Allison

It was around the time I spoke with Allison that the rollercoaster of my post-election emotions took a sudden dive. In the 48 hours after the election, I had felt confused and frightened and powerless. Then I began this project of interviewing women who voted for Trump and I started to feel optimistic. I might somehow wrap my brain around this after all. Or, if not, at least I was being productive. I was making lemonade from lemons. Just like Beyoncé.

I hate blaming Allison because I liked her very much. In fact, that was the problem.

The first three women I interviewed were so different from me. They were all politically conservative and had been their entire lives. Of course they voted for Trump. This was not such a departure.

Allison was different. She has always been a democrat. She voted for Obama.

Allison lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, who is both an engineer and an immigrant from India. She’s lived a lot of other places—Michigan, Arizona, and India. She was born in 1980. Before becoming a full-time mom, she worked for 10 years in higher education. That may help explain her three masters’ degrees. (Three!)

She grew up with a single mom. They were on welfare. She is a survivor of sexual assault. She describes herself as “97 percent pro-choice” (holding 3 percent back because she wishes women who opt for abortions received emotional support). She believes in equal rights, including marriage equality. It is not her concern which bathroom a transgender person uses.

When she voted for Obama in 2008, she wanted the “change” his campaign promised. She hoped it was more than a slogan. She was tired of domestic policies like the social assistance programs on which she grew up that breed low expectations of people and keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty. She was sick of foreign policies that fuel the industry she believes war has become.

President Obama may have intended to transform many aspects of our government but given the nature of the political system he was capable of only so much. Perhaps his health care reforms are emblematic of what he was up against. He did what he could to make sure more Americans could become insured, but his failure to address the very nature of the system has meant that the cost of the insurance is still out of reach for many of those who need it. Allison is disappointed that President Obama did not fundamentally alter a system in need of radical revisions.

Talking to Allison, I was forced to confront my own feelings about “the way things are.” If I’m being honest, I’m not all that satisfied with many aspects of our domestic and foreign policies, or the degree of “change” that has occurred over the past eight years. Maybe it’s unfair to expect such substantial alterations in such a short time, but I can’t think of any significant differences besides marriage equality and a less gloomy economy (and the fact that we had our first black president, which alone is huge). I think Obama is a fantastic human being, but I’m not sure even he is satisfied with the degree of change his presidency was able to usher in.

Allison says she’s the first to admit that Trump is not a particularly likeable guy. She thinks he was “pandering to the base” throughout his campaign. She hopes much of what he suggested, such as a ban on Muslims, was “just talk.”

To Allison, the vote for president was between two things: keeping things as-is or hurling a stick of dynamite into the status quo.

It’s horrible what washes over me when I finish my conversation with Allison. For one brief and terrifying moment everything in the looking glass makes perfect sense. But it’s like the bright flash from a nuclear explosion, offering a single moment of clarity, before a dim and bleak aftermath. I’m left gazing at an ugly path of destruction.

Dina

“He loves America,” Dina says when I ask her to tell me the number one reason she voted for Trump.

We are talking by phone on Thursday evening, two days after the election. I had been put in contact with her by a mutual friend, a yoga instructor whose classes I often take. Dina is a massage therapist who was born in 1958.

“What do you mean?” I ask because that response seems both obvious and vague. Didn’t all the potential candidates love this country? Does one run for president and not love America?

Dina is a quirky combination of characteristics. Given her profession and the inclinations of our mutual friend, whose teaching is infused with an all-encompassing spirituality, I would have thought Dina would land somewhere left on the political spectrum. Instead, she’s a far-right Christian who hits every stereotypical evangelical nail on the head: opposes same sex marriage, thinks homosexuality is unnatural, and considers abortion murder. Before completing her license for massage, she was a cashier at a grocery store for 13 years. She became a Christian at age 25 at about the time her first marriage disintegrated.

“I just think everything he’ll do as president will be to our benefit,” she says, trying to clarify her statement about Trump loving America. “Like he’ll sign trade agreements only if they favor us or he’ll secure borders to make sure the people who live here are safe. He loves this country.”

As she explained, I found myself having to reorient my point of view.

I have such a different idea of what it means to “love America.” To me, it exists in the realm of ideas: equality, freedom, acceptance of a vast spectrum of being and expressing. My thoughts on the matter have been shaped by the Statue of Liberty and the famous poem that goes:

 “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Dina went on: “Trump’s life would have been so much better had he not run for president. I truly think he did it because he cares about this country. I think his top priority will be us.”

Dina’s love demands a concrete manifestation. The huddled masses are here, many of whom are not so far from wretched that they are eager to welcome more. She wants safekeeping; she wants the security of knowing a roof will always be over her head and the heads of her children. The star-spangled sky is great as long as that’s not all that’s overhead every night when you fall asleep.

I again got that sense of being at the looking glass, peeking into another version of reality. I could see how, from Dina’s perspective, the dramatic changes in our society over the last 20 or so years—the internet, globalization, the extension of civil liberties to more people—has eroded a sense of wellbeing. Changes that I might consider progress, she finds threatening. I don’t know exactly why this is, only that my ability to see it differently, and the fact that I’ve so easily shrugged off any other way of viewing it, is one of a number of qualities that marks me as privileged.

It’s sobering to realize the ways in which your vision is narrow when for so long you’ve congratulated yourself on how broad your scope. As if a mind can only open in one direction.

It’s possible that our approach to the topic was so different that “President of the United States” didn’t even have the same job description to us.

Dina is concerned with reinforcing our physical borders, identifying enemies, and focusing on national security. Her priorities include strengthening our country’s physicality in a world that’s becoming ever-more “virtual.” She wants our national identity to be reinforced in the face of globalization. She wants an “us” vs. “them.” I guess you could say that I’m more blasé on this matter. I like the idea of “us” being the entire world. I hope someday there is no “them.”

To me, a big part of what a president does is to represent the U.S. on a global scale, leading the charge when countries address matters that affect the entire planet like climate change or humanitarian issues like populations displaced by war and natural disaster.

I can see how my perspective can only exist in the context of a sense of security and, in that way, is a luxury. I also see how depending on what is meant by “loving America,” my version may not win first prize. And, really, who’s to say Dina’s isn’t a more accurate description for a job that’s title is also “Commander in Chief.”

So I’m sitting at the looking glass, but I’m starting to recognize a few words amongst the gibberish from the other side.

Janet

Whereas Carol is not bothered by what I consider Trump’s questionable outbursts and comments, the same cannot be said for her best friend Janet. Janet, born in 1952, is one year older than Carol. They met in Catholic grade school. Though neither has maintained a steady relationship with Catholicism, their friendship is still going strong.

Janet has been married to the same man for more than 40 years. Her husband is often on the road for his job selling agricultural supplies throughout the region. She has two grown children. Her son is a police officer. Her daughter is married to a Mexican-American. She is a grandmother to several tiny tots.

Though she actually may be steelier at the core than Carol, her exterior is much softer. Janet gives out far more hugs than business cards. Janet has held a range of jobs from clothing store manager to tax preparer. Now she oversees the day-to-day operations at the marijuana shop where she is the salt to Carol’s pepper.

Janet, perhaps more than most of the women I’ve spoken with, finds Trump disgusting. Unfortunately, she finds Clinton more disgusting. Trump may be guilty of various forms of sexual misconduct, but Clinton is guilty of downplaying similar behavior perpetrated by her husband. In the aftermath of Bill’s sex scandals, Hillary did not come across as being particularly supportive of his victims. If Hillary had denounced her husband’s actions, perhaps even separated from him or divorced him, it might have been easier to believe she took those issues seriously. Instead, it appeared that women’s concerns only mattered if they didn’t get in the way of her political ambitions.

Janet points out that for every bad thing about Trump, Clinton pretty much goes toe-to-toe. Both have insulted or dismissed groups of people, both have gotten rich and powerful using questionable means, and both have ties to elite groups (deep-pocketed interest groups vs. billionaire cronies) that likely will affect their agendas.

Both give off a similar sense that “normal people” rules don’t apply to them. Private server? Not paying taxes? Perhaps neither is illegal exactly, but they don’t seem particularly ethical either.

To Janet, here is the number one difference between the candidates: Clinton has done all of these things while in various positions of public service. For this reason alone, Joyce says she holds Clinton to a higher standard.

Janet finds Clinton untrustworthy at least in part because she is so much more adept than Trump at concealing her true motives and feelings. Trump may mock a disabled person from a worldwide stage, but if he can’t keep a lid on something as obviously wrong as that, there’s probably not much he keeps hidden.

I’ve heard and read the opinion from some people who didn’t support Trump that a vote for him was an affirmation of every aspect of his character—the implication being that you, too, support a registry for Muslims or that you give a metaphorical thumbs up to everything he’s said about women or black people or Mexicans. This seems reasonable until I turn the tables.

I see clearly the ways in which Hillary was a less-than-ideal candidate. She voted for war. She’s gotten rich on the dime of special interests groups—and who knows how many “backroom deals” she’s negotiated. Looking back, I don’t think she handled her husband’s various sex scandals as well as she could have. Undeniably, an element of her political persona is less than authentic. I’ve chalked this up to the compromises she’s had to make to be taken seriously in the political arena. But maybe I’ve been too dismissive of her flaws.

When I voted for Clinton did it mean I supported every comment or decision she’s ever made? I certainly hope not.

But if I’m willing to let myself off the hook for Hillary’s bad qualities, why am I so inclined to hold Trump supporters accountable for his every misogynistic or xenophobic impulse?

Janet doesn’t think Trump’s bad qualities are more evil than Hillary’s. Janet thinks the worst of his are hyperbole and bluster whereas Clinton’s have actually hurt and killed people. Yes, I say, but do you know how many people he is likely to harm and endanger now that he’s in office?

Then I realize how insane this conversation is. We are judging presidential candidates by who’s done or will do the least amount of damage, by who is likely to ruin the fewest lives, by who we think has lied and cheated less.

This makes the evangelical Christian support for Trump all the more mysterious to me…

Carol

The thing is, I really like and respect Carol. She’s one of the few women I’ve interviewed for this project who I knew before the election. If I scroll to the word “scrappy” in my mental dictionary, there’s an image of Carol, all 100 pounds of her, deep tan and blond-tipped pixie hair. She IS genuine—and often hilarious. Like Trump, she will blurt her truth regardless of who might be within earshot—though her outbursts tend to reveal a charmingly goofy character. I know she appreciates me and doesn’t care who I voted for. She would love me even if Hillary had won.

In the aftermath of the election, what am I to do about my friendship with Carol? How am I to feel about the millions of women like her who supported Trump? Was their ballot also cast against the sisterhood we hold dear?

Carol grew up in a middle class household, which was likely more secure than my own bohemian childhood. She had parents who were married and a house full of siblings. My parents were broken up by the time I was six; my half-brother didn’t arrive until I was 16. But instability can have its perks. Carol has not lived in a bunch of cities or travelled like I have. She did not feel compelled to earn advanced degrees in some desperate attempt to prove her worth.

Nor did Carol’s upbringing automatically translate into a cushy life. For a while worked at a bank. Then for over 20 years she ran her framing shop as sole proprietor and worker. Most of that time, she didn’t have the safety net of a dual income household.

Watching her get her new venture (the marijuana retail shop) up and running has given me a sense of the struggle of business ownership. I’m accustomed to being an employee; I can see that in the business world, that’s a bit like being a child. I don’t put the food on the table or the roof overhead. Someone else worries about revenue and how all the little mouths will get fed. I just eat off my plate.

If it weren’t for Carol’s scrappy nature, I don’t think she could have done it. Of the few new pot shops in town, hers is the only owned by a woman and not backed by a pre-existing corporation. I’ve witnessed her go toe to toe with officials at all levels of government. Just when she thinks she’s complied with every rule and regulation, new ones pop up as well as slight variations to old ones. We hear so much talk about the importance of small businesses to our economy, but from an owner’s perspective I can see how the relationship with government doesn’t exactly feel supportive. Small businesses have the normal fight of appealing to customers and generating income, but they also struggle with the entities tasked with their oversight. It’s a battle on all fronts. I’m sure this challenge is magnified due to the nature of Mary’s new business.

Carol might be right in assuming that under Clinton this situation would likely have stayed the same. I can understand why she thinks Trump might be more sympathetic. As a businessman, his has faced a similar struggle on a grander scale. Whatever the case, for me to pass judgment on Carol’s opinions regarding the matter seems inappropriate and disrespectful. Having never shouldered the responsibility of a small business myself, I don’t think I’ve earned that right.

But I had to know one thing. Carol is not conservative when it comes to social issues. She freely admits that had she been unable to have an abortion when she was younger, her life could have turned out very differently. She is glad to have had that choice.

“How will you feel if Roe v. Wade is overturned, which could make abortion illegal?” I asked.

“I don’t think that will happen,” she said. She is under the impression that existing civil liberties either can’t or won’t be turned back. “But if it does, I’ll be angry.”

Regardless, Carol had no hesitation voting for Trump. Several months before the election she enthusiastically declared her support for him. I laughed because I thought that was a funny one.

The joke was on me.

Janet, Carol’s best friend, cast her vote for Trump with far more angst. “He’s an egotistical bastard,” she told me in no uncertain terms. “But she’s an egotistical bitch. The big difference is she’s been in office all these years, which changes everything in my mind.”