It’s almost impossible to believe, but during the last 10 months, Donald Trump has become an even more polarizing figure since officially becoming the 45th President of the United States.
His credo during his controversial campaign was to “Make America Great Again,” which he explained could be done by building a border wall between Mexico and the United States to keep out “bad hombres” and throwing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, into jail amidst allegations of crookedness. While “The Wall” remains a pipe dream and Mrs. Clinton remains unscathed, America continues to shift further away from the ideologies that were created to form “a more perfect union.” While it can’t necessarily be said that Mr. Trump is the sole reasoning behind our bruised country, it can be asserted that he has perpetuated and emboldened others to resort to insolent behavior, forming deeper cuts in America’s raw skin.
He continues to appeal to his base, often depicted as uber-conservative, angry, racist whites working blue-collar occupations. If Mr. Trump is Lord Voldemort in the eyes of mainstream media, his supporters could be akin to the Death Eaters—followers who act with reckless abandon and disregard for others.
Ideology-wise, it appears that Trump supporters share similar sentiments to that of “45”— “Lock Her Up!” “Build The Wall!” “Drain The Swamp!” However, during the campaign, photos and videos of anti-Trumpers being verbally and, at times, physically assaulted by Trump supporters became click-worthy news. A New York Times video highlighting Trump supporters shouting misogynist and racist profanities during a campaign rally made its rounds last August. During a “Thank You” rally after being elected in November, Trump lauded his supporters for their “vicious, violent” enthusiasm. These moments showed a side of America that many knew was always there, but thanks to the accessibility of iPhones and social media, was brought to the forefront.
I’m not a Trump supporter for many reasons. As a black, female millennial who has friends and family who are so vastly-diverse culturally, economically and intellectually, I found virtually any sentiment that Mr. Trump echoed throughout his campaign to be problematic. While I see politics as an eye-roll inducing activity all around, I do believe that whoever sits in the Oval Office should possess decorum and enough political aptitude to run this country efficiently.
It’s perplexing how Trump supporters have rationalized and stood by him, even through the approval rating dips, late-night tweeting sprees and controversies that have accumulated since Nov. 9, 2016. I know it’s difficult to reason with people when their minds have already been made up, however, attempting to understand what keeps a Trump supporter coming back for more was something I was anxious to see for myself.
By mid-September, it’s finally starting to feel like fall in New Jersey. After a spike in temperatures as of late, it’s refreshing to leave the house in a jacket and feel a slight-breeze against my face. Bradley Beach is a quiet shore town in Monmouth County, N.J. Monmouth is one of the nine counties in the Garden State that “went red” for Trump during the election, although Clinton won the state’s electoral votes.
“This is a really, a very diversified town,” says Susan*, a 55-year-old school administrator, of the beach area. She and her 56-year-old husband, Keith, who works in tech support, are currently in the process of renovating their basement, so we are sitting outside on their porch.
“However, I can make a point to that,” she continues. I gaze past the white porch onto the street as she points to her left. “The closer you get to the beach, the less diverse it is. But up here, you get a lot of mixed culture, and it's great. That's one of the things I really love about being here.” I’m noticing that there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people nearby. However, with beach homes going for $1 million and higher, it’s clear there are many white people living here as well.
"I think I'm more disappointed in who he is, rather than what he's doing or not doing. Polish yourself up to be a President."
I was connected to Keith and Susan through my father. I put out a social media PSA calling for people who continue to support 45, despite all of the controversies that have plagued his presidency thus far. My dad said he knew someone personally who should be able to fit the bill.
“Keith is a nice guy,” he said of his former co-worker. “Just bad judgement.” It would have been interesting to speak with a stereotypical Trump supporter—a “MAGA” hat-wearing, “build the wall” cheering type of guy or gal. However, Keith and Susan don’t quite fit the media-made representation. They’re a friendly couple with charming back-and-forth banter. Susan gave me book recommendations such as Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention Of Wings, while Keith and I discussed the Knicks, and he gave me a bottle of orange Gatorade to sip on as we spoke.
It turns out during our conversation, Keith did not originally plan to vote for Trump. His original pick was Ben Carson, who he believed could “figure out the Obamacare mess.”
“He always thought things out,” he explains while peering over his square-framed glasses. “That's what I liked about him.”
“[Carson] had the insight. I thought that if anyone could fix [Obamacare], he could fix it. Unfortunately, he can't.” Trump was originally his “seventh or eighth pick,” but since he historically votes Republican and “hates the Clintons,” his support went to The Donald.
“I lean to The Right, because everyone should be pulling their own weight,” he says. His family is “full of Democrats” who “play the system” to get what they want instead of working for it, he explains. Keith enjoyed the fact that Trump, a businessman and occasional actor, was a political outsider. As with many other Americans, the idea of someone who is part of the political game has become somewhat of a turn-off.
“I felt that since [Trump] wasn't a politician, he was going to get things done,” he says. “He's a business guy. To me, it sounded like he was focused on getting accomplishments done, and not get stuck in that whole web of politics. He's passed more legislation pieces, more than any other President, in the first hundred days, since Harry Truman.”
Another attribute that caught Keith’s eye about Trump was that he is “outspoken.” However, he has always treaded lightly on the fact that his uncouth sentiments frequently cross the line. He wasn’t a fan of what Trump said about John McCain being a Prisoner Of War in 2015 (“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured”).
“I consider [McCain] a war hero, but on the other hand, he's part of ‘The Swamp’ for the Republican Party,” Keith says, referring to perceived corrupt politicians working in the nation’s capital. Much like murky water is removed from a swampy area, Trump’s campaign promise was to “drain the swamp” of greedy status quo politicians from government.
“[McCain] is part of ‘The Swamp,’” Keith continues. “Lindsey Graham, Nancy Pelosi, [Chuck] Schumer and Maxine Waters. There's a bunch of them.” While he doesn’t agree with the “word choices” Trump uses, he did not seem to be bothered by the “grab ‘em by the p***y” controversy, stating that he agrees it was “locker room talk.”
“I played sports, we all talk sh*t,” he explains. Susan said that while she is concerned about Trump’s views about women, she’s more concerned about the “silent signals between he and his wife,” Melania.
“They don't seem to be working as a team, and they don't seem to be a couple,” she says, brushing her short, blonde hair out of her face.
I asked Susan who she pulled the lever for on Nov. 8, and she said that she actually did not vote in the 2016 election. She was registered in the town she lives in, and the town she works in is an hour away.
“I couldn't manage my day to drive an hour in time, because I work 10, 12 hours,” she says, curled up in the white wicker chair to my left. “I wasn't gonna make it. I don’t regret it, though. My rationale in my head was that my daughter, who usually doesn't vote, did a mail-in vote, so I figured we were even. She never votes, but she decided to vote. I usually vote Republican. I was actually happier not voting. I just couldn't bring myself to pull the lever for either one of them. It was like, ‘you've gotta be kidding me.’”
One of the things that the three of us did agree on was that Hillary Clinton didn’t run the campaign she had hoped for.
"I was actually happier not voting. I just couldn't bring myself to pull the lever for either one of them. It was like, ‘you've gotta be kidding me.’"
“[Clinton] didn't run to win in the way she should have,” Susan says. “She's a smart lady. I am not diminishing her skills in any way. She understands politics, she's an attorney, she's smart. It's like her wheels fell off at some point.”
After noticing a pattern in the parking lot of his polling station on Election Day, Keith believed that Trump was going to secure a victory.
“I pull up at 6:00, it's freezing cold, it's pitch dark, and the parking lot is mobbed,” he explains. “And I'm like ‘holy sh*t, Trump is gonna win.’ Because you could tell those people weren't there for Hillary.” However, his certainty became skepticism during the televised results, when indecisiveness in Florida had the results at a standstill. After carefully watching the state, it was decided that Trump would win Florida by only a 1.2 percent margin between the two major party candidates.
“Even though people may have felt that they weren't making the best choice [in voting Trump], they were hopeful that this would be some sort of a change that would be beneficial for the country,” Susan says.
In the aftermath of his victory, Trump has attempted several repeals of Obamacare to no avail, has rolled out many executive orders such as the “Muslim Ban,” and has seen a gaggle of controversies in the last ten months of his presidency, including his response to the white supremacy march on Charlottesville, back-and-forth chatter about possible Russian collusion in the election, and his lack of urgency and concern for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
The Muslim ban denies members of several predominantly Muslim countries— Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—entry into the United States. Keith believes that Trump was right to establish the executive order, despite the underlying notions of Islamophobia.
“You can't open [travel] up to everybody,” he explains. “If I have a Visa in my hand, why should my 17th cousin, who I don't even know… why is he automatically allowed in our country? Those are the six countries that Obama was worried about. So he actually used those six countries Obama gave him for the ban.”
“We've become a nation of alleged racists,” Susan says to me on the porch. “No matter what you say, you almost can't express yourself, because some way or another, you're gonna be called a racist.” Another sentiment we could all agree on was how much segregation has intensified between U.S. citizens based on race, sexual orientation, political affiliation and more.
"’All white people do blah, all black people do blah,’ which is untrue on both sides,” Susan explains. She acknowledges the racial divide that has plagued the country for many years, but notes how it has grown to levels she says have “never been this unacceptable.”
“I don't get why we can't get past ourselves,” she continues. “It's gotten worse, and that's the sad part.”
In a follow-up email regarding recent events, Keith also seemed to stand by Trump amidst fallout of his response to aiding Puerto Rico and the victims of Hurricane Maria. While he criticized the mayor of San Juan for “blasting” Trump, he believes Trump’s “joking comment” about the U.S. budget being thrown “out of whack” in efforts to help the territory was in poor taste.
“The Trump administration did a great job responding to this catastrophic event,” he wrote. “Besides FEMA, the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers, U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, along with the Federal Highway Administration were all engaged to remedy the situation, where the Puerto Rico leadership failed. Trump even sent his General down there to assist.”
The combination of the political and racial divide has come to the forefront recently in the form of the NFL protests. Trump has criticized professional football players for their choice to kneel during the National Anthem in solidarity with members of the black community who have fallen victim to police brutality. Keith and many others see the action as disrespecting the flag and veterans of the military.
“Other than the stupid tweets he does sometimes, it's like, what more can he do? What can he do?”
“This was not the right venue to do so and they really underestimated how the fans would feel and react,” he wrote. “I think most of the players herded like sheep, not even understanding what they were doing.” However, he thinks that Trump would have been better off “not tweeting” about the protests.
“As much as I agree to Trump’s comments, why open up Pandora’s Box again?” he continues. “Again, Trump just can’t keep his mouth shut and stirs up unnecessary controversy.”
“What would you rate Trump in these last few months? And why?” I ask as our conversation begins to wind down. Keith gives Donald Trump a seven-and-a-half, due to the fact that “he’s having trouble” getting things done, even with a Republican majority House of Representatives and Senate.
“Other than the stupid tweets he does sometimes, it's like, what more can he do? What can he do?” he asks, his voice getting higher as he grows more frustrated. “It's gotta go through Congress, and he can't get the votes. He can't get his agenda through. It's just things that he can't get done, the major things done. The tax reform. He can't get the tax reform.”
Susan did not give a rating. She says Donald Trump is a “clown,” and that he’s not polished or experienced enough to hold the position of President of the United States.
“I think I'm more disappointed in who he is, rather than what he's doing or not doing,” she says with a laugh. “I'm going back to my original statement: polish yourself up to be a President. Otherwise, any Joe Schmoe will think they can speak like that at any time. We like to believe in the United States that anyone can grow up to be President, but there are certain things that have to happen along the way”.
“What qualities would you want to see in a President, if we elected a Joe Schmoe?” I query.
“We need somebody who is smart, a middle-incomer who gets it,” Susan says. “And who is socially aware, socially conscious about what should happen.”
“Also has to have common sense,” Keith interjects.
Where do we go from here? As much as we can’t agree with it and refuse to acknowledge it, this man is President of the United States. However, what we can all try to do is put aside our differences in order to work together to form that “more perfect union” our forefathers envisioned.
If we want change, we need to use our voices for good, not to call people out because we don’t agree. If we want change, we need to listen to each other and not make assumptions. Although the President is someone whose behavior should be exemplary of the country they’d like to lead, it would behoove all of us to not resort to his example. Despite race, despite gender, despite sexual orientation, despite political party, we’re all in this together.
"What really matters...white matter matters. Gray matter matters. Until we all start using our matter for what matters, nothing will change.” This was a Facebook status Susan says she wrote after the election, and it couldn’t be more true. However, she was concerned someone would “slam it” if she shared it on her page.
“To me, [Matter] is a cognitive function,” she explains. “All of our matter is the same. We all have the same white and gray matter inside. So, until we start using that matter for all the right things, nothing else does matter.”