“Get out of my neighborhood. I have guns! If you two don’t leave right now I’m gonna go get them.”
It was the Saturday before election day and we were canvassing in Las Vegas in a sprawling cookie-cutter development – not a fancy one – with “front yards” of sand, not grass. Worn Halloween figures and flags hung on the doors; fake spider webs stuck stubbornly to doorways and bushes. My son Dan and I had just arrived and this was our first block. It was the weekend before his birthday but both of us were beyond anxious about the election and hoped that going door-to-door, even more than making calls, might ease our souls a bit; at least we were doing something.
A moment earlier we’d been joking with this same 30-something guy over the neighborhood Halloween decorations. He asked what we were doing walking along his block and Dan said “Just talking to people.” “What about,” he asked. “What are you talking to people about?” “Hillary Clinton” I said, smiling at him – (that almost always works.)
Not this time. As we moved beyond him and on up the street, he was still yelling. “Get out! Get out!” Shaken, we decided to move up a block and try the next house on our tally sheet but he and his friend were making their way toward us, his friend telling him to “do something about it” if he was going to yell anyway. We fled.
I’ve seen angry crowds before, including demonstrators and police in Chicago in 1968. I’d seen reports of scary Trump rally crowds too. But this single person, focused on us with such rage, was a different kind of scary. My heart was pounding as if I’d had way too much coffee. As that response ebbed, I just got sad. And then sadder. “This isn’t how our country is supposed to be.” I kept saying to Dan. He, wisely, was more concerned about danger than he was with analyzing the social meaning of all this. He has a two-year-old son and was unsettled more for him, and for his wife; he needed to stay safe for them.
That was wise, but for me, the cruelty and rage of these two men, who’d turned on a dime from “We all DO love our Halloween here” to “Get the fuck out of my neighborhood” was painful on so many levels.
They weren’t the only ones. At least two more times, the response to our question: “Have you voted yet?” was “I don’t do Democrats. Go away,” declared with icy affect and stone cold eyes.
Saturday afternoon, as we waited at headquarters for a new neighborhood assignment, we were visited by Gabby Giffords, and her husband Mark Kelly, as well as Lucy McBath, one of the Mothers of the Movement, a sad sisterhood of moms whose children, her son Jordan Davis among them, had been killed by police officers. The combination of the realities faced by these people and their efforts to reenforce the critical nature of every vote we could pull out of our assigned areas was a reminder of all that is at stake in our country.
Here’s the thing though:
This anger didn’t arise on its own. It’s been enabled, and not just by Mr. Trump and his allies and followers. Not all the angry people we met lived in lesser circumstances, with less education and income, than the norm but they do live differently from the people who govern them – and the people who cover them.
Listen to Columnist Sarah Smarsh in The Guardian
* Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000– higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporterss.
* Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. . . .
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue. . . .
* The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well.
* One-dimensional stereotypes fester where journalism fails to tread. The last time I saw my native class receive substantial focus, before now, was over 20 years ago – not in the news but on the television show Roseanne, the fictional storylines of which remain more accurate than the musings of comfortable commentators in New York studios.
* In lieu of such coverage, media makers cast the white working class as a monolith and imply an old, treacherous story convenient to capitalism: that the poor are dangerous idiots.
Sure political passions on both sides are self-defined far differently than they’re defined from the outside. But if those who cover non-elites never go near them except to write about them; if they’re described more through sociology than personal stories, oddities instead of neighbors, the divisions we’ve experienced in this election will not ease.
We don’t go to the same schools, we don’t live in the same neighborhoods, we don’t share military/non-military histories and we don’t agree on politics. We also don’t have access to simple exchanges: in the carpool line, as room parents or scout leaders, at the supermarket or the gas station, at the playground or even at neighborhood Halloween events.
I grew up in a steel town on the Monongahela River. I was the lawyer’s daughter; when we graduated I went to an Ivy League college that almost no one in my community had even heard of. Several of the kids from my high school who went to college did so by joining the Army. Because of Viet Nam, many of them never made it home to enroll.
We all went to the same dances and football games though, and parties in each other’s homes. I know – know – that every day that I spent as a journalist I did a better job because I’d grown up among so many different kinds of kids, even though it was always clear my future was going to be different from many of theirs.
We need to be able to depend on journalists to translate a bit for us and right now that doesn’t happen enough. Of course no American should threaten another with a gun. Of course not. But we also need to be able to expect from those who deliver information to us that they’ve gone beyond their own experiences to learn how others live- and to share that understanding with the rest of us.