This week, I stood shoulder to shoulder for two-and-a-half hours with Trump supporters waiting to get through a security check point that would give them access to the sidewalks along the inaugural parade route. I could have used my press pass to circumvent the thing but I figured as a fly on the wall, I could learn something about the very people who voted Donald Trump into office.
I spoke to people like Will Rogers (true name; he showed me his driver’s license when I raised an eyebrow to see if he was yanking my lasso) who traveled to Washington from his home in Plain City (true name), OH. Will Rogers is 35, white, and works for an Ohio-based company that repairs medical equipment. It was his birthday yesterday and he got the day off, so he decided to drive to the inauguration with his sister because it was a “once in a lifetime experience.” He tells me he has never missed a vote since turning 18, that he primarily votes Republican but not always, and that when it comes to Trump “some of his ideas I agree with but like anyone, not all of his ideas.”
He likes that Trump has promised to get rid of Obamacare because he was working a full-time temp job at Restoration Hardware but it didn’t have benefits when Obamacare went into effect and “it was too expensive and I couldn’t afford it and [Obama] was going to fine me if I didn’t get insurance.” In the end, it worked itself out. “I got lucky and got a job before the fines took place.”
He does not like Trump’s plan to build a wall. “It’s tying our hands with Mexico if we do it and there will be trade problems,” he says, but he’s not really persuaded Trump will do it even though he says he will.
Many in the mostly white crowd disagree with this, as quickly becomes apparent. As we stand in line, a slew of protesters—many of them people of color—walk by protesting Trump’s immigration agenda. The crowd spontaneously erupts into chants: “Build a wall! Build a wall!” they yell.
When more protesters pass, a few mutter among about these shiftless folk who aren’t at work on a Friday at 10 a.m. “Get a job! Get a job!” they shout—a cry that soon spreads and rises to a crescendo among the hundreds of Trump supporters standing in line for the parade.
Trump’s populist stump speech about the loss of American jobs to overseas companies should engender empathy for these protesters, if in fact, they were out of work. (The supporters assume that the anti-Trump folks are unemployed, but it’s likely they’re just taking a day off work, too.) Instead, their chants devolve into the traditional up-by-your-bootstraps-you-lazy-sons-of-bitches-and-welfare-moms rhetoric that has bolstered Republicans for decades. Empathy stops when people start to complain.
The two ideas, logically, ought to be irreconcilable. Instead, inconceivably, they exist quite comfortably alongside one another.
Soon, the Trump supporters begin to pass around the “news”—or maybe they are alternative facts—that these “outside agitators” are being paid by the Democrats because of sour grapes and all and the Democrats just want to make Trump look bad. Same with the “supposed women’s march” tomorrow, they say. It will just be a bunch of slackers the Dems paid to make Trump look bad. The conversation repeats with various twists and turns and invectives and everyone around me chimes in—and no one counters the notion that this is so.
It gives one pause for thought; I think about education and the way we are teaching—or not—critical thinking in our nation’s schools. My mind travels back to John Dewey and his essays on the vital role critical thinking, logic, and a rigorous intellect play in the proper functioning of a democracy and I wonder, as I have so many times during this past year, how our education is failing citizens.
As I am considering these things, a light rain begins to fall, the line moves forward past the security gates and suddenly, uncomfortably, I am swept along with this crowd until I find myself standing along Pennsylvania Avenue. They will stand here for hours waiting for the newly sworn in Donald Trump to parade past; they are excited, cheering, raising their fists as Trump’s speech blares through the loud speakers. I extricate myself from the crowd, ducking right back out through the same gate I’d recently waited for two hours to enter.
It has been an extraordinary week. For that reason, City Paper is departing from the normal format of sections and columns dedicated to local news, arts, and food coverage to dedicate the entire issue (with a cover illustration by Alex Fine) to coverage of events in the game-changing days that saw the end of President Barack Obama’s tenure and the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency. Our photographers, reporters, freelancers, and columnists fanned out across the region to chronicle the extraordinary actions—and reactions—to the inauguration, the protesters, and the Women’s March. We have a new syndicated column by former City Paper editor Baynard Woods who trains his keen eye on Washington; articles by Brandon Soderberg reporting from the scene on clashes between D.C. police and protesters and on local artist-activists FORCE, whose provocative visuals disrupt inaugural events ; Brandon Weigel covers Trump’s inauguration speech; Edward Ericson Jr. works the inaugural crowd of Trump supporters to see what makes them tick; photo editor J.M. Giordano chronicles the Baltimore Women’s March in images; Kate Drabinski reports on the Women’s March on Washington; Angela Carroll maps out her objections to the March; Maura Callahan reviews a performance/reading of “Antigone”; I mull over Kellyanne Conway’s reference to “alternative facts” with a list of data from the week’s event; and Brandon Weigel gives us an up close look at Obama’s final days in office.
This issue also marks my last one as editor of City Paper. (Deputy Editor Brandon Soderberg, whom I’ve long considered a co-editor anyway, will take over as interim editor; our terrific staff will continue doing the strong work they’ve done all along.) I’ve spent the last year mostly editing the work of others and given the peculiar dynamics of national politics these days, I’m champing at the bit to get out from behind my desk and hits the streets. I intend to do more reporting and writing, to explore in interviews and conversations the same questions that plagued me as I stood in line in the misting rain among Trump supporters on Friday. How did we get to this point? How does critical thinking elude us and education fail us? How do we right this ship? (Karen Houppert)
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