Like many other Americans, I had a quick and visceral response to the news that Trump was running for president. Laughter, followed by disbelief. I mean, he announced his candidacy after riding down an escalator to Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World. It was surreal. It all had the atmosphere of a carnival. A publicity stunt, maybe. And even after I realized he was actually serious about running, I wasn't worried. There was no way he was going to win. This guy was a clown. A reality TV personality. A self-obsessed narcissist who had absolutely no experience in politics, government, military, or any other field that would qualify him to be president. He's a man who has been interviewed countless times berating and objectifying women, who could not even say on the record that he respects them. He has made a living offending people, which we know is great for entertainment value, less so for the leader of a nation.
Yet here we are. Donald is president. He has been caught in more lies than I can recall, is reported to watch hours of TV every day and must be babysat to ensure he doesn't tweet too much (which doesn't seem to be working out too well). He has spent about 31% of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, his millionaires-only private club in Florida. Yet these are not things his supporters seem to care about. That he has support at all signals that these are extremely divisive times we're living in.
People (at least publicly) have a variety of different reasons for casting their vote for Trump, ranging from an intense hatred of Hillary Clinton, a belief that his perceived prowess in business will translate to economic growth for America, or in extremely rare cases, an unwavering love and admiration for the man.
But there’s another type of Trump supporter that I know very well. One a lot of us probably grew up around.
Tom was raised under the belief that homosexuality is wrong. Sinful. Unnatural. Abortion is murder. Women are subservient homemakers and should conduct themselves with modesty and humility. Americans are the best. White Americans are even better. These themes have shaped Tom's life since birth. This is the natural order of things. These beliefs weren't taught in overt tones of hate and sometimes they weren't directly discussed at all. But in school rooms, around dinner tables and often phrased in the reassuring, righteous language of religion, Tom learned.
Tom grew. Laws began to change. With the feminist movement of the 1960's more and more women entered the workforce. Birth control granted women a degree of freedom and control never previously experienced. Abortion was made legal. Divorce became less stigmatized. A mixed race couple sits next to him at a diner and he shakes his head and leaves without a word. What's the world coming to? Tom feels forced into compliance and that makes him angry. When he tries to compliment the new girl at work he is chastised. Everything's sexual harassment these days. Can't a man even pay a girl a compliment anymore?
Tom gets married. Has children. When his children are in school his wife starts working part-time. He doesn't like the idea at first, but she's home in time to greet the kids and make dinner. They go to church every Sunday and donate money to the less fortunate. They are good people. Tom's children see him watch the news and rant about illegal immigrants taking American jobs. When the community Christmas party is changed to a Holiday party they stop attending. When a local girl is raped his daughter hears him wonder out loud what she was doing out alone in the first place. Same-sex marriages are legalized. Tom turns on the TV and there are gay couples. Trans characters. "Where will it end??" he exclaims.
The beliefs and prejudices that shaped Tom will be passed on to his children, in an albeit subtler form. They will be diluted, quieted, made presentable, but no less malignant. The stubborn opposition to progress and the righteous belief in his own superiority will carry on, as it has for generations. It's not a process reserved for the poor and uneducated. It exists wherever there is a culture of entitlement and a belief in one's inherent privilege.
The good old days. That's what Trump promises by way of systematically dismantling the progress previous presidents have made. Because Trump, like many Americans, didn't ever really view these laws or policies as progress, but rather, a liberal agenda. Change for the sake of change. How irresistible must Trump be to people like Tom, forced to remain quiet for so long? How giddy it must make them to hear Trump "Tell it like it is."
So he's going to take us back. He's going to make America great again.
But for who?