SHARE
An Amish buggy with pro-Trump dec­o­ra­tions par­tic­i­pates in an Amish for Trump rally in the Rust Belt. Courtesy | Facebook

If you watched Pres­ident Donald Trump’s cam­paign speech in Penn­syl­vania earlier this week, you may have seen some unex­pected attendees in the back­ground: three Amish men. 

Turning and pointing to them, Trump remarked, “We have Penn­syl­vania Dutch…but they’re not known for going out and voting. Don’t tell anyone, but the Penn­syl­vania Dutch are voting en masse.” 

The Amish men returned the president’s gesture with grins and thumbs up.

Trump was in Lan­caster, Penn­syl­vania — famous as a center of America’s Amish pop­u­lation — to energize support in a bat­tle­ground state.

Another large Amish set­tlement, in Camden Township, Michigan, lies just twenty minutes south of Hillsdale on the border of Ohio and Indiana.

Dairy cows stroll through fields of orange pumpkins, planted to help honey bee pol­li­nation. Buggy wheel marks run along the roads. The Amish com­munity, marked by its well-kept white farm­houses and black horse-drawn buggies, settled in Camden in 1956 through the efforts of Swiss-rooted Amish from Allen, Indiana. These Amish speak a Swiss dialect of the German lan­guage, dis­tinct from the majority, who speak the Penn­syl­vania Dutch dialect. 

According to Hillsdale College Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy and Culture Peter Blum, the Swiss Amish are “more con­ser­v­ative” com­pared to other Amish groups. One can usually dis­tin­guish them by their plain black and dark blue clothing and open-top buggies, which they ride even during the winter. 

Despite their rep­u­tation for aus­terity, the local bishop wel­comed me with a warm smile. He told me more than 15,000 Amish people live in Michigan and that his set­tlement is one of six that sur­rounds Hillsdale. It might seem that Amish voters are a decisive but over­looked factor, con­sid­ering that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Michigan by only 10,700 votes, the nar­rowest margin of any state in 2016.

So, could the local Amish vote swing Michigan for Trump next Tuesday?

According to the bishop, no. 

The bishop, as well as others in the Amish com­munity, asked not to be named because they don’t want to draw any attention to them­selves or their com­munity. Typ­i­cally, the Amish don’t give their names to the press or allow photos to be taken of them.

He said he did not know of any Amish in Michigan who plan to vote this year. In fact, he guessed that the Michigan Amish have never voted.

“Mein Reich ist nicht von dieser Welt.” 

“My kingdom is not of this world,” quoted the bishop from Jesus’ words. 

He said the Amish believe in sep­a­ration between Christ’s heavenly kingdom and the divinely-ordained gov­ern­ments that rule the earth. 

“The trouble in Switzerland when our fore­fa­thers were per­se­cuted,” he con­tinued, “comes from when the state and church were one.” 

“Voting isn’t some­thing that Jesus com­mented directly on, but we can find old guide­lines for the Amish religion, 400 years old, that dis­couraged an occu­pation like being a judge or being picked for the jury,” he said. 

All of the Amish in Camden who I spoke with con­firmed the bishop’s view. “No, we don’t really believe in voting,” said one woman emphat­i­cally. “We think we should rather just pray for the gov­ernment.”

So, if Camden’s Amish seem flatly against voting, why did Trump brag about his Amish sup­porters last Monday?

Researchers at Eliz­a­bethtown College in Lan­caster County, Penn­syl­vania, Kyle Kopko and Steven Nolt, found that a little more than 1,000 Amish people from Lan­caster voted in the 2016 pres­i­dential election — only 6.5 percent of Amish who were eli­gible to vote.

According to Nolt, the dif­ference between these Lan­caster Amish and other Amish groups, such as those near Hillsdale, is assim­i­lation. Many Amish in Lan­caster own busi­nesses, serve in the com­munity, and have developed a sense of civic identity. 

In 2016, the Amish Political Action Com­mittee, attempting to encourage Lan­caster Amish to vote, adver­tised Trump as a “hard­working busi­nessman” and pro-life can­didate. According to Blum, the Amish often say, tongue-in-cheek, “Even though we don’t vote, we pray Repub­lican.”

The bishop from Camden acknowl­edges that those in Michigan are less assim­i­lated than their Lan­caster brethren, but also sug­gests that their restric­tiveness is good for the com­munity.

“So many times when somebody decides that they’re done with the way their parents did things, his children won’t stay where he went either,” he said. “They just con­tinue the progress.”

“We have a lot of things to be thankful for that we was taught,” he con­cluded. 

The Amish resis­tance to progress has often put the Amish at odds with the gov­ernment, however. Amish reli­gious beliefs have peri­od­i­cally come under attack, from the impris­onment of con­sci­en­tious objectors during World War I, to Supreme Court cases over com­pulsory public edu­cation in the 1970s, to Obamacare’s con­tra­ceptive mandate for busi­nesses in 2014. In Michigan and else­where, the Amish have dis­agreed with public offi­cials over buggy reg­u­la­tions such as require­ments to display reflective markers.

In January of this year, Lenawee County health offi­cials filed suit and threatened to demolish 15 Amish homes over their use of out­houses instead of indoor plumbing. This Amish set­tlement, only a short drive from Hillsdale, was not the first one to receive similar charges from health offi­cials. 

The bishop, however, said he believes his com­munity will remain true to their faith, living a simple life, no matter who is elected pres­ident or whatever gov­ernment is in charge.

“There’s always a small portion of people who wish that the Amish would somehow dis­appear. But most gen­erally, we’re well-accepted,” said the bishop.

“And it has a lot to do with our people being honest and living a life like we profess to do. It would be very sad if we lose that respect.”