Comment: My views after living in Trump heartland for three months? God bless America indeed
You know that meme where the dog's engulfed by flames pretending everything's fine? That's kind of what it was like living in America for the past three months. But after travelling across six states this summer, I soon learned there's no point pretending any more.
Each state provided a different insight into life in America under the new US president.
A road sign in San Ysidro, California has the words “F*ck you Trump” spray-painted across the bottom. San Ysidro is right beside the Mexican border and has a 92pc hispanic population. With all the president’s talk of building walls to keep out immigrants, the animosity is understandable.
Trump voodoo dolls can be bought on the streets of downtown New Orleans for $5. I laughed when I saw their little carrot-coloured faces, but the lady behind the stall wasn’t so amused. You see, people in San Ysidro and downtown New Orleans have one thing in common: how they feel discriminated against. Sadly, I witnessed some of this discrimination first-hand.
New Orleans is a tiny democratic patch in the largely republican state of Louisiana. Just five miles outside the city is a very different demographic, however. Confederate flags draped across porches, Trump dollar bills stuck on kitchen walls, and for some reason, people constantly warn you about going into ‘the city.’
The birthplace of jazz is a 15-minute drive away and these people were acting as if it were more dangerous than downtown Damascus. And then the penny dropped. “You be careful in the city now, lot of blacks in there,” one woman shouted as I left her home. The other white people advising me to exercise caution weren’t so blunt, but I soon realised what their problem with New Orleans was.
Another Louisiana native told me he voted for Trump solely because he vowed to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. "He promised us a wall, so I promised myself I'd vote for him," the dad-of-two said. He added that he hadn't been into New Orleans in five years as it was too dangerous, but hoped Trump might make things in the US safer. "Trump's doing a good job, he don't pretend to be anything he's not."
The strange thing is these republican people were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. They showered me with doughnuts and cans of Coke and invited me into their homes without hesitation. But then again, you always judge a person by how nice they are to the waiter, or in this case, people of a different race. Obviously not all republicans have this attitude towards different ethnicities, but after the events in Charlottesville and the support shown for Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, parts of America are a lot more racist than I could have imagined in 2017.
I spent most of the summer based in Arizona, another republican state. After my first weekend there I made a conscious decision not to talk about Trump on nights out. A colleague made the mistake of doing that in an Irish bar on our first night, and the pro-Trump guy beside her wasn’t too impressed. It wasn’t just a bit of harmless political banter though. She disagreed with some of Trump’s opinions and this man acted as if she physically assaulted his mother in front of him. He became enraged when she said the president of the United States shouldn’t talk about grabbing women by the pussy. “You can’t judge a man on what he said in the past,” he argued. Well, actually pal, you can. Trump is saying sexist things in the present and will continue to do so long into the future, so women can judge away.
Some people get a right old laugh about Trump and his bizarre comments. I used to find his fake news outbursts funny, but I don’t any more. My US colleagues all worked in journalism and every day in the newsroom something outrageous would flash up on CNN about Trump. There was the Comey testimony, Donald Jnr tweeting about meeting the Russians, and then his dad went and banned transgender people from the military. But as all this was going on in the background while we worked, nobody said anything. What’s the first rule about Trump club? You don’t talk about Trump club.
There are four groups of people in America at the moment:
1. Those who choose to ignore the fact he’s their president, pretending it didn’t happen.
2. The angry protesters who are furious he was elected.
3. The staunch republicans who hail Trump as their god.
4. The silent voters who won’t admit they voted, and who are now privately thinking “what have we done”.
I’ve lived in America twice before and loved it, but this time the atmosphere was different. This time I was happy to come home. We take a lot for granted in Ireland. Our healthcare system is far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than America’s, where they leave you to die on the streets if you don’t have insurance.
My friend and I came across a homeless woman one day who managed to get stuck behind the seat at a bus shelter in Phoenix. She was crying with the pain and people just kept walking by. There was brown stuff all over the seat, as if her bowels had burst open. We called emergency services and when they arrived, we asked if she would be taken to the hospital. “We can’t do that, she probably doesn’t have insurance and it would be considered kidnapping,” one officer said.
My friend replied “If you leave her she’ll die.” His response? “This isn’t Europe, things are different here, and there’ll be one less homeless person on the streets if she does.”
That kind of attitude sums up America under Trump for me. Racists, homophobes, sexists and those with a complete disregard for morality all believe they can speak up and be heard now. And why? Because if the president of the United States can say such things, why can’t they? Trump didn't make these people that way, but his refusal to condemn hatred and blatant bigotry has enabled some of the animosity that's been bubbling underneath America's surface to come to the fore.
I feel sorry for the many Americans hurting over how things are unfolding in their country. It’s still a bit surreal that Donald Trump was actually elected president. I left America on the same day as the Charlottesville protests, and right around the time Trump was threatening North Korea with "fire and fury". As I boarded my flight back to Dublin I couldn’t help but think, God bless America, and God bless the world.