My family recently set off to visit some beautiful country in our nation. Having been stuck in Russia for nearly two years due to COVID, we wanted to get off the beaten path and just relax in areas I knew as a child to be so friendly, so strong with the sense of community and love for our country. The natural beauty of the geography did not let us down — it was the people who made me feel unwanted, even irrelevant. The local people seemed angry, bitter and even resentful.
The first part of our little trip was passed in the apple country of upstate New York, the Catskills area. The second part of our trip took place in Lancaster County, out in a small community surrounded by the Amish.
Signs of Trumpism were everywhere. By signs, I mean literally and figuratively. Besides the obvious ones likes “Trump 2020,” new ones seem to have already be for sale in some dark corner of our society: Trump 2024, Take Back Our Country.
The other signs were both the lack of masking by pretty much everyone in the stores and the silence when I was wearing a mask indoors. What do I mean by the silence? Well, I am pretty personable guy and people strike up conversations with me everywhere. In addition, I can chat with anyone. Not one to not wear a mask because I fear some dummy might perceive it as being against Trump, my mask is not a sign of anything except maybe a declaration that I believe in science.
It seems that the mask declares to them that I am not one of them. I don’t dress much differently but I can often be heard speaking a foreign language and that too seems to cause some grief.
The perceived silence was most notable when I’d offer up a good morning or a have a nice weekend to people. They simply didn’t respond to me. Silence met my friendliness because they perceived that I was against Trump; and, while they were right there was no way except the mask that they could know that. While I am the complete opposite of so many simply because I have spent much of the past quarter century living external to the US, they still could not know any of that about me.
What I sensed was that unless some comment showing disgust for Biden or Democrats was made, or my “Trump colors” were in full view of the world, then I was going to be treated with mistrust. The mistrust was often a subtle anger.
The sweetness of small town America, that little something special about our nation that I used to so adore, was absent. It was like all of the rural “folk” suddenly felt like it was okay to rage against everything either not exactly like them or not obviously awe-struck by Trumpism. Whether they realized it or not, I could feel their disgust for the unknown.
I was an unknown entity and maybe, God forbid, that meant I was also free to formulate thoughts differently then they did. Unwilling to succumb my thoughts and opinions to Fox News and Trump, I was declared dangerous and so to be treated accordingly.
But what made me most dangerous in their eyes, and so it became a necessity to treat me and my family like we were pariahs, was that they simply didn’t know what we were. What if we were “them?” Most normal, sane, let’s say, less angry people upon seeing my son are oohing and ahhing instantly. Not one person in Trump country smiled at him. Not one person could be seen thinking what a sweet kid that is — it was like he irritated them.
The anger was palpable. Like the seething buzz of electricity that cuts into the air around power lines, I could feel that we, the unknown ones, weren’t appreciated. This is the hate that Trump has infected our nation with. I have traveled our country in the past with foreign in-laws and my wife. Strangers were always so kind and sweet to us.
The past week in Trump country, my wife wondered at once what we were doing wrong. She became shy about speaking Russian with me and my son in public.
“Let’s go to the Walmart,” she said, “and get some more American clothes. Maybe that will make people nicer.”
Just this morning, I popped out to our car to ready it for our breakfast run. The guy in the same motel as us was readying his car for his family. I looked over and just as I was about to smile and do a Truman-Show “have a good morning, a good afternoon and in case I don’t see you a good night,” he just turned his head and looked away. He surely saw my smile fade to nothing out of his peripheral vision but still nothing was offered to me.
He just climbed into his big black pick-up with tinted windows and waited for his family. As he pulled out, I saw a bumper sticker “Trump: Keep America Great.” Something about me told him that I couldn’t be trusted to hate others.
Donald Trump is a cancer on the body of our nation and his followers are indeed sick. They are anti-social and just plain angry. The America they claim to be so great, the one they us want to return to, is mean and not-inviting.
Both upstate New York and the Lancaster area are small paradises on earth. It seems like everything conceivable can grow in these regions. The good folks of rural America today thanks to Trumpism, however, are no longer nice — sure, there are some nice ones but the overall feeling of suspicion and disgust for the rest of us snaps at the air we breath.
One massive sign on the front yard of a farm read: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Let’s Keep it that way. There is no room for socialism in America. Vote Trump in 2024.
The owners of the sign also have a small market on their land. There were watermelons, zucchinis, tomatoes and other things being sold. It was the typical, quaint little roadside stand I had popped by so often in my life before Trumpism. This time, I read that sign and knew that I would never stop there. They were telling me, “if you don’t agree with these sentiments,” then keep going.
I never saw the owners of that place anywhere near their stand. I never saw the faces of the people whose disgust of me and my family was so potent. I also never had any person say anything nasty to me.
They just acted like we didn’t exist and that was never the America I knew. No good mornings, no “hey there’s” and no “have a great day, pal.”
Just cold stares and silence in Trump country for me and my family.