A long cornfield separates the only two cities I have lived in my entire life.
The first, a sleepy suburb of Cincinnati. It is sprawling township nestled between an IKEA and popular amusement park Kings Island. Originally a farming community built around a gas station and Long John Silvers on the corner of Ohio interstate I-75, the town is now primarily populated with America’s upper middle class. The parents of my childhood friends were engineers, lawyers, doctors, mid-level corporate executives, and small buisness owners. Few new home constructions sell for under $300,000.
In my formative years, I had the impression that my family and I lived in a fairly large house. We had not only a living room, but also a “family room” in the basement. We had not two bathrooms, but three. We had a garage that my dad always planned to covert to an extra bedroom. We had a large window overlooking our large yard.
But as I grew older, a new world began rising around me. The expansive Dudley Farm which had for so long stretched the length of Tylersville Road was bulldozed for a shopping center. A stretch of street surrounded by ancient, lofty trees that we fondly referred to as the “tree tunnel” was sequestered in favor of a new subdivision. Property values skyrocketed as families moved in to take advantage of our exceptional school district (and then subsequently failed to vote for tax increases that would keep said district afloat). What it meant to be “middle class” was rapidly changing, and not in a good way.
My mom has spent her entire life here — she lives in the same neighborhood she was born into — and each year the place becomes more foreign to what she remembers. The new neighborhoods that rise out of the dirt these days have fancy names like “The Blah Estates” or “The Acres at Whatever” or “Wetherington.” Our neighborhood doesn’t have a name, and it’s specifically neighborhoods like mine where the message of Donald Trump has caught fire.
When I talk to the parents of my friends who grew up in the fancy subdivisions with fancy names, they voted for John Kasich in the Ohio Primary and they balk at the notion of a President Donald J. Trump. Many of them are actually breaking a Republican voting streak and casting their lot with Hillary Clinton. Others are voting third party or writing in a name they find more suitable. And a few, of course, are holding their noses and voting for the Republican nominee — but not happily.
When you drive through the streets near my old house, you feel a radically different energy. “Trump / Pence” signs dot every other house. Giant homemade posters proclaiming, “Lock Her Up!!!” proudly stand nailed into the ground. Many boast unflattering pictures of Hillary Clinton behind bars. The passion for Trump’s message on these streets is insatiable, because the feeling of betrayal is universal.
Because — at the core of it — the message of Donald Trump is that someone has stolen something from you, and he’ll get it back.
During the 2008 economic collapse, my neighborhood was dotted with an endless display of foreclosure signs that match the “Trump / Pence” signs seen today. The pain of recession was felt by nearly everybody, but the relief of recovery was felt by only a few. The people without college degrees who lost their jobs never found good ones to replace it. My dad is one of many who now works far too hard for far too little money. It wasn’t the deal that the American dream promised them.
And, just a few miles away, in gated communities in the same township, many people have come out ahead. People who had college degrees, who had never laid brick or hauled freight in a warehouse. People who are perhaps perceived to have learned the rules of life in a classroom rather than in the “real world.” People who often put a priority on social issues (“who cares if men are allowed to make out with each other or not, I need a job!”) rather than the pains of the working man. For them, the crude comments of Donald Trump are undesirable and crass, but simply don’t hold a candle to the greatest swindle in our history: that there are families who live within a square mile of each other who got vastly inequitable outcomes to their American dream.
And to people for whom civil rights, and basic American liberties are not under attack or siege, there might not be a clear reason to not back Donald Trump. If you are white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, there is no obvious risk to backing a man who promises to retrieve the past and give it back to you in the present. Maybe they should know better, but maybe it’s hard to know better.
The second town is the seat of Ohio’s governance — the city of Columbus. I attended The Ohio State University for four years, and after graduation now still live in the city — sandwiched between my old college campus and the downtown area.
Columbus cringes at the notion of a Trump Presidency. Down every street there are Clinton / Kaine signs sticking out of tiny urban yards. For many here, the election is about values — and whether you have them or not. For a city that has been characterized as the gay Mecca of the midwest, boasts not only a diverse population — but one of refugees, this election isn’t about the issues. While perhaps some of the Franklin suburbs will show up for Trump, on November 8th our county as a whole will be colored bright ruby blue for the former Secretary of State.
It is easy to go an entire day here without encountering any supporters of Donald Trump. Sure, there are certainly some working class whites and boozed up frat boys who will cast their vote for the TV businessman, but they are hard to find. And so it becomes easy to characterize anybody who supports Trump as clueless, “uneducated,” or even evil. Maybe it’s too easy.
“Racist,” “Sexist,” “Homophobic,” “Transphobic,” among others, are words used daily to summarize Donald Trump’s supporters. But maybe we need to move beyond summary? Maybe casual summary and dismissal of “deplorables” are what cause them to become deplorable in the first place?
The left preaches tolerance, but it does not necessarily preach compassion.
As the polls have tightened over the past week, I have slowly been trying to get my mind prepared for the idea of Donald Trump ascending to the office of Washington, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. I’ve begun bracing myself for the gloating Twitter pepe trolls, the normalization of bigotry, and my right to marry get thrust back into public contention.
But I’ve also begun to consider the idea that perhaps the rise of Trump is not a result of our country being evil. Rather, it’s a result of having two radically different Americas in one whole.
One neighborhood is filled with people who attained a college degree, is more insulated from economic turbulence, benefits from globalization, and too often sees itself as intellectually superior. Then another neighborhood, filled with people who have worked just as hard, for just as long (or perhaps longer) but has seen their economic security melt below their feet.
And then some half-rate billionaire tells them that they’ve been had, and there are specific people they can blame. He tells them that the world is unraveling, and they believe him, because their world is unraveling — and nobody else seems to care.