Inside the dimly lit Mason Jar Saloon nestled along U.S. 19 on the outskirts of Morgantown, West Virginia, billiard balls clang into one another while Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” blares from the jukebox.
The walls are plastered with signs supporting coal miners and touting American pride. One bears the slogan “I plead the 2nd” with an image of a gun.
Patrons, mostly clad in black, gnaw away at chicken wings and the special of the day – a loaded steak hoagie the size of a football. In between bites and pool shots, they sip on bottles of beer.
Nearly everyone here, about a dozen or so folks, is drinking Bud Light.
They didn’t get the memo from knee-jerk social media warriors boycotting Bud products after Budweiser’s pro-immigrant Super Bowl ad.
These guys and gals are proud members of Trump Nation, too. They represent the heart of the working class – from retired electricians to military veterans to carpenters.
They just don’t subscribe to politically feigned outrage that has gobbled up our social timelines and news feeds.
“That (ad) didn’t have much of an effect on me at all,” said Morgantown resident Dave Hlavsa. “I saw it online before the Super Bowl. As soon as it started, I could tell, ‘This is another political one.’ But I watched it and went on to the next one.”
Anheuser-Busch produced “Born the Hard Way,” which tells the story of Adolphus Busch, its German-born co-founder, who came to the United States in the early 1850s. The ad begins with a man telling Busch “You don’t look like you’re from around here.” At another point, Busch is shoved and told to “go home.”
After the ad aired Sunday night, #boycottbudweiser (and the misspelled #boycottbudwiser) began trending in the U.S.
The immigration debate has ramped up in recent weeks on the heels of President Trump’s executive order temporarily barring immigrants from seven Muslim countries, as well as his continued desire to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Hlavsa, sporting a camouflage West Virginia University cap with a fishing hook fixed to the bill, agrees with Trump’s foreign policy stances. He shows his support for the president with a bumper sticker on his vehicle, though he said someone recently tried to rip it off while it was parked near a student-populated neighborhood.
“Those countries were put on the ban for a reason,” Hlavsa said. “Trump’s doing what he has to do to protect the people who live here. You can’t blame anybody for that. Citizens here come first.”
But boycotting Anheuser-Busch? That’s not a battle that needs to be fought.
Last October, Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, endorsed Trump on the campaign trail. That didn’t turn Hlavsa to Yuengling, either. Simply put, it’s best to separate beer and politics, he said.
A Navy veteran, Hlavsa nursed on Bud Light throughout this Wednesday night as he and his fellow Mason Jar teammates took on the team of National, named after the unincorporated community in Monongalia County, in their weekly three-on-three pool tournament.
Elsewhere in the tavern, Ken “Fitz” Fitzhugh of Laurel Point, West Virginia downed his share of Bud Light bottles, too. With a ZZ Top-like beard dangling to his chest and wallet chains hanging from his jeans, Fitzhugh looks like a rough and rugged biker you wouldn’t want to spill your beer on.
But his charm and the kindness in his eyes break through that leathery demeanor.
He brought a friend from Ohio with him to his favorite hangout spot – he just lives a few miles from the Mason Jar – to try to lighten her mood after she attended a funeral that day.
Fitzhugh watched the New England Patriots’ historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons but doesn’t recall the Budweiser commercial.
After all, he wonders, “Who watches the commercials? What happens, happens on the field.”
Fitzhugh, who’s retired after 38 years as an electrician, said all he drinks is Bud Light – and that will continue, regardless of politics.
“I got my own politics,” he said. “With Trump, I’m waiting to see what he can do. I thought Hillary might, but no more. Hillary was a lost cause.”
What Appalachia needs is a throwback to the old days, Fitzhugh explained.
“We need to get kids off their asses and get them jobs with decent wages so they can come up like I did,” he said. “Scrapping around for minimum wage or $10 an hour won’t do shit for them. We need jobs that support the economy and the younger generation, and we need to get rid of these drugs that are wrecking families and lives.”
Bartender Kate Brock said customers rarely, if ever, talk politics — and it’s probably best that way.
Rather, the Mason Jar serves as a sanctuary for locals who want to unwind with a beer after work, play pool with friends or watch sports on TV. Conversations throughout the evening involve Brock’s upcoming 22nd birthday party and one couple’s wedding plans for May.
The old saying “friends who want to stay friends don’t discuss religion or politics” seems to apply within these walls.
Mason Jar owner Steve Reese never posts political statements on his tavern’s Facebook page. Though he’s not shy to fire away on his personal account.
Reese was one of 15 percent of Americans who cast a ballot for the first time in the 2016 presidential election.
“Trump has brought a spark to people who didn’t really care before,” Reese said.
An Army National Guard veteran, Reese said he never paid much attention to government and politics until he became a small business owner.
“To see how things are in our state, it’s as if they don’t want small businesses to exist,” he said. “They don’t make it easy for you.”
Trump’s emergence as a presidential candidate nudged Reese into following the political landscape and current events more closely.
“I think he’s straightforward,” Reese said. “If you have a leader, he ought to be stern on what he believes in. When have you ever seen a president come in and do exactly what he told you he was going to do on the campaign trail? He’s in there doing it. How many presidents have told you ‘we’re going to do this and that’ and half the stuff they told you was hogwash? At least he’s sticking to what he said he was going to do.”
Like most of his patrons Wednesday night, Reese was unaware of the Budweiser backlash and brushed it off.
If anything, he thinks beer drinkers should be more upset about Budweiser bumping its prices up over its competitors in the last few years.
And if you look at what’s on tap at the Mason Jar, you’ll notice Budweiser is not among the selections.
“We took it out long before the commercial,” Reese said. “It doesn’t sell like it used to.”
Despite his backing of Trump, Reese remains skeptical of the current political structure and wonders if division will impede real progress.
“I was never a fan of the two-party system, ever,” he said. “They can’t get nothing done because it’s ‘us versus them.’ It shouldn’t be ‘us versus them’ because we should have one goal. They forget that. And that’s what they’re doing now. You’re either American or you’re not.”