A lot of my foreign friends are flabbergasted about the recent news of Donald Trump being the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party. As an American, I’ve been asked a lot about it because many simply don’t understand how it could have happened. How did this man get so far? What would it mean if he was elected? He can’t be serious about building a wall along the Mexican border, can he? But the biggest question was who the heck would support a man like this? I recently found a lot of these answers- by actually engaging in a discussion with a Trump supporter.
While I was home for a wedding, I got the opportunity to meet two members of my extended family living at different sides of the country. Both had children, jobs, cars- the American dream. Both were friendly and outgoing individuals who celebrated this chance to be together, though admittedly neither had met the other before. And both were more than happy to discuss their political views despite being told in advance that politics were not welcome at this party. However, one man was a Sanders supporter while the other was a Trump man. The conversation I had with them was fascinating.
I had decided while making the transatlantic flight from Germany that I was going to be almost permanently drunk at the open bar. I also decided that I was going to get as much sun as possible while home. So that’s how I, completely jet lagged, drunk, and sun burnt, ended up in the pool with a mojito in my hand between these two family members. Now honestly, I didn’t really follow a lot of the election season besides what was on “The Daily Show” and Facebook feeds, so I was a bit uncertain what would happen in this conversation. I also had never met a Trump supporter in person (not that many expats support Trump, from my experience) and was a bit apprehensive about starting a political discussion with one. But, for better or for worse, I didn’t have to worry about starting the discussion, because they were more than happy to do it for me.
The Trump supporter started hot out of the gate, stating that “if America was a house, you would put a lock on the house” (referring to Trump’s views on immigration). I found this ironic because the man himself is an immigrant, but I kept quiet for the time being. He stated that he worked hard for the American dream, to have a wife, kids, house, and car. And truthfully, he did work hard- his blue collar job where he sweat and strained made that life possible. In his eyes, Trump’s business ventures were a success because a person could literally stand in front of a building and say “Trump did this”. The country needed to be run more like a business, according to him. He admitted to disliking the hateful things Trump said and incited, and he was of course against all of them, but what really mattered was that Trump “wasn’t like the other politicians”.
The Sanders side of the argument had a more pessimistic view of Trump. In his eyes, Trump was exactly like the other politicians. The man was a blowhard who shouldn’t be in charge of a company, let alone a country. What Sanders was offering was a departure from politics as usual and a campaign for the people. But while he was talking, a weird sensation came over me- and it wasn’t the booze. I began to notice that I could swap out a lot of what was applying to Sanders with Trump. Both were leading people who felt disenfranchised, ignored, and passionate about their support. My relatives weren’t the people you saw on TV at the Sanders or Trump rallies, cheering loudly whenever a buzzword was spoken or railing against the “enemy”. They were just people looking for someone who spoke to them; Trump and Sanders spoke to them (or at least a part of them).
Let me be abundantly clear. It is my opinion that Donald Trump is a bigoted, bullying, lying baboon. Putting aside the talking points that he “doesn’t act like a politician” (he does) or he’s a builder who “made his own fortune” (he hasn’t) or even that he “sticks to his guns” (no, no, and no), I cannot consider myself proud to be an American and support this man. I may also cause some stir among my liberal friends when I say that I’m not sold on Sanders as president either; at least that man seems to be honest about his platform (though I seriously doubt he’d be effective in office). However, I felt for my relatives and countless other Americans, and I have begun to understand why Trump and Sanders have gained so much support.
One thing that both of my relatives had in common was they thought the system was broken. I’d go so far as to say that they also had it in common that they were uncertain about the future. Quite honestly, I think everyone is uncertain during election season. But what really made these primaries special was how both Trump and Sanders were turning that uncertainty into a call for support. Sanders named as his enemies the banks (which admittedly repaid the money from the TARP bailout) and corporations (…you may have me there, Sanders), while Trump has named immigrants… and pretty much everyone else. I might go so far as to call it “fear” rather than “uncertainty”, but to do so would be unfair (at least to Sanders).
Now you’ll be happy to hear, my dear reader, we met on common ground. It was agreed that the system wasn’t perfect and that both sides just wanted something different. My relatives left it at that and were later seen laughing and shaking hands. There was no bad blood between them; they were family, after all. In the end all they wanted was to be heard and for things to change. And to be fair, I get that sometimes radical change is good. But like my relatives and I realized, you need to have that common ground to get anything done. I can’t tell you if either Trump or Sanders can do that when elected, nor can I tell you who will get my vote come November. I just hope to God that we as a country can find a way to reach this common ground together with the next president of the United States, whoever she may be.
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