reactions in New Hampshire to President Donald Trump’s characterization of the state as a “drug-infested den” while speaking to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in January.
Trump’s remarks came to light this week when The Washington Post published a transcript of the phone conversation between the two leaders. The state’s politicians — Republicans and Democrats — were quick to denounce those comments, but other Granite State residents also weighed in.
“I think we’re used to the President going over the top,” Grant Bosse, editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, told CNN. “If you’re a fan of the President, you don’t mind that he went over the top again in describing a very serious problem.”
The Union Leader is known for its conservative editorial stance, and Publisher Joseph McQuaid called Trump “a liar, a bully, a buffoon” in a September editorial endorsing Libertarian Gary Johnson in the 2016 election. On Friday, however, the paper’s letters to the editor section was flooded with New Hampshire residents eager to defend Trump.
“Please count me as one Granite Stater who is not outraged at the President’s leaked ‘Den’ comments,” Pete Brigham wrote.
“Given the constant drumbeat of news recounting the extent of the drug scourge all across NH, and the other manifestations of the insidious impact illicit drug use has on everyday life here, I would say that the President is, in essence, right on the mark.”
A letter from Ralph Cataldo struck a similar tone.
“President Trump’s statement that New Hampshire is a drug-infested den is more truth than fantasy,” he said. “I have lived in Manchester for 30 years, and the city is plagued with addicts and panhandlers.”
But debate over Trump’s comments extended far beyond local newspapers.
“I’m horrified, it’s deplorable. He had no business saying that about New Hampshire,” said Mary Macdonald, a resident of Manchester in Southern New Hampshire.
“There aren’t words to say that a president of the United States would talk that way about a state,” she added.
“Will he apologize? No. But he owes it to us.”
Cayla Fernandes, a student at the University of New Hampshire, said her state has more to offer than drugs.
“I mean, how much time has he actually spent in New Hampshire? Because you’ll see New Hampshire is a lot more than that,” Fernandes said.
“I think there is more to New Hampshire than the drugs. You don’t know it until you live it. Just depends where you are at the time. We aren’t defined by our drugs.”
Many residents also took to social media to make light of the new label for their home state.
One tweet shows the New Hampshire license plate with the state motto of “Live Free or Die” replaced with “Drug-Infested Den.”
“Thanks Mr. President,” the user wrote. “I’ve updated our license plates and got rid of our old crappy motto that we all hated anyway.”
New Hampshire comedian Nick Lavallee tweeted an emoji-heavy message, saying, “Greetings from New Hampshire @realDonaldTrump we’re more of a HUG infested den!”
Other users posted photos of themselves enjoying the state’s mountainous landscapes — in contrast with the “drug-infested den” label.
Trump made the opioid epidemic a key issue while campaigning for the presidency in New Hampshire.
In 2015, New Hampshire recorded 397 deaths caused by opioids, according to the New Hampshire Department of Safety. In terms of the rate of all drug-related deaths, New Hampshire ranks second among states behind West Virginia, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Union Leader’s Bosse agreed drugs represent a “serious problem” in New Hampshire but said Trump’s remarks weren’t appropriate.
“We think it’s a foolish thing to say,” Bosse said. “Not accurate. New Hampshire has a lot going for it.”
Kylie Pigeon, a 20-year-old New Hampshire native, said the drug problem is real but name-calling doesn’t help solve it.
“Do we need help? Yes. But to call it a drug-infested den, that’s inconsiderate — really disgusting actually. It’s like, you’re our President.” she said.
“You should have more respect than that.”