Moving to Trump Land
Our acquaintances have been curious about our early retirement. “You seem too young to retire!” That may be true but we had no intention to stop working, we were just ending our current careers and starting anew. There are a number of reasons for the dramatic change and move to northern Wisconsin; we wanted to be closer and more available to family, we wanted to live more sustainably, and I wanted to have more time to write, among other things. We had planned our escape for several years, as we had built a house in Wisconsin six years earlier, but had not picked a date. On November 6th, 2016 the plan became clear.
The first presidential election I can remember is Lyndon Johnson versus Barry Goldwater. The first president I voted for was Jimmy Carter in 1980. I have certainly not liked some of the policies of our presidents, like Ronald Reagan and especially George W. Bush, but I respected them and felt that they were public servants interested in the common good.
The day after Donald Trump was elected, we knew that he was going to be a different kind of president. I worked at a university at the time, and November 7th, 2016 was a day of mourning on our campus. I hugged people as one does at a wake. The day seemed especially overwhelming for women and people of color. We now had a leader who routinely made racist comments and talked about women in the most vulgar ways.
I was hoping that perhaps the campaign and the vile rhetoric was just an act, and that once sworn in his behavior would become presidential. This did not come to be. As time went on it became clear that we had elected a morally devoid, greed driven, narcissist who seemed to be following the “how to be a fascist” playbook.
We decided it was time to quit our jobs and move north. The north woods not only seemed like a better place to ride out a totalitarian regime (worst case), but quitting our jobs would give us more time to be engaged politically. In our new county, where Trump won a sizable majority, there would be plenty of opportunities for engagement. At the university, it was possible that I did not interact with a single Trump voter during the day. In our new community, this would certainly not be the case. We (mostly Becky at first) thought of this as a real opportunity.
Now that we have been here for a season, we have a better idea of what Trump voters are really like. It is too easy and convenient to write them off as racists, as I might have been prone to do from the safe confines of our university community. There are certainly some racists, but there are racists everywhere. Here, they are simply unafraid to show their colors, sometimes quite literally with Confederate bumpers stickers. There is probably not too much progress that can be made with changing the beliefs of a hardcore racist, but there can certainly be a dialog with people who are simply uncomfortable with diversity. I think that the latter attitude best describes the people we come across each day. These are the same people who would stop to help a stranger change a tire, or loan you their vehicle, chain saw, or trailer without question. There is a man in town who owns wooded acreage, and he is often out there with his tractor and chain saw cutting firewood even though he does not own a wood burning stove or sell the firewood. He gives the wood to a couple of widows on his street who burn wood to heat their house. There are plenty more stories like this.
Everyone is this community grew up with the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” imprinted in their values. Fear sometimes gets in the way of this type of love especially when reinforced by the hateful rhetoric of our leaders. Leaders, however, can also inspire us to turn to, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “the better angels of our nature.”
The most important issue to people in the north woods might be that they feel left out of the economic boom. They are right about this. Every weekend they see people put $50,000 boats on the lake while they are working two jobs and cannot seem to catch up. There are many jobs here, but most pay at best between $10 and $14 an hour. Despite the promises of politicians over the years, their situation does not seem to get better. Donald Trump convinced them that he would shake this up. He has indeed shaken things up but his concern for workers was just a clever con. One wonders why Bernie Sanders, who wants to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour, did not get more traction up here.
What is it like living among Trump voters? It is wonderful. We all have a dark side that can be inflamed by fear, but we also have the desire to love our neighbors and to get in touch with the better angels of our nature. Becky’s license plate is “LUVWNS.” I think she might be right.