“Donald Trump: death or exile?” That was the half–serious joke I told to my customers at the grocery store where I worked. To some people today, that might seem controversial, but back in July 2015, about three weeks after Trump had announced his candidacy and managed to offend every demographic in the United States, even some white people, it was universally good humour.
Market Basket Store 20 in Woburn, Massachusetts has a diverse workplace. We had people from all walks of life. Many of my coworkers were either immigrants or children of immigrants from places like Brazil, Argentina, India, Albania, Ukraine and Portugal. Many came from working class backgrounds, and my managers had worked their way up to their positions from entry-level jobs. We had high school and college students who just wanted to earn a bit of money, and we had people whose very livelihoods depended on their job.
Whatever background we had, we all were parts of the same community. We were more than coworkers: in fact, we were friends. So when many of the people I cared about were being insulted, I took it personally myself. Donald Trump disgusted me, and I hoped that he would drop out. I only wanted respectable people to become president, and Trump was very far from that.
• • •
When the Republican primary was effectively over, it was May 4, 2016. My preferred candidate, John Kasich, had just announced that he was dropping out of the race. I respected Kasich as a person, and his views were very close to my own on most issues. He had promised to fight all the way to the convention for the Republican nomination, but Trump’s margins of victory had only become larger over time, and the anti-Trump vote was no longer enough to beat him. Ted Cruz had dropped out the day before, and though I despised him, I found myself wishing that even Cruz could have won.
On the Democratic side, it was still to be decided, and I prayed that Bernie would win, so that, even though I disagreed strongly with him, I could at least vote for somebody respectable. But soon enough it was June. Hillary, with all of her increasingly unpopular super-delegates, had won the nomination, and I had a difficult choice to make.
• • •
July 5, 2016: “No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” said James Comey. Frankly, after a litany of what sounded like wrongdoings, that was the last thing anyone expected him to say. Comey practically made an opening argument for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton over the course of more than ten minutes, and then made a complete U-turn. It was strange to me, and to most of the people I knew. Even where I was from, in traditionally Democratic Massachusetts, people thought Hillary was guilty. People thought the meeting between the Attorney General and Bill Clinton was sketchy as hell. In short, people were a bit ticked off.
Later that week, Clinton had an interview and said that she was cleared of any wrongdoing, Colin Powell did this, it was within the rules, etc. Almost all of this was shown to be false in one way or another. Even worse than that, most media outlets and Democrats were trying to make it sound like a small deal. In case you readers didn’t know, under laws such as the Espionage Act and the Freedom of Information Act, each email kept on the server could have constituted a felony charge. Laws concerning tampering with evidence made her deletion of 33,000 emails suspect, especially when not overseen by a government official. These things were hardly of the sort to lie about.
I thought to myself, “If she had come out on day one and said, ‘I made a mistake. We are giving the authorities everything they ask for. I apologize for this,’ then I could probably vote for her.” But the only thing more insulting to me as a voter than the first twelve months of lies was that she continued to lie. And I didn’t even want to think about the election.
• • •
A truck. No explosives. No guns. No pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line. Just a truck, and a bunch of people celebrating Bastille Day.
Many people liked to talk about fear mongering throughout the campaign. Many people thought when the Republicans were foretelling the apocalypse that it was being manipulative. Many people thought the world wasn’t ending at all. But seeing the body counts on the news didn’t give me much confidence in the idea that things were alright.
I remembered that if April 15, 2013 hadn’t been a state holiday, I would’ve been in school, in Marlborough Street, in the Back Bay of Boston. As it was the end of senior year, I might’ve left school early. I would’ve walked to Copley Square Station, right where one of the bombs was planted. Even with the day off, I had been considering whether or not I wanted to go down to watch the race. One might’ve considered staying at home comforting, but it was far from it. The manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers shut down the city of Boston and its closest suburbs. Rumors went around about a sleeper cell in other parts of Massachusetts. Nobody felt safe.
I knew the world wasn’t ending this past summer. I knew it wasn’t going to end any time soon. However, that summer averaged one terrorist attack roughly every four days: shootings, bombings, hostage situations, you name it, and all around the world. And while the Republicans were blowing these incidents out of proportion, any Democrat who spoke about it was booed, almost as if there was no need to worry. But I was afraid. Many people I knew were afraid of what had happened, what was going to happen. And only one party was truly acknowledging our fears.
• • •
The Republican convention was of only adequate quality overall. There were some good speakers, and some silly sounding ones. Many Republicans hadn’t shown up out of protest against their nominee. Ted Cruz had taken the stage and promptly proceeded to make an idiot of himself on national television, becoming wildly unpopular overnight. Melania had taken a few lines from Michelle. It was not “great”.
When it was Trump’s turn to speak, he had for a few weeks been trying to increase outreach from the GOP to the minorities in inner-city communities, and the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando shooting. But whom was he kidding? This was a man who had said he might not have supported any other Republican who had won the nomination. This was a man who insulted the wives of his fellow candidates. This was a man who actually welcomed discussion about the size of his “hands”. My expectations of bigoted, abrasive, bombastic, off-script stupidity were justifiable, given the evidence.
He took the stage to thunderous applause, and I sat on the couch watching and waiting on every word. It was a mild surprise to see him reading off of a teleprompter, but the novelty soon wore off as he frequently returned to his macho ad-libs. Much of what he had to say was about the failures of the American political system. Given that he was the nominee, I found that a bit ironic. He carried out a damning criticism of Democrats, and especially Hillary Clinton, but when the crowd chanted, “Lock her up”, he shrugged it off and said that she would be defeated in November. This took me aback, as I had never seen him treat any candidate on the Republican side with any such decency.
I was still skeptical at the point when he said that he planned to protect the LGBTQ community from terrorism in the wake of the Orlando shooting. There was a lot of applause for this statement, a standing ovation, but I assumed that was just part of the show. Then he said words that struck me deeply:
“And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
I had followed elections since 2008, primaries, general elections, mid-term elections: I had never heard a Republican genuinely say something that amounted to respect for the LGBTQ community. As someone who had disagreed with Republicans, including my parents at some times, on the gay marriage issue for a few years, I thought Trump had initially been trying to be politically convenient. But here he was, not only giving support to the LGBTQ community, but also criticizing the Republicans by marveling at them finally coming around.
I watched the rest of the speech, but something had changed, and all of a sudden I was withholding my skepticism. I had criticized Trump more than anybody I knew, and was very outspoken on my dislike for him. But now I knew he wanted actual change, for his party and for the nation. I knew he was standing up for some sort of principle, despite the many things he’d said. I knew I could actually believe that, unlike so many politicians before him, Trump meant what he said when he claimed to care about people.
And that was when I first became open to the possibility of voting for him.
• • •
The Democratic convention was mired in bad publicity before it even started. Wikileaks had released emails from the Democratic National Committee, showing that they had organized the entire party’s structure to make sure Bernie Sanders lost the primary, and by many unethical means to boot. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned as DNC chair, and then, controversially, got a job with the Clinton campaign. In what was seen as a further insult to Sanders supporters, Hillary chose her Vice Presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, a former head of the DNC himself, and very establishment. This led to hundreds of protesters gathering in Philadelphia, and an ironic moment when the Democratic Convention put up a fence to keep them out.
Not even Sanders’ speech endorsing Clinton escaped criticism from his own supporters. They still wanted his political revolution, but he could not give it to them. Instead, they felt abandoned, and most of them walked out.
As for the rest of the convention, Leon Panetta’s speech on opposing ISIS was booed, for reasons I still don’t understand. Bill Clinton talked about falling in love with Hillary, leaving me with an overall odd feeling. And Hillary’s speech was exactly what you’d expect and nothing more. There was no real change in my opinion of her for the better, so I was leaning Trump from that point.
• • •
Coming back to campus in September was not without its difficulties. This isn’t to say that everybody had the same positions concerning the election, but there wasn’t too much variety either. The impression was that the election was at best a choice between the lesser of two evils. Nobody denied that both candidates had issues, but almost everybody believed that Trump was far worse than Hillary.
The entire year before was passed with very little thought for the election. Everyone joked about it from time to time, but nobody ever talked about it very seriously. It could be ignored. It wasn’t really happening. We all had a bit of distance from it. But now, it was unavoidable. The news was always covering the election. The rhetoric was as polarizing as it was sensational. The world was on the edge of its seat, and almost everybody at King’s was rooting for Hillary. I myself had always been willing to talk about any topic and express any opinion of my own, but this situation gave me pause. In the end, I figured I could still be authentic to myself. The arguments that ensued were very testy, but, happily, I was able to keep my friendships going–not the most typical outcome for the people I know.
• • •
The story of October was that Trump had a scandal, and a big one. The Access Hollywood tape was beyond crude–it was downright disgusting. I could barely listen to what he was saying, I was so disgusted. That kind of talk treated women like pieces of meat. That kind of talk thought women could just be bought with fame and money. That kind of talk was absolutely unacceptable. Nobody should ever talk about anyone like that.
Two days after the release of the tape, the second presidential debate was on, and I was watching. I had no clue what was going to happen, but I expected Trump was going to be destroyed. He had just given Hillary, the media, everybody the ammunition they needed. I had no desire to vote for anyone at that point, and I was even hoping the Republicans would remove Trump from the ticket. I was that mad.
Then, something weird happened. Prior to the debate, Trump held a press conference, and most media were reporting that holding it was dangerous: Trump would get easily ripped to shreds. But that didn’t happen, because he showed up with Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick, all of whom were accusing Bill Clinton of coercive sexual acts, and Hillary of intimidating or silencing them. Also present was Kathy Shelton: she was the 12 year-old girl that was raped in 1975. Hillary defended the rapist, got him off on lesser charges, and, allegedly, bragged about the case on multiple occasions.
Even further, when Trump took the stage for the second debate, he was cast as having practically lost the election. Nobody was going to vote for him, except for that “basket of deplorables”. Any idea that he could continue the campaign was only the result of his madness and the misogyny of his supporters.
But Trump fought back again. From the minute the debate started, Hillary Clinton and the moderators, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, had Trump in their crosshairs. They painted Trump with broad strokes, as, I suppose, was their duty. But Trump pivoted attention back to Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings: the protection of Bill Clinton, the 33,000 emails, the Clinton foundation, everything. And while pundits thought his performance was aggressive, combative, and un-presidential, he had won me over again. What he said was unacceptable, but he at least had the decency to apologize for it, even as he also defended himself.
Hillary Clinton, to her discredit in my eyes, kept misrepresenting the email scandal, blaming Russians, anything but take full responsibility. Not only that, she wouldn’t take it to Trump in a way that seemed to take what he said seriously. She smirked, and made stump speeches–controlled, even, but dispassionate. Some friends said that, if she had been more passionate, she would’ve been dismissed as an emotional woman. I didn’t believe that for myself, because it would’ve shown me that she cared genuinely for others. Trump, by being himself, for better or worse, showed that he cared about right and wrong.
And what did I think? I thought that Hillary deserved just as much criticism as Trump. I thought that any political system that protected the Clintons from 20 years of wrongdoing needed to be destroyed. Trump was not a better person than Hillary, but he was taking more responsibility in my eyes, and if he had a chance of bringing my country’s political system to its knees, I was signing up.
• • •
As I had never been to a political event of any kind before, I decided to take the opportunity to go to Trump’s rally in Manchester, NH, one day before the election. The lines were long, and filled with people from all over Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. When we got inside, however, the room didn’t seem full at all. Given that the past week had seen Hillary be cleared again by James Comey and also recover in the polls, I didn’t expect Trump to win.
But by the time Trump took the stage, the SNHU Arena, which holds about 12,000 people, was completely full. My mother remarked that our row of four seats was full of Hillary’s constituents: a millennial (me), a woman (my mother), and two men of African descent, one of whom was a Haitian immigrant. And I looked around the arena. As much as I could see, at least half of the audience was women, and there was a decent minority contingent as well. They were cheering loudly, all of them, for the warm-up speakers. When Trump finally came along, they stayed on their feet for almost all of his speech.
It was exhilarating, and for the first time, I thought Trump might just win.
The next day, I went to the voting booths. As I walked over, I thought once more about what I was going to do. I thought about everything that had happened, and everything that could happen afterwards. And I thought and breathed deeply. You never are quite sure about yourself until you find yourself in the booth. But then I knew what my decision was going to be, and I filled in the bubble next to Trump’s name.
• • •
My mom had fallen asleep on the couch, but I woke her up at 3am on Wednesday morning to say I had been right. Pennsylvania had swung to Trump, and he’d just won the election. We were a bit ecstatic, because, for the first time, we felt like the elites, the special interests and the corrupt had been defeated.
Trump came out to give his victory speech looking like he was overwhelmed. I don’t think even he had thought much about what would happen if he won. But there he was, the President-Elect. He gave a gracious speech, and did no dishonor to Hillary Clinton or anyone else that night. Instead, he thanked all the people who had helped him, and promised once more to do his best for the American people.
• • •
But this didn’t make everyone happy, of course. My own sister called crying, scared about what had just happened, and my mother had to comfort her. As for the rest of the aftermath, it was best described as everyone flipping out at the same time. It was at once comical and frustrating. Anti-Trump protests broke out in cities across the country, some of which turned into full-on riots where people got hurt. The media came up with thousands of new explanations for Trump’s victory every day. The worst of Trump supporters started holding essentially Neo-Nazi rallies and meetings, or else harassing members of any minority. It was bad.
But what struck me the most was how many people thought it was about hatred. “Whitelash” was the term used by CNN contributor Van Jones, and many co-opted the phrase. What did I believe? I remembered my grandmother, who was a working-class single mother for most of her life, and without a college education. She had been a lifelong Democrat when the Democrats were for the poor. And she said, “The poor man would have his turn, then the rich man would have theirs.” But no one could say anymore that either party was for the real people. Trump was different. He seemed interested in people who had been long left behind. And so when the time came, to overthrow a dirty establishment, Trump was voted in.
And in the midst of all this, Trump had, strangely enough, begun to soften. He denounced his racist supporters, and urged them to stop their activities. He said he wouldn’t fight against gay marriage. He decided not to ever pursue charges against Hillary Clinton. He was going to keep some of the aspects of Obamacare. He was still going to deport criminal illegal immigrants aliens, but was open to different possibilities for those who were law-abiding law-abiding residents. In a completely shocking move to me, he even said he was open to staying in the Paris Agreement on climate change.
All of the things I had hoped for were true. Donald Trump was showing himself to be better than he was on the campaign. He was showing that he was willing to work with people, and that he wouldn’t be disgraceful in victory. And as I sit here, writing this last section, I can express to you, reader, a feeling of hope. Hope for the future, and for a President who, though with plenty of faults, may just do well for the people of my country. And if not, well, then many of the same people who elected him, including myself, who fought hard for the victory, will also fight hard for what is right.
In any case, at least we know that we, the people, can win now, no matter what stands against us.