Daniel Berry knows what it’s like to win a hard-fought campaign.
The 38-year-old Republican has served as an alderman — a sitting member of the city council — in Tullahoma, Tennessee, ever since he won his local election last year by just five votes.
“I truly know the meaning of ‘every vote counts,’” he says with a laugh.
Since then, Berry — who also serves as the chairman of a Young Republicans group — has gotten a taste of what it’s like holding elected office. The alderman says he spends long days resolving city issues, speaking to his constituents and even occasionally getting noticed in public.
“You’re out eating and all of a sudden you get that tap on the shoulder, or it happens when you’re walking down the street,” he says about his surprise encounters with residents, adding that, while Tullahoma is a small town, “the city never sleeps.”
Though Berry clearly takes great pride in his work as an alderman, the position does have its challenges.
Besides typical issues like general infrastructure and citywide maintenance, Berry says he is particularly focused on three main concerns: domestic violence, homelessness and the socio-economic divide, as well as bullying and conflict.
In a recent interview with The Independent, Berry reveals how Donald Trump’s presidency has made it “difficult” for the alderman to combat bullying in his hometown, despite saying he plans to support the Republican incumbent for re-election come November.
“We had a situation down the road from here where a kid took his life over some cyberbullying stuff,” he says. “It became part of my campaign … I spent a lot of time knocking on doors, sitting down and talking with people.”
He adds: “If that happened in my town, and I didn’t do everything I could, at least to spread awareness, it would be a tough pill for me to swallow knowing that I didn’t try.”
In order to address his top priority issues, Berry set up a bi-weekly town hall series and launched a new initiative he calls “Tullahoma strong,” an effort meant to support community-building throughout the city.
In his town halls, including one that focused entirely on bullying, Berry says he stresses that “this isn’t about Trump — it’s about what we’re doing in our community.”
And yet, Trump is an integral part of the rise in youth bullying that followed his election, analysts say. In localities that voted for the president in 2016, reports of bullying shot up by nearly 18 per cent after his election, according to the American Education Research Association. In one instance reported by the Washington Post, students at a Tennessee middle school joined arms and pretended to be Trump’s wall while blocking nonwhite students from passing.
When I ask him about this, Berry says “it hurts my heart” when the president bullies his rivals and political enemies.
“I just can’t stand the way the guy speaks to people,” he adds. “Policy-wise, I think he’s doing an OK job. There’s a lot of stuff he’s doing terrible policy-wise, but at the end of the day … I think I’m voting for Trump” in November.
In some ways, Berry can be considered an anomaly in the modern iteration of the Republican Party.
He describes himself as a conservative, but isn’t exactly an ardent supporter of the president.
“I may get in trouble with some of my Republican counterparts,” he says, while laughing again. “I believe [Trump] uses the bully pulpit, and I don’t agree with the name-calling, the way he speaks to people and treats people in general, I just don’t agree with that — but as far as policy, most of the policies I agree with.”
The alderman says he voted for Trump in part due to his stance on abortion, and in the hopes that he would appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court — which he has.
But Berry also says he supported many of Barack Obama’s policies as president, and sees the need for things like “strong background checks,” adding: “I know people who shouldn’t own guns, so I’m OK with a little strictness.”
After leaving his job with a large corporation in October of last year to start up his own business in town and serve on the local council, Berry also says he’s been frustrated with the health insurance market.
“It’s awful,” he says, of searching for a healthcare plan. “There has to be changes, but I don’t think the federal government taking it over is the answer.”
Between the bullying and incendiary tweets launched against his critics, to systemic issues that remain unaddressed in the Trump era like soaring costs of healthcare, I press Berry over why he seems to have made his mind up on voting for Trump once more.
He explains it like finding the right church to attend in one’s local community.
“There are five Churches of Christ here,” he says about Tullahoma. “I’m never going to find one that I agree with everything they do, but I’ll find one that I agree with most of it, and feel comfortable in the decisions and outcomes that are made.”