The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the axe as its handle was made of wood and they thought it was one of them. — Proverb
I walked into a drive-in on the main drag in a mountain town right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This rural town was solidly backing Trump. The town was quiet and mostly closed up. This vintage little joint had almost five stars, so I chose it to grab a bite. I was greeted by stares from the two women and a young man working inside. They looked me up and down more than once as they sized me up as belonging or outsider. I think I called their bluff. It felt somewhat chilly, as I was a stranger in town counting on hope in the purchase of two orders of fries. My soul, however, felt empty after traveling roads of despair lined with boarded up shops, silent streets, and dollar stores on every corner. But, as I was born with the gift of gab, a gift from my father, I attempted to warm up a room of tension and uncertainty.
I broke the ice by sharing my fear of driving back down the mountain on the only two-lane road available, complete with one hairpin turn after another and a drop off that made me fear for my life. They laughed and told me to take the gravel road; “It’s worse,” they snickered. I laughed and asked them which way to the most glorious vista off the Parkway. They debated back and forth, and then gave me detailed directions to the place that most accurately alludes to heaven. I asked them about the neighboring town. They rolled their eyes and said, “It’s for rich people.” I asked what was there, and they looked at each other and laughed, “Fancy restaurants for rich people.” The great divide, rich and poor, haves and have nots, the landscape of America. The irony begets their support for a President who claims concern, and yet caters to the folks in the neighboring town. The room had become warm and friendly. Our hearts had met in fear and recognition. They packed up my fries, and as I headed out, I told them I would call if I got lost, since they would be open till nine. They walked me to the door, we said our goodbyes. The small town feel of declared personhood, and yet I could not imagine these very kind souls breaking bread with Donald Trump. They had no idea my political affiliation, we were just people, strangers in the moment, laced with kindness, and warmed by the grace of our own humanity. I walked back to my car and drove towards the mountains, wondering how our country became so divided.
As the sun was dropping in the winter sky, I followed directions to McKinsey Point. I got out of my car and gazed at the breathtaking view. I thought about all the friends who I loved, and yet I could no longer understand. I knew Donald Trump would see no beauty or value in this place high above the small towns I just left. He would destroy these mountains for profit if he could. I saw the lights down below as they twinkled in the sunset sky. I wondered if those people would be okay with their mountains being cleared and destroyed for energy companies and their profits? Or do they not hear the same news that pounds me every day with the desires of an old, crazy, and decrepit man incapable of reverence or respect of the planet we call home? As the moon began to glow against the mountains, I returned to my car and headed towards the long and winding road leading to my temporary home.
Just days before, a friend of my dad’s sent me an email. He promised my father that he would never forget my disabled sister. He has lived that promise by giving my sister a hundred dollars on every Christmas, and not forgetting a single birthday. This man is the result of a powerful democratic family in South Carolina. I found out the year before that he voted for Donald Trump. When he found out I did not, the wall that Trump creates between people began to rise. I could feel it in the words of our email exchange. I was so surprised that this very good man could support the likes of Trump. This gentleman has shown my “retarded” sister more kindness than anyone, and yet he voted for a man who cruelly mocked a disabled reporter for all the world to see. There is a gap there in that place with no bridge. How do people put a man in office who does not even pretend to represent their perceived values? What is in the gut of our country’s divide?
I know so many people who voted for Trump. I love many of these people. I love the voter and hate the vote. I just wrestle with “What did I miss?” What creates a Trump voter? Did I miss racism? Did I miss privilege? Was I out of touch with their brand of Christianity? When did they leave science behind? At what point was hate and violence acceptable? When did serving become unimportant? In my desire for a more perfect world, I realize what I see as perfect is in no way what they see. Can we take two Americas and make them one, or is that compromise no longer a possiblity?
When I see God as good and loving, immersed in nature, they see an angry God atop a mountain, doling out judgement and punishment. I see education as a virtue, they see it as a waste of investment. I see the planet as sacred and fragile, they see it as an owned product for commerce. I see love as all encompassing, and they see hate as a powerful tool for division. How do we reconcile these vast schisms and create a nation whose foundation is immersed in Democratic principles?
When we cannot discuss our differences and respect one another as humans molded by experiences and changed by our own brand of suffering, our core is shaken. That which makes us great is robbed by the powerful whose ulterior motive is to keep us angry and divided, because a truly united states would render the kings and dictators helpless. In our naivety, some become followers to men in red hats, men behind pulpits of benightedness, and personalities that tunnel our vision from leaders to followers, and from visionaries to prophets of a queasy past. In our manmade chaos, we have become vulnerable to our brothers and sisters of a flag that really can only fly for the free, and yet free is now a 2+2 =5 equation. So with blinders and fake news, adversarial interference, hate and division, the greatest country on Earth is stumbling. In the empty streets of despair, and in the gold plated greed of power, we watch in real time the failures of our country as it no longer serves its people, but rather sucks the riches from every nook and cranny as it depletes our existence of what should be rightfully exalted.
So we now have two armies in America, a red one, and a blue one. I have to say, I will not be drafted. I will not join. I am an American. Every value I have is heartfelt for my American family. I may not agree with you, but I will listen to you. I never worship politicians. When Obama was campaigning, he sold me on his eloquent words and hope-filled message. He became a trusted voice in a world of corruption. And then he was elected. I celebrated for hope, for change, until he stood before the American people and said no bankers would be charged. That it may have been morally wrong to collapse our economy in the name of greed, but they broke no laws. He could not look into the camera. He was bought. I still think he is a fine man, he was just another casualty in our corporate owned national community. My expectations for him were deflated. Then Trump was elected, a brazen wreck who can look in the camera and lie to the American people day after day. And yet, their wretched faces of suffering, drooling at his rallies as he calls people scum and invites violence and hatred. I can assure Trump followers that if Obama had done anything like this at his rallies, the evangelicals and Republican politicians would have been appalled, calling out for his arrest. Why do Trump supporters not see through the low class, low rate acting of politicians literally drunk on greed? They have no plans to change lives for the better. None. In fact, as our small towns, big cities, schools, hospitals, and churches begin to crumble, they will blame the immigrants, the liberals, the queers, the women, and the babies for the demise. My question is when do we realize that we are corporate owned, and our politicians are beholden to payouts, not our country’s demise? They make us hate each other. They make us suffer. They want you to trust them, and the gullible do. We need new leadership in America. Our expectations should be the upward mobility of our lives, our children’s lives.
So I have lost friends and relatives over Trump. On Election Day in 2016, a childhood friend, from a strong Democratic family, told me she wanted to drain the swamp. She voted for Trump. I was shell shocked. I called her later to apologize for my disbelief. I never heard back from her. I am the enemy. I had to create a Facebook page with no Trump supporters, the conversations became nasty. I decided I would rather keep real friends in the red army off of my blue page. I remember my parents had friends from the opposite party, they never described them as enemies. Our democracy is fragile. If you are a patriot, you will align with those who love you, and agree to disagree. We need one army in America. We need to keep our country honest. We need to end corporate ownership. Mostly, it needs to work for you and for me. You may feel second class because that is where they want us. Rise above that ranking. Americans deserve well-paying jobs, healthcare, home ownership, freedom to practice our faith, downtime, a healthy planet, freedom of the press, good schools, and the opportunity to think. As my parents used to tell me, “God gave you a brain, you need to use it.” There is nothing that could benefit Americans more right now than an intelligent, thoughtful populous. I am not the enemy. I want you to win…I want us all to win. When we all win, our country wins. Maybe those folks at the drive-in, without knowing, saw me as being on their side, because I am.
The middle path makes me wary. . . . But in the middle of my life, I am coming to see the middle path as a walk with wisdom where conversations of complexity can be found, that the middle path is the path of movement. . . . In the right and left worlds, the stories are largely set. . . . We become missionaries for a position . . . practitioners of the missionary position. Variety is lost. Diversity is lost. Creativity is lost in our inability to make love with the world. -Terry Tempest Williams