“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.