Uncharted Trump-itory: Making Contact With the Lost Village of Trump Supporters
Nearly one year ago, Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States. And yet, after a year that history professors of the future will surely shudder at the mere thought of writing into their curricula, I and I alone had a nagging question: If nearly half of all voters in the 2016 election chose Trump, could that mean, 12 months later, there were actually people out there supporting him? However unlikely it seemed, I set out on my quest via a Juno ride to JFK to seek and find such a place, deep in the reddest of Red States.
As our seaplane touched down on a mud-colored river that veined its way gulf-ward under the jungle canopy of the American South, I was nervous to say the least. This was Trump Country. Like the all-but-lost cultures nestled along the Amazon, this was a place untouched by the outside world, devoid of the technological and societal advances commonplace to modern civilizations like New York City or even NYC.
Here, a deep-set, patriarchal system of authority combined with a long-held superstitions about all-powerful gods, infallible eagles, and thieving Democrats had created a culture that would inherently distrust a “truth demon” (as we journalists were referred to) like myself.
My guide was Reagan, a young woman born into this mysterious, remote location twenty-four years ago, and whose talent for chanting at weekly religious ceremonies (something called “church”) led her, unlike many of her peers, to escape to study theatre at SUNY Purchase. She offered to accompany me on my expedition as she too was traveling to her homeland. Apparently, this time of year held some kind of tribal significance, a holiday called “Cristmas” which I, a humble East Coast elite, had never heard of but seems akin to the secular Happy Holidays my people celebrate.
As I de-boarded the plane, the locals emerged from the brush and stared awestruck at my black, woolen peacoat and suede Oxfords, which stood in stark contrast to their traditional garb of workman’s boots and red, white, and blue emblazoned fleecewear, costumes they donned to show their devotion to the god “Merica.” Had they seen an airplane before? Was I the first white-but-not-white-white man their village had encountered? “Merry Cristmas,” I offered, giving an approval-seeking glance toward Reagan. She nodded. “Merry Cristmas,” came the villagers’ reply. I had connected.
Any other outsider might have been intimidated by the weaponry brandished by these warriors, as it were, but a quick glance at their general physical stature—bodies developed from a steady diet of fat-fried meats and a strange elixir dubbed “Mountain’s dew”—seemed to prove that this “open carry” of arms was merely the bluster of armchair chieftains.
Okay, so I was a little tense being in the presence of so many deadly weapons, but Reagan assured me that “this is just how things are here,” even in the middle of their trading post, a placed called the “Wallmart [sic].” To see such ambivalence from her toward this subversive threat of violence proved she and I were indeed of different origins, regardless of the fact that we departed from the same JetBlue terminal.
“Hungry,” I said to the natives. “Where can I get food?” I motioned my hand to my mouth, hoping there was some inkling of recognition on the part of this unkempt welcoming committee. “Pigg-uh-lee wig-uh-lee,” they cried out, the dialect as lost in my written description as the origins of these strange words were to this ancient culture. They had no idea what I meant. Clearly communication between my kind and theirs would be an ongoing issue. Luckily, I had noshed on an organic, matcha-flavored cricket flour bar from my local organic bodega while on the flight. It’d have to suffice for now.
I was brought to the dwelling of one Delmar and his family. I was struck by the sheer size of the abode itself—a single-family home on its own lot of, gosh, it could have been two acres or twenty as far as my knowledge of acreage could be relied upon. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, this kind of square-footage would have been the realm of an elite, senior vice president of marketing and her sculptor husband, or perhaps a third-generation Bensonhurst cabbie.
Delmar’s bride Wanda invited me to sit down on a pillowy, L-shaped, sofa-like contraption that wound its way around one corner of their gathering area. The lumpy, leathery settee could be reclined (perhaps doubling as their sleeping quarters?) and had odd little holes in the armrests which I later discovered were used to store beverage vessels between sips. Wanda offered me a sweetened tea (think kombucha meets Kool-Aid) and we, via my translator Reagan, got to talking.
I was taken by the quaint, anachronistic way in which these plain folk still guilelessly lauded obsolete materials like coal as a god-given source of warmth and wealth, and light, lager-style beer as a respite from complex concepts. They oft referenced some kind of demi-god they called “Geezus” and a tome of scriptures (just called, rather bluntly, “Bible”). I had read up on this mythology and found it fascinating that their slim wedge of perspective blinded them to the fact that these teachings were in stark contrast to the actions of the figure I had come so far to ask them about: Trump.
Yes, despite the remote and seemingly MSNBC-less nature of this community, word had still spread that the new overseer of this backcountry commonwealth of the United States was a man named Donald J. Trump. They had heard tell of his vast riches, which they naively associated with intelligence and influence. “We like Trump,” Wanda was able to muster in a tongue I could increasingly understand on my own. “He speaks for us.”
And there it was. Something I couldn’t have dreamed I would encounter in this unrefined landscape: a rudimentary understanding of representation. Could it be that, despite the cosmopolitan upbringing, unfettered access to inheritance funds, and lavish, gilded penthouses Trump came from there was something in him these poor craftspeople in their ranch-style, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath huts could somehow identify with? Were they thinking of the same Trump—the dishonest, disorganized, disgraceful joke of a president currently residing in office? It seemed impossible. Like Pygmies of the Congo idolizing Taylor Swift.
And yet, there it was. If it hadn’t been proved in my presence, I might not have believed it myself. In the wilds of the American South, there exist a curious people who have a deep, abiding reverence for a man who, I now realized, had always looked out of place in a suit and tie. Perhaps he was more one of them, and they one of him, than any of us could have realized.
As I boarded the plane, I begged Reagan to reconsider joining me on my trek back to the safety and comfort of Bed Stuy. She declined, assuring me that as long as she was still posting Instagram Stories she was okay. Delmar saw me off as well. I was glad to see him once more if only to ask him the same question. Would he want to accompany me back to New York? To see the homeland of his beloved Trump firsthand? Delmar balked at the thought. I suppose, along with Legend of Trump, word of New York’s famous murders, bombings, and robberies had also reached these people. Imagine! Being so out of touch that you can’t bring yourself to actually confront and understand a part of the country millions call home without boiling them down to tropes stereotypes!
And with that I waved goodbye. If I’m not mistaken, I saw a tear roll down Demar’s cheek and land squarely in crossed stars and bars of his Confederate Flag T-shirt. I had connected.