I am arranging trays of food on a table when the man appears. “You with the Democrat women?” he says. “I’m going to be flat honest. You know who’s going to fix all this? Not you. The man upstairs, that’s who.”
It is 5:30 p.m. on a Monday. I am expecting 40, maybe 50 women for tonight’s meeting of the Democratic Woman’s Club of Anderson County, but for now this stranger, this man and me, are alone in the cafeteria of a Senior Citizen’s Center, a space cheerfully decorated for fall with crepe-paper pumpkins.
“You ask me,” the man says, “we got to get rid of all the Mexicans and all the blacks—you know that other thing we call ‘em, the blacks—we got to get every last one of ‘em out of this country, that’s what we got to do.”
I note that warnings about the caravan, the one the president keeps tweeting about, has been all over the news. “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!” the president warned.
My heart pounds in triple-time. “Sir,” I say, holding my hand up. “I’m going to stop you right there. You were just talking about the man upstairs, but what you’re saying is decidedly not Christian, it is not the way I was raised, and you are wrong.”
He laughs. “Making America great again,” he practically sings, and then, turning to leave, adds, “We’ll be playing cards next door, so you let us know if you girls have leftovers.”
I often see national news stories about Trump country; stories where an east coast news organization sends out a journalist to take the pulse of Trump voters. Do you feel marginalized, they ask with equanimity. What do you like about the president? What do you wish he would do differently? Will you vote for him again?
But what I do not see, in these national reports, is the reality of living in Trump country.
Why do we hold our Democratic Woman’s Club meetings in the Senior Citizen’s Center? Because local establishments are afraid to be associated with Democrats, lest it destroy their business.
Mornings, I drive 20 miles roundtrip to walk my dogs on the County Park trail, because the trail right up the road involves parking my car by houses with Confederate flags out front, and I have an Amy McGrath bumper sticker on my car.
A friend stops to get his morning coffee at the Dairy Queen, and a group of men openly heckle him. “You voting for that woman?” they jeer. “I guess we’ll have to start peeing sitting down!”
In our Oct. 24 county newspaper, under a banner that reads “Before pulling the lever, ask if your vote honors God,” the faith columnist writes, in part, “Since I am not a preacher, I hope that I can take some liberty with pointing out some facts.” And then, “Killing an infant in it’s mother’s womb is not choice, it’s called murder.”
One neighbor disinvites another neighbor from Thanksgiving dinner for fear that having someone who finds Trump’s rallies cult-like and scary at the table will ruin an otherwise Norman Rockwell-esque meal.
A man in town tells me he is afraid to travel to Nevada for a sporting event with his teenaged son because of gangs and MS-13.
This is Trump’s America, which often feels like some twisted version of The Stepford Wives, where everyone is seemingly going about their business—church on Sunday, high school football games, Halloween costume contests, and parades down Main Street—while the president tweets about the caravan, MS-13, #FakeNews, and the left-wing mob: The coming apocalypse.
If the definition of “terrorize” is to create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress, the President of the United States, with his fear-mongering rallies, tweets, and rhetoric, is terrorizing—yes, I said terrorizing—the very small-town America he purports to love.
And all due respect, but sending journalists who work for newspapers like the New York Times and The Washington Post to find out what Trump’s base thinks is the difference between me visiting my Trump-loving dad alone or bringing my husband.
With husband in tow, Dad is on his best behavior, the behavior he reserves for outsiders, because even after 22 years of marriage my husband is an outsider. “How do you like retirement?” he asks. “Can you believe this weather?”
Contrast with the last time I visited my dad alone: The first thing he said when I walked in the door was, “Have you seen Facebook? The Muslims are going to all the local Walmarts around here and buying up burner phones!”
At our Woman’s Club meeting, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, and we discuss what we can do to help with the upcoming midterm elections.
As we adjourn — and as I get ready to deliver our leftovers to the card game going on next door — our Vice President, a Mexican immigrant, raises her hand to quiet us. “Could you all please say a prayer for my family?” she says, voice breaking. “My brother is being to deployed to Afghanistan next week to clear bombs. He’s going to clear bombs for a country who hates us.”