The state of Maine has carved out a peculiar place in American political life in recent years. Governor Paul LePage, who has served since 2011, is a Republican known for making , denouncing Hillary Clinton, and news organizations that anger him, tendencies that may currently sound familiar. But Maine overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama, twice, despite the highly unpromising demographics he faced there; the state has no large or even midsize cities to serve as Democratic bulwarks, and its population is about ninety-eight per cent white. Meanwhile, two of the last three people Maine has sent to the Senate have been women, and all three have often occupied Congress’s lonely middle ground. Maine does not adhere to the winner-take-all system when awarding electoral votes—another quirk—and in the 2016 Presidential election the state rendered a split decision: three electoral votes for Clinton, one for Donald Trump.
Is Maine on the left, on the right, or—imagine the thought—in the center? It’s less a swing state than a state of swing people, capable of voting all over the map in the same election and often identifying more with their quixotic, craggy state than with the starkly divided nation.
So when the country’s polarized politics invade the local landscape, it forces some uncomfortable choices. On Thursday, Trump singled out a Maine backer, Linda Bean, for praise on Twitter, and suggested that his followers shop at L. L. Bean, which is owned by her family: “Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean. @LBPerfectMaine.”
It’s unusual for a President-elect to direct Americans to shop at a business as a return favor, but unusual is an unstable concept lately, and the tweet probably registered to most Americans as a typical Trump gesture—she backed me; I’ll back her. But, in fact, Trump, like a clumsy Bigfoot, was stomping on delicate territory, possibly mistaking it for solid ground. It’s true that Linda Bean’s grandfather founded L. L. Bean, which has since become a major employer and a symbol of Maine’s rugged, piney identity, and she still sits on the board. But in Maine, at least, there is a sizable difference between supporting L. L. Bean and supporting Linda Bean.
On the morning that Trump posted the tweet, Linda Bean appeared on Fox News to protest an L. L. Bean boycott proposed by a nascent group called Grab Your Wallet, which targeted the company because Linda Bean had personally donated tens of thousands of dollars toward electing Trump. (Trump’s tweet was probably prompted by this “Fox & Friends” segment; the…