I’m in the Florida Keys right now, sitting in this long, low library. In the parking lot just now, a man sat in an old, beat-up Ford Ranger pickup, covered in large “Make America Great Again” signs, Trump/Pence bumper stickers, and a “Police Lives Matter” sticker. I stared for a couple seconds, then glanced away quickly. I couldn’t tell if he looked back at me – he was wearing sunglasses, and yes, he was white – but I felt fear and anxiety walking past. Part of me wanted to approach and ask him why he displayed these signs so prominently, but my fear won out, and I walked past with my head down.
Inside, I paid attention to my feelings. What was I so afraid of, I asked myself. And I think it was the potential for this man’s anger and hate to be directed at me. And, I assumed he was angry and hateful because of all those signs on his car. I don’t know if he was, but that’s what those signs connote for me, especially with such a proud-seeming display. I suspect many Trump voters supported him with some level of reservation, or hesitancy, or suspicion, or even shame – mostly because he was not Hillary – this would explain why the polls underestimated his support. But many others also supported him with such obvious pride, which leads me to wonder what this parking-lot guy was so proud of.
Trump’s dismissal of “Black Lives Matter”? (The “Police Lives Matter” bumpersticker is an attack on and dismissal of BLM, which attack and dismissal has a lot of racist overtones.) So I was afraid that this guy was a racist. The anger and divisiveness of Trump’s campaign? This made me afraid that this guy was angry. The violence tolerated and encouraged by Trump throughout his campaign, and after? Of course, if this guy was proud of that, it means he’s also violent. Or the complete disregard for truth with which Trump talked in his campaign (and now in his position as president)? I assume, then, that this guy doesn’t care about what’s true.
All these things I assume when I see prominent support for Trump. I assume that those who are proud to support them are angry, violent, ignorant, racist people. And so I ask myself, what does that say about me? But also, what does that say about Trump?
I’ll have to see if I have the guts to talk to someone like that in the future, because I really would like to challenge myself and my assumptions and see how true they are. But the best way to do so is probably not to approach someone in a parking lot, in an open-carry stand-your-ground state, and ask him if he’s a racist or not.
(Also, I’m a straight white male, right in the heart of Trump’s demographic comfort zone, so if I feel anxious and fearful seeing these things, I can only imagine what kind of emotions many people of color, or women, or LGBTQ people, or immigrants, or Muslims, or Mexicans, or disabled people – all of whom were directly attacked by Trump – might feel in the same situation.)
Just because those are my assumptions, though, doesn’t negate the validity of my reaction to this truck in the parking lot. I think, given so much of Trump’s campaign stood for violence and ignorance and racism and anger, it’s not so much of a stretch to assume that people who are proud to support that campaign also condone violence and ignorance and racism and anger. And now that Trump is president, he’s shown every sign of continuing to stand for those things. And as I question my assumptions, I realize that he, and many of his supporters, probably never will question theirs. Here’s hoping I’m wrong, and fearing I’m not.