During the 2000 election, I had just recently moved to Pennsylvania from Texas. It is safe to say that a good 80% to 90% of the people I worked with were socially conservative. In essence, they were rooting for George W. Bush to win the election. As we all know, the election went on unresolved for days as Florida votes had to be counted and re-counted. More than a few of my coworkers were tense about the situation.
In 2004, during Bush vs. Kerry, the tension was even more palpable. By then, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was well underway. Many of the town’s kids were heading out to war. There weren’t that many professional outlets for those kids, and the service was a perfectly reasonable place for them to be. It wouldn’t be long until the town lost one, then two, then three and more soldiers in the war… All before the election. That led to heated discussions between coworkers who had sons and daughters in the service and those who didn’t but argued that the war was an unjust war.
In that election, the war was not the only thing on people’s minds. There were clashes between those who saw gay marriage as something so horrifying that it needed to be outlawed in the different states’ constitutions. People that I worked with — very religious people — were horrified at the idea that two adults could be legally bound to each other in marriage. And their lies and misinformation was infectious.
For both elections, I supported Bush.
Hold on. Hold on. Let me explain…
I went to a very Liberal college in far west Texas, as far from Austin as you can get. El Paso was very Liberal, and I was convinced that the things that affected me (discrimination, the continued harassment at the border, and lack of good employment) was all because of the policies of those in power at the local level. Heck, relatives of mine had benefited greatly from Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program in the 80s and George H. W. Bush’s immigration policies in the late 80s and early 90s. Furthermore, the first Bush had successfully taken us into and out of Iraq. In my mind, his advisors — whom the second Bush Administration inherited — were going to do a bang-up job against Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were also going to get comprehensive immigration reform done, something Clinton had not achieved.
I had also been aware of Bill Clinton signing into law the entitlement reform that took away benefits from our family because we were legal residents, not citizens, in the US. From one day to the next, kids in my school and in my extended family no longer qualified for help with food, housing, and medical care. Neither did I. And all that had happened during years in my life where the pre-frontal cortex didn’t fully understand everything that was going on around me.
As I went to school for my MPH degree at George Washington University, I got to truly meet people from all over the world. In El Paso, I had met a few people here and there, but the overwhelming majority of students there were Hispanic just like me. There was variety, but not from my perspective. Once I was at GW, I met people from the Middle East, including people from Iraq. I met people from Afghanistan. I learned what the war was doing to their families and to them. I felt the fear they felt.
That eroded my support of the Republicans a little bit. Not a whole lot, but enough to make me start to look at other points of view and analyze policies at all levels on the Left. And then the 2008 campaign came around. By then, the Tea Party people had started their sabre-rattling. Fox News, which I watched a lot, started talking about how my friends and family members were criminals who should be feared above all else. Rush Limbaugh, whom I listened to as I drove to and from DC to school, started making fun of my friends who were poor and those who were addicted to drugs.
At work, I started seeing the same religious people who opposed gay marriage make mockeries of their own marriages. (At one point, I wondered if everyone in the emergency department really did sleep with everyone else, as the rumors swirled.) People who told me that the war in Iraq was justified because of weapons of mass destruction were everywhere could not explain to me how the weapons were never found and how there was one military blunder after another.
Then I changed jobs and went to work in Baltimore. While the office had a good mix of conservative and liberal folks, the atmosphere was more liberal. There were wide celebrations when President Obama was elected, especially by coworkers of mine who were Black. I saw their joy at seeing someone like them finally achieve the zenith of political power in the country. Their joy became my joy, especially since the Tea Party revolt was in full swing. Trip after trip to Mexico ended in a full-on interrogation at the border because I was Brown and fit a lot of stereotypes. In a couple of occasions I was told as much.
The Republican Party had lost me. Fox News had lost me. Rush Limbaugh was a joke. John McCain had lost fair and square, and it was time to move on from a way of thinking that saw everyone who was not White, Christian and naturally born in the US as some sort of existential threat. I miss the old guard, though.
Last summer, when Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy in a room full of paid supporters, I was in Colombia. Time after time, people who found out that I was American wanted to know how it was possible for him to say such horrible things about immigrants in general and Mexicans in particular. (I realized then that an attack on one of us was an attack on all of us, and it was kind of comforting.) I had to explain to them that the United States Constitution grants all people within its jurisdiction the right to freely express themselves. (There are some limits, but I didn’t get into that.) Trump, as horrible and dangerous as what he says is, has every right to say these things.
One taxicab driver offered to fly to the US and help in an insurrection should Trump win the Presidency. I told him then that it wouldn’t be necessary. “He won’t even win the primaries,” I said. Man, was I ever wrong. The populist sentiment and anger at the Federal Government is deep and palpable. There is a sizable chunk of the population that is incensed at the fact that America is changing. People like Trump are preying on that anger, that fear… And they’re getting their way.
More and more minorities are climbing up the economic ladder, finding themselves living in what used to be “All-American” towns and suburbs. Countries whose economies withstood the 2008 recession jumped ahead closer to the US in economic terms. China keeps growing. Companies are able to sell intangible products (e.g. computer apps) and services (e.g. anything web-based) while being sheltered in far-off countries. And all of this makes people angry.
The (mostly) college-uneducated, White young men I know can only see conspiracies in everything that is happening around them. The only reason I got into the DrPH program is because I’m Brown. The Chinese are outbidding every one of them in all ways possible. Their own failings are not theirs; someone else is to blame. In Trump, they have their champion.
There’s also something about the Jews, but I’ve never understood that kind of hatred. And I don’t wish to discuss it today.
This has all brought me into conflict with some of my friends, some of them close friends. Just the other night, a young lady whom I’ve regarded as someone between a daughter and a sister posted some weird video from a known misogynist about how Hillary Clinton is not fit to be President. I asked her if she knew who the author of the video was. She shot back with something about how our political views are very different. That kind of stung.
It stung because, in my interpretation of what she was telling me and posting on social media, she agreed with Trump that I’m an invader, a serial rapist, and someone who should not be trusted. That was my initial interpretation, anyway. The more I thought about it, the more I understood where she was coming from. She lives in a tiny town in Pennsyltucky. Her social network includes boys who like guns, and religious people who think anything non-Christian is an abomination to God. In a sense, it wasn’t her speaking, per se, but her experiences and the experiences of those around her.
And that’s as much as I’m willing to defend her.
To say that this election cycle has been a little trying on my friendships — in real life and online — is a bit of an understatement. My heart has been broken, somewhat, by seeing people post anti-immigration memes. I’ve been angry that Trump’s misogyny is explained away as something that men “just do all the time.” (No, it’s not.) And then there are those “friends” who are happy to troll me by making it seem like they are “just asking questions” about some of the positions I support.
There are also those friends who are old enough to know better. Some of my friends don’t know the history of how Mussolini came to power but yet claim that the populism seen in some candidates is not a harbinger of fascism. (That is more a criticism of the US educational system more than anything else.) Some of my friends don’t remember Pinochet’s ruthlessness in Chile, a ruthlessness justified by him as being a “law and order” type of situation. And some of my friends think that the nice, warm weather we’re having at the end of October is just a natural variation of our climate. (HINT: It’s not.)
As much as I’ve wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation over politics, it’s been hard to do this election. With Trump being such a xenophobe and misogynist jerk, I’m having a hard time not taking it personally when someone says they’ll vote for him. Even worse, living in Pennsyltucky has allowed me to see people turning their fear into anger and hate. What will happen after the election if they don’t get their way? One way or another, this has created a rupture between and — worse — within groups.
Eight days to go.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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