During a road trip across America in the summer of 2016, Janine Prins wondered how American citizens viewed their situation. Will the election outcome affect their daily life?
You will find no scientific truth in any of the following as I made a personal collection of brief encounters during a summer holiday. In 2016, I drove my uncle’s old Landrover from Washington to Texas via as many National Parks, scenic byways and bookstores as I could fit in my schedule.
Brief encounters and expanded realities
Social and news media have galvanised the US into a Trump-versus-Hillary dichotomy. But do Americans themselves recognize their lived realities as such? While travelling, I couldn’t leave the anthropologist in me entirely at home and provoked conversations along the road.
I posted the results as short portraits on Facebook, to which all people involved consented happily. These original postings can be found on my website (tab 'stills'), in this blog I have clustered some findings to share my expanded view on American realities, despite the briefness and small amount of the encounters I had.
Bridging the gap
Martha, a certified nurse aid, looks after my republican uncle and disagrees with him politically, yet she prays a double dose for him ”as he doesn’t do so himself”. The two of them overcome their opposite political views and socioeconomic divides on a day-to-day basis.
Katie & Cassey do call society polarised and perceive a lack of middle ground and middle class in America. At the root lies a class divide that needs mending, but how?
Chris, a retired self-employed electrical constructor is less worried: “Presidents and legislation can only do so much, people need to control themselves. The country will remain the same, there are good people everywhere, just because you think differently doesn’t mean the others are bad.” And he carries on collecting litter at public parking spaces voluntarily.
People young and old, left or right and from various walks of life seek after a change of the current political system. They are perceiving Trump as a wakeup call. Rock drummer Victor (24) took to the streets because, as he says: “This is the first election my generation gets upset about.” And indeed, on all downtown street corners in Boulder, Colorado, millenials were promoting a new era with ‘new politics: neither left, nor right but forward.’
The recently retired Gilmores put it like this: “The political system is broken. It’s the people in Congress who are in there for too long.” About this the couple agrees, their votes cancel each other out, however. Anne hopes, like so many others, that a more businesslike approach to government could do the trick, giving Trump benefit-of-doubt.
Wishful-thinking can also take another direction, like for instance Arnie who preferred a multi-party system. A concept that may well be part of his 3rd generation Norwegian legacy.
It came as no surprise that those who are considered a minority experience more of an open mind in democratic spheres. Dan says it actually helped him and his brother to be part of a minority under Obama, when they needed access to funds for setting up their business in coffee roasting.
The Rainer brothers express appreciation for Hillary’s extended global network, which they can relate to because of their aspirations to join their father’s ‘Star Road Dance Company’ performing eclectic Indian dances worldwide.
Newcomer Ahmed cannot possibly agree with republican hostility against immigrants for practical reasons: “Look around, all construction and agricultural work is done by Mexicans!” He himself increasingly suffers from clients in his taxi, demanding to know if he’s an Islamist. "This is because of Trump, but most white Americans have a good heart.”
Going beyond the phrase that this election is ‘a choice between two evils’ are those who seek a solution for their voting dilemma based on issues. Marjay C. Taylor Jr. studies Animal Science, Fish and Wildlife. Rationally speaking, he would vote democrats because of their environmental policies. However, his worldview leans more towards republican ideas about traditional lifestyles. I left him undecided at the time, pondering that ”one should not further one’s family alone, society matters too.”
Dale runs his own small fruit business. Professionally, he feels better at home with the republicans but cannot agree with them in terms of gender and racial equality. Tyler also appreciates republicans because of the SME tradition in his family but the conservative agricultural region resents Trump’s demeanor. Luckily for Tyler, the election outcome won’t affect his future life as an electrician; he’ll always have work.
Not my world
Just like in Europe, there are those who feel their vote won’t make any difference. Among the people I spoke to those would be cleaning lady Chezzarae and an artisan bootmaker at Stapleman’s - both featured in the gallery on my website (tab 'stills').
I encountered a more existential disinterest in politics with people whose life centres around nature and/or religion. Sarah hunts big game with bow and arrow and professionally specialises in crops and soils. Her catholic upbringing foresees in an economic worldwide standstill with people returning to survival basics, her specialty.
The Montgomery’s have run a family general store for over a century and a half, providing for fishers and hunters who will continue to need supplies. Only their handwritten bookkeeping ledgers and analogue cash register are under pressure of policies.
Jeremiah Brinkley roams the country on horseback, relying on the Lord to put people on his path if he needs help, be it food, water or the odd job.
These were just some examples that overall confronted me with my limited view on American realities due to media framing and European welfare state bias. I was positively impressed by the encountered vitality, flexibility and self-reliance through entrepreneurship and optimistic attitudes of the people I met, who often lived under challenging circumstances, such as June. or Chad and Carina.