We all have our story of where we were and what we were doing when we learned of Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
Mine was at a rest stop off the I-94 in Michigan.
Yes, you heard it. Of all the places in the world we could have been, Bruno and I were in the United States during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
I expect that a few readers stumbling upon this blog post may have been relieved, or even ecstatic at the news of a Trump presidency. My own initial reaction, however, was to want to turn Totoyaya – our camper van – right around and drive back into Canada.
Wandering Footsteps is almost never about politics. I share my thoughts on the world here, but they generally revolve around food, travel experiences, special encounters, cool places, and road trips. And even though this post is about Trump, it’s not about politics, really. I’m going to refrain from explaining why I loathe him or why this election was so important to me, a non-American. I don’t want to alienate or anger any readers here, and I assure any Trump-lovers that you can – and should –read this post until the end.
On November 9th, 2016, I learned Trump would be president of the United States. And, without dramatizing, my world came crashing down. My emotions swayed from disbelief to hopelessness, from anger to grief, and from fear to hatred. To me, the world felt over. My faith in humanity was shattered. Yet it appeared I was the only one to feel this way – all around me people were going about their daily lives, smiling, saying “good morning,” doing their groceries, driving their cars. It was like I was floating in some alternate universe.
My emotions were magnified by several things: the fact that Bruno didn’t share my despair; that I had limited internet to help me feel connected through What’s App and Facebook to others that did share my feelings; and especially, that I was just beginning an extended trip through the United States.
When my initial reaction to the phrase, President-Elect Trump, was to want to make a giant U-turn back to Canada, I was mimicking the reaction of hordes of Americans who had managed to crash the Canadian Immigration website.
At the end of that most dreadful, emotional, and confusing of days, Bruno and I arrived in Joliet, Illinois and parked at a “travel center” (a large gas station where truckers can sleep) for the night. It was dark out, and I was walking alone past a long row of trucks to the toilet. And I felt scared, a sentiment I rarely feel on the road (even in supposedly scary places like Africa or the Middle East). I felt scared because a man who has been accused of sexually abusing countless women had just been told by his country that not only was that acceptable, but that he was who people wanted as their leader. What message had that sent to the many lonely truck drivers I was now walking past?
I admit that with my fear came a wave of prejudice. I didn’t want to interact with a single Trump supporter. My Facebook post, “If you helped Trump win the White House, you can feel free to unfriend me on Facebook and in life,” demonstrates that. At least one person took me up on that offer, but it wouldn’t be so easy navigating through the United States with that outlook – especially on Route 66, our planned route south for the winter.
See, Route 66 travels through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before reaching Los Angeles. In other words, it traverses Trump’s voting base. I would be encountering the masses of gun-toting, immigrant-hating, steak-eating hillbillies, cowboys, and farmers that gave Trump the Whitehouse. My travel plans couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Or was I set to travel down Route 66 at exactly the right time?
After passing the line of trucks parked outside the gas station en route to the bathroom, I noticed Bruno chatting with a truck driver outside. The burly white man had a long beard and a cap that read “God’s Not Dead.” When Bruno joined me, I snarkily pointed out that surely that man had voted for Trump.
“Actually,” Bruno replied, “he told us tourists to be careful because a new president had been elected.”
I have spent the last week or so struggling to process the idea of President-Elect Trump. I have been alternately denying, crying over, and ignoring the fact that Trump will soon be the leader of the most influential country in the world. Nine days later, I can say that I still have a long way to go in accepting the news. I still can’t follow the news without getting stirred up. I still can’t talk about Trump with Bruno.
But I can say this: it’s more important for me now than ever to travel through the United States. If I leave, I write off an entire country and its people. But if I stay, I get the chance to face my own prejudice. I get a chance to be proven wrong, like I was the night I assumed the God’s-Not-Dead-man was a Trump supporter. I get a chance to be different than Trump, to be guided by compassion and a deeper understanding of the nuanced issues facing this country and the world.
This past week hasn’t been easy my any means. I’ve driven past more Trump/Pence election signs than I can count, seen more hunting gear, guns, and patriotic paraphernalia than I could ever want to. I’ve read about the election in the Oklahoma Times and heard political updates on Fox News and from Rush Limbaugh.
I’ve also talked to a lot of Americans. Admittedly, I am struggling to be as friendly and warm as I normally am (I still have some grieving to do, obviously), but I have been greeted almost always with warmth, interest, and friendliness. Before we even open our mouths, people know we’re not from around here, but no one has made us feel unwelcome.
Lastly, I’ve picked up a book called Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance about the societal decline that working-class white Americans have experienced in the last few decades. So far, it seems to be an insightful read. I think it will help me to understand, just a little bit, why Trump’s ideas resonated to so many Americans.
I don’t expect to ever see eye-to-eye with Trump supporters. I fully anticipate that the next four years to be difficult to swallow. I still have no idea what to do to help counteract all that Trump will set into motion. But I feel that my trip down Route 66 – and indeed across America – is now more urgent than ever.
Because prejudice should never be met with prejudice, intolerance with intolerance, fear with fear. I know now that it is through my travels in America that the seeds of anger that Trump has sown within me with be uprooted.