I recently returned from a two-week road trip. I drove through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and California, mostly on back roads like CA-49 and CA-89 (which are gorgeous, if you haven’t experienced them). I usually stayed at hotels in smaller towns like Pahrump, Nevada; Salmon, Idaho; and Lakeview, Oregon.
During my trip, I saw several hundred banners, signs, bumper stickers and hats urging me to vote for Donald Trump next month. I even saw one huge sign by the side of the road in Oregon that told me, “You’re in Trump Country now.”
Gulp: that gave me pause.
I didn’t see one Biden/Harris sign during my entire trip.
In Ely, Nevada, one creative businessperson had created a huge banner, probably 15 feet wide and 10 feet tall, proclaiming: “Vote for Trump: No More Bullshit”. This made me laugh out loud; otherwise, I kept my mouth shut the whole trip. I wasn’t looking for a debate or discussion, I just wanted to listen and learn: why do people admire someone like Donald Trump? I knew that they must have good reasons, I just couldn’t imagine what they were.
Here are three statements that sum up what I heard during my two weeks in TrumpLand:
“We don’t mind taking care of people. Hell, we take care of our own. We just don’t want to be told that we have to take care of people.”
“Biden is a wimp. Milquetoast. Harris has more balls than he ever will.”
“Trump is a real man who says what he believes, even if you don’t like it.”
Many people see Trump as a rebel. A shit-disturber. Someone who won’t play by the rules. And they like that. In fact, they see it as patriotic. If you go back to the founding fathers and mothers of this country, they came here to be free to worship as they chose and live as they willed. Remember the Boston Tea Party? “No more masks!”. I mean: “No taxation without representation!”
See where I’m going with this?
For many people I talked with, Trump represents the hell-raiser, macho man that Marlon Brando, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicolson and James Dean used to play in movies. These guys fought “the system” and refused to play by the rules (i.e., Trump’s debate performance). While most of my friends find this appalling, many of the people I spoke to on my road trip thought it was great: “You can’t shut him up. He just keeps telling the truth”.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it.
Instead of becoming even more polarized – thinking that these people are ignorant – I wanted to understand where they were coming from. I’m looking for what we all share, what we have in common.
Perhaps having an open mind is a good place to start. I admit that, inwardly, I cringed when listening to a few of the Trumpians I met on my travels. But, I did my best to be open to what they had to say. I refuse to see them as the “enemy”. I just can’t do it anymore. No one is the enemy. We’re all in this together, even if it seems impossible that we have anything in common.
As a psychotherapist, I am a constant witness to human need and desire. I do my best to help people conquer their fears and realize their dreams. I do this for everyone, regardless of political persuasion or personal beliefs. In my twenty-plus years as a therapist, I’ve had staunch Republican clients, far-left Democrat clients, and everyone in between. We’re all the same once you dig beneath the surface. And, I admit, sometimes you gotta dig pretty deep to get past all our inner walls and defenses.
I’ve returned from my trip older and wiser. I have empathy for people who embrace the cowboy/girl way of life and don’t want to be told what to do. I have more understanding of how Trump is a rebel hero to many people.
I know that understanding and empathy are not the solution for all the problems we face.
But, it’s a start.