From the gazebo in the square, the strains of the Beatles’ “Can't Buy Me Love” were audible, voiced by a singer with a guitar and a taped backing track. To get to the landing, I’d driven across a lake on a bridge that had a separate lane for golf carts. Farwell had neat gray hair and light blue eyes; he wore khaki shorts and a short-sleeved shirt the color of orange sherbet.
Farwell loves the Villages because of the active lifestyle it provides: He has joined a tai chi group, two car clubs, a gun club, and a genealogical society. He’s self-aware about the pleasant unreality of the place: After a few months, he said, he and his wife looked at each other and said, “No wonder we like it here—everybody's just like us!”
A former partner at an international consulting firm in St. Louis, Farwell has three grandchildren, and he worries about the world they will inherit. “The values I grew up embracing, I think, have gone by the wayside,” he said. “Hard work, being rewarded for what you do, versus welfare and entitlements. People feel entitled to everything, and we’re losing our freedom of speech—college students think they have a right not to be offended! The civil rights protests of the ’60s were valid, but now everybody protests anything and everything.”
In the Republican primary, Farwell liked John Kasich. He hopes Paul Ryan represents the party's future, not Trump. But he is no fan of Hillary Clinton, either—“she's dishonest”—and when we spoke, he had already mailed in his absentee ballot for Trump.
The Villages is known as a conservative stronghold, a gold mine of votes for Republicans campaigning in Florida; Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both campaigned here in 2012. But the views of the people I interviewed were surprisingly mixed. Though I met plenty of staunch Republicans, few said Trump had been their first choice. Not far from where Farwell was sitting, I found a nest of Parrotheads—fans of the singer Jimmy Buffett—sitting on plastic chairs drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and arguing about politics.
“Things are getting worse,” said 68-year-old Jim Leach, a Minnesotan who earned a good living on a high-school education and retired at 56 thanks to smart investing. “Black people are rioting because they want to riot, they don’t want to work. Politicians, they’re not normal people—they’ve never worked a day in their lives.”
Both Jim and his wife, Pat, a 67-year-old who retired from Target, were deeply tanned, testament to the days they now spend mostly golfing. Pat voted for Obama the first time but not the second. “I’m a Republican, but Trump, he’s squirrelly,” she said.
Others in the group included an ardent Bernie Sanders fan, a Clinton supporter, and a man who wished he could vote for Ross Perot again. John McGivney, a retired Long Island Railroad conductor who retained his New York accent, shook his head in frustration.
“This is going to be the first time I’m not voting since I was eligible to vote,” he said. “I’m not proud of it, but I can’t vote for either one of them with a clear conscience. I'm a registered Republican, but Trump scares me.”
The sun was beginning to set over the gazebo in the square. The guitarist cranked up a new tune, and the couples shuffled off of their chairs to dance to “Twist and Shout.”