Making America Dope Again: A Series of Encounters While Wearing a Silly Hat through the South

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FORT WORTH, TEXAS—Until you’ve spoken with someone who has a murderous glint in his eye when talking about Barack Obama, it's difficult to understand how a man like Donald Trump can be a major-party nominee for President of the United States. There are plenty of Republicans toeing the conservative line: Donald Trump is the man who currently represents the party embodying the political principles they stand for; therefore they will be voting for him. They don't like that this is what it's come to, but they sure as hell aren't voting for a left-leaning candidate, hence their support for Trump.

Yet there's a segment of the population that wants to vote for Donald Trump—not simply for "the conservative candidate" nominated by the Republican Party. Donald Trump tells it like it is, and that's why people love him. Watch him work a crowd, and he panders to the audience, telling them how much he loves where they are from—Florida, Texas, New York, Iowa—and how he is going to fight for whatever issues mean the most to them—scrapping Obamacare, fighting for the coal industry, keeping out the Mexicans. It's all empty rhetoric, but for those disillusioned by the last eight years of Obama Rule, they are swept up in this rhetoric.

I understand voting for "the conservative candidate", but I don't understand voting for Donald Trump.

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I recently purchased a hat that sums up my political inclinations: a red baseball cap, with Make America Dope Again embroidered in white lettering on the front. I'm not the only one looking to Make America _____ Again… I've seen young voters encouraging you to Make America Gay Again, or Make America Kind Again. The underlying ethos here is to make America something different than it is right now…because while things really aren’t that bad, they can certainly be better, and neither of the major-party nominees are viable options for radical change.

I’m from New York City, and I live in Colorado. I’m a twenty-eight year-old college-educated white male who’s lived all over the world…so I lean a bit to the left. My exposure to bastions of conservatism is limited, which is why I got the bright idea of wearing my Make America Dope Again hat on a road trip from Fort Worth, Texas to Staten Island, New York. Lately, the political climate has been a bit tense, and with Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee on our list of stops, I imagined it would be a fun exercise to chronicle the conversations and reactions this hat would elicit along the way.

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 Seen on the drive across the South

Seen on the drive across the South

IT'S SATURDAY EVENING in downtown Fort Worth, and a gentleman named Phillip approaches your lonesome correspondent, standing at an outdoor table, waiting for his partner to return from the gentleman’s room.

“That’s right! High Five! We need to Make America Dope Again!", Phillip exclaims.

Nodding my head, I agree. This is a sentiment I can get behind. We do need to Make America Dope Again; that’s why I’m wearing this hat.

“And that’s why I support TRUMP”, Phillip proclaims excitedly, slamming his beer down on the table.

To make it clear, Phillip is the aforementioned gentleman with a murderous glint in his eye when talking about President Obama, who makes me understand how a candidate like Trump can be a major-party nominee vying for the position of most-powerful-person-in-the-world.

His wife, Michelle, soon joins him, and it’s clear from her body language that he’s a liability in an election year. This isn’t the first time he’s engaged a complete stranger in political repartee at a bar…though fortunately for me, he’s only four Bud Lights deep, and that means he’s a man that can be reasoned with, (I think), and hopefully learned from.

We agree that America has a lot of fixing to be done—the problem is that I don’t really believe Trump is the man to fix things. The key to not-getting-my-ass-kicked is to avoid talking about how Trump will fix things, and keep the conversation on the fact that America has a lot of fixing to be done. It would also behoove me not to mention that I think Obama is pretty cool because he’s got a wet jump shot, smokes menthols, and loves Stevie Wonder…

Phillip sees me as a man with common sense, and this allows me to ask the question that has bugged me for the longest time: As a southerner, how do you really feel about a city slicker, a suited businessman from Queens, being your president? He’s brash and unbelievably out of touch with your part of the country. While you might both share conservative values, his are distinctly conservative New York values. Is this a problem for you?

Phillip stumbles for a second, collecting his thought, before dismissing my question as a non-issue. Phillip likes that Trump is a New York businessman…because he started his own business, and he’s good with his money. It’s these business-like qualities that Phillip believes qualifies Trump to be president. Phillip likes that Trump is a problem-solver, and tells it like it is. Trump speaks to Phillip.

As a southerner, how do you really feel about a city slicker, a suited businessman from Queens, being your president?

Never mind the fact that Trump didn’t start his own business—he inherited it from his father, Fred Trump. Never mind the fact that filing for bankruptcy protection is a savvy legal maneuver effective at protecting corporate interests, but is hardly a viable option when running a government with sky-high debt. Never mind the fact that Trump insinuated during the Presidential debate series that the reason he likely hasn’t paid federal taxes in 19 years is because the Senate, of which his opponent was a member, failed to enact sufficient safeguards to stop him from doing so. But these aren’t facts I can reasonably use to counter his arguments, because facts don’t matter to a man like Phillip. Phillip is swayed by rhetoric and emotion, not reason, and Trump is effective at stoking heated emotion in his voter base.

Churchill once said that the strongest argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter, and Phillip is making a strong case for that statement. Dismaying, perhaps, but I’m an eternal optimist, and I think people are better than that, that they have it in them to care, to reason, and to make sound decisions based on facts. If you want to vote for Trump based on a general disaffection with the direction the country has been going, that's your God-given right as an American. But it's a protest vote; one against the establishment. I find it hard to believe that anyone has sat down, given this issue serious thought, and come to the conclusion that Trump has a real plan to help this country.

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 The Fort Worth Stockyards

The Fort Worth Stockyards

SUNDAY AFTERNOON FOUND us wandering around the Forth Worth Stockyards, a tourist trap hawking Mexican brunch, designer cowboy boots, and Shiner Bocks to go. This is where you come if you want an Instagram photo proving you were in Fort Worth, or a magnet for your Mom’s fridge, but it’s not really a great hangout for two twenty-something guys. It was inevitable that we would soon find ourselves in the cool hollows of a pool hall with live country music, whiling away $15 in quarters and with it the afternoon, as gentle Texans with cowboy boots, deep drawls, and chewing tobaccy played on the table next to us…

I’m not one to turn down a challenge, especially at pool. Doubles; you must rely on your partner…me on mine, and Caleb on Jessie, our stereotypical, Texan, opponents, musicians in between sets ready to shake us down. These guys were cool, but we stuck out like two crunchy joyboys, what with our shorts & t-shirts, Colorado license, and plans to drive to New York…a fact that surprisingly appealed to Caleb.

 Our Fort Worth watering hole

Our Fort Worth watering hole

Texas and New York, the only two states proud enough to send their boys to fight, he commented—an unexpected camaraderie, but one that I’m proud of nonetheless. New Yorkers are often on their guard about being New Yorkers when in Texas, but we’re in good company here. 

Caleb took a shine to my partner and I, letting on that his daddy always told him to play the dumbest guy in the room—that there’s worth in having others underestimate you. He did, after all, get a 167 on his LSAT (beat me, 165). It’s funny how with a few turns of phrase, you can see a man in a whole new light. One minute he’s a dip-spitting, day-drinking, Texan soldier and the next he’s a fun-loving, socially adept, even-keeled veteran combat medic who’s spilling his guts to you about how the only reason he went to war ten years ago was that he saw all of the dumbasses from his hometown going off to fight—and they needed someone to look after them and bring him home.

 Tim, Me, and Caleb

Tim, Me, and Caleb

As a lifelong noncombatant, it’s a powerful experience to have someone speak so honestly about his wartime experiences in your presence. Here is a man who, at first glance, you would imagine to be a Trump supporter. He seems the archetype of Trump’s voter base…southern values, white male, military man…but he’s not what you expect him to be. He’s got sense—intelligence. His decision to go to war is an emasculating one to the likes of me…there was no I want to kill Hajjis! or We need to ram some freedom down their throats!…he went to war so he could protect his fellow Americans, to circle up around the wounded, brandishing a machine gun, screaming get the FUCK away from my friends…

When I asked Caleb, an intelligent soldier, about his stance on war—any war, but particularly war in the modern age, he responded that war is inevitable. He believes there will always be resources up for grabs—those who have more than others, and those who have less than others. Leaders of countries with less will always be willing to go to war with countries that have more. Therefore, we have to accept that war is inevitable, regardless of whether or not we agree with it. 

As we were getting ready to leave, Caleb saw my camera and said come over here, let’s get a picture. The three of us were posing together when a gentleman at the bar saw my hat and made an aggressive comment towards us. Caleb looked over at the guy and said Fuck Trump, leaned down, and whispered to me…don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

As if I didn’t know that all along.

Appearances can be deceiving, but my experiences with Caleb and Phillip lasered into focus the fact that there are two kinds of people: those who support political candidates based upon reasoned judgment and due diligence, and those who support political candidates based upon emotion and feeling. America is the greatest country in the world, but we have a lot of problems that need fixing. Those problems hit some folks harder than others, and the folks hardest hit are the ones most liable to supporting a candidate based upon raw emotion. If an economic depression hits your home, you care more about your economy up and running than you do about some Trans-Pacific Partnership. And you're going to vote for the person who promises to get your economy up and running— regardless of whether they have any solid plans to do so.

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My appearance—white, clean-cut, male—makes me look like the perfect candidate to support Trump. Yet my hat promotes Making America Dope, not Making America Great—an apolitical stance that most decidedly does not support Hillary For President, despite my reluctant decision to cast my vote in her favor, if only because I could never live with myself should Colorado swing red and we end up electing a monomaniacal fool with his finger on the nuclear trigger, a man in chance who as Caleb said, will always want to go to war…

 Downtown Memphis, TN

Downtown Memphis, TN

But we’re getting off track. Just as some might assume Caleb is a Trump supporter based on his look, it’s not unreasonable to assume that I too, lean to the right…and walking down Beale Street, late at night in Memphis, Tennessee, we encounter a shadier cast of characters than one might expect—a shady cast of characters that most decidedly is not casting a vote for Donald Trump. My partner and I are soon approached by two snaggle-toothed broads, who are overly eager to know where the party at…fortunately, my partner and I are socially adept enough to know that the party they're seeking would have a price, one we were most unwilling to pay.

Rubes that we are, we continued walking down the famous Beale Street, littered with neon signs advertising blues jams, cafes, and jazz bars. Passing a group of young black men, one of them gave me a look, shook his head, and said “man, you really wanna start a war?”

I wore this hat for a reason: to engage in conversation with people, to learn the politics of those different from me. Foolishly, I was only thinking of engaging Southern Whites, since that’s who I imagined would actually support Trump. It’s whom I wanted to seek out, to converse with. Give me facts, was my logic, give me real, hard facts, as to why you want to vote for Trump, as opposed to "the conservative candidate". 

I hadn’t considered the millions of oppressed minorities for whom the election of Trump would be akin to the coronation of Hitler. What do I look like to them, parading around with this dumb hat? Just another privileged white boy, playing games.

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 The Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Memphis, TN

The Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Memphis, TN

A trip to the Civil Rights Museum is a dish served cold: an in-depth, visceral, spine-chilling walk-through of the systematic oppression of blacks in America. It's a mesmerizing four minutes of watching one of the greatest orators of the twentieth century—Martin Luther King, Jr.—speak to a crowd of 250,000 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, proclaiming that one day he foresees freedom ringing from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, from the curvaceous slopes of California, from the mighty mountains of New York…bringing tears to the eyes of a grown man, because today, on paper, we all share these freedoms.

A trip to the Civil Rights Museum was also a crystal clear reminder that Donald Trump is making a sham of the privilege we have in this country to vote, a privilege denied to African-Americans until just two generations ago. A crystallization of clarity that really, it’s offensive to many people to even walk around with this ridiculous hat, insinuating that I fall in line with Trump and his values, whatever they may be, making light of what is, actually, a very serious issue. Trump is a protest candidate, an anti-establishment outsider, but he has harnessed the undercurrent of racism and xenophobia simmering beneath society in 2016 to become the Republican nominee, with an all-too-real-chance of winning.

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 The Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

The Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

To me, Trump is a joke. It’s entertaining to watch him roast Hillary Clinton during the debates, mock her stumble, and tell his followers on Twitter to watch Alicia Machado’s nonexistent sex tape, but to millions of Americans, his very candidacy is an insult to their right to cast a vote. He offers an outlet for the emotional rage that disaffected Americans are feeling, disaffected Americans that most decidedly do not support the direction in which the country is going. The direction in which President Obama has steered the country, and the direction in which Hillary Clinton will continue to steer the country.

If you’ve never held a conversation with someone straining to hold back the n-word in public when referring to President Obama, then it's hard to understand how we got here. There will always be radical, selfish and shortsighted Americans out for their own gain at the expense of others, circling their own friends and screaming get the FUCK away…but we are not a country at war with ourselves; we are a nation of principle. We will always have conflict between factions—the founding fathers called it hundreds of years ago—the very fact that we are so large and so diverse is what ensures this—but how can we honestly entertain the election of a man as president whose very rise to notoriety is based on such divisive, racially charged rhetoric? Our factions should be able to hash out their differences in the political sphere using reasoned, intelligent debate, not empty rhetoric designed to rile up a disillusioned voter base.

We will always have Americans who see things differently; who at their core believe the country should be run differently. We will always have Americans who are down and out, who are adversely affected by the current economic situation. We will always have Americans who want this country to be better than it is today—and these Americans should be listened to and reasoned with; their concerns addressed.. It's a shame that we've gotten to the point where the only real outlet is support for a man like Donald Trump, full of hot air and rhetoric, but devoid of any actual plan as to how he can actually help Americans get back on their feet.

It's a shame, because it's an insult to our right—not our privilege—as Americans to choose the next leader of the free world.