By Jan Worth-Nelson
Just to be clear, I can’t stand Donald Trump.
Back in the late 80s when I’d just started working at UM-Flint, a colleague of mine and I bonded over our extreme disdain for The Donald – we called him The Fat-fingered Vulgarian. We used to stop each other in the hallways to swap hilarities about his latest oily escapades. He was a huge joke to us, a cartoon, cheap entertainment in the face of boring institutional banalities.
How I wish for those innocent days again, when he was only a tasteless bowl of kitsch flinging piles of money around New York and marrying East European women crusted with macabre makeup.
Not Amusing, Ugly American
It’s not funny now. He is possibly the most embarrassing Ugly American of all time, the most crass and pandering, who flaunts his billions and makes jokes of telling lies, of saying anything he feels like to get attention – from a press he can then gleefully skewer. He is the worst of the American white male, coarse, pushy, presumptuous, cruel. Watching Donald Trump makes my blood boil and my head ache. He makes me want to schlong something, but that would be DISGUSTING.
Now you know what I really think.
Anyway, this got personal for me when a “Trump 2016” sign showed up across the street. I was surprised, annoyed and disappointed. We were happy when that house, one we actually had briefly owned, sold for a good price last summer. We met the young couple who bought it — and enjoyed an afternoon’s conversation with them. He has shoveled walks and offered to help keep an eye on our house when we’re out of town. They are good neighbors.
But I still felt insulted by that sign, as if somebody had put out one of those black jockeys so popular in the fifties. How could anybody in my leafy, diverse neighborhood, with its writers, nurses, professors, high school teachers, retirees, stay-at-home dads, home-brewers and former Peace Corps volunteers be a Trump supporter?
Every day I see it when I come and go, from our den (where we watch MSNBC, of course), and from our upstairs bedroom windows.
Time for an alternate message
I decided to respond, in kind. Online, I ordered ten signs that said “LOVE TRUMPS HATE.” I got the idea, I confess, from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but I didn’t want this to be about Hillary. I wanted it to be about asserting my own voice.
When the box of signs arrived, I sent messages to the neighbors near and adjacent to the Trump campaign sign, all of whom I know fairly well, to see if they’d like to offer an alternate message. Two families readily agreed, and one of my next-door neighbors and I went out together and planted our placards with their big blue letters deep in the ground.
My signs became a response not to just one sign on my street, but to Trump in general – a neighborhood, not just one person, arguing for hope that Trump’s words will not define us. I delivered signs to an Episcopal rector, a yoga teacher, a professor, a community activist, a psychologist, a social services worker. The signs have popped up on Court, Vernon, Blanchard, Kensington, Brookwood, Lafayette. There’s also one in Carriage Town.
Others chose subtlety, diplomacy
Several other neighbors of the Trump sign declined. Interesting conversations ensued. First, there was a sense that getting in the Trumpsters’ faces wasn’t a loving response, and some folks expressed the wish to engage in dialogue, that beloved progressive ritual, rather than what might close off conversation and create defensiveness.
Second, the Trump supporters already had demonstrated they are good neighbors – a much-cherished criterion for quality day-to-day life here. They get it: this is how to create and nurture a community, regardless of politics.
Third arose the concept of freedom of speech. Why should we get our underwear in a bunch when the Trump supporters have a right to declare any allegiance they wish?
And fourth, some of us, in truth, have family members vulnerable to Trump’s themes of disaffection, anti-elitism, and alienation. We should try to understand.
It is typical of the good people here that one can expect such thoughtful considerations. But I am something of a hothead, insisting on my own right to freedom of speech – freedom of counter-message—and thus I kept my signs up, directly facing “Trump 2016.” I know a simple sign isn’t answer enough to inequality or outrage. But it is a reminder.
Certainly we all can co-exist amid differing lifestyles and politics: hotheads, Second Amendment libertarians, bohemians, evangelicals, stoners, atheists, academics, pickup truck owners, and temperate progressives alike.
Whatever we do, I believe Trump’s ideas should be challenged, countered, called out. For me, it’s a great feeling to see the signs up, a community saying we aim to include, cooperate, respect, appreciate and sustain, not divide with fear and ignorance.
Loving the way he stirs the pot?
One night — Christmas, to be exact — I went out on my front porch to look at the moon. The next Christmas full moon I will be 85 or in my grave, so I figured I’d better take advantage of it now.
A walker called out to me, “I love your Trump sign! Don’t you just love Trump?” Some people apparently think the sign “Love Trumps Hate” means “I love Trump’s hate.” Sheesh, as one of my fellow sign-exhibiting neighbors exclaimed, “WHO THINKS LIKE THAT?”
But I’m a retired English teacher — language is slippery. And punctuation — or the lack of it — can trip us up a hundred ways from Sunday. As Chuck Todd said to Trump in a recent Meet the Press interview, “WORDS MATTER.”
“Umm … actually, I can’t stand the guy,” I said, shivering a little, to the Christmas walker. “Just so you know.”
“Well, I just love the way he stirs the pot,” she said. “Somebody has to say those things.”
That was a lot to take in.
“I wouldn’t want him to be president,” she continued, “but who else is there? And Hillary lies. And I just don’t know about Bernie Sanders.”
“Well, 70 percent of what Trump says is wrong,” I called out. “But Merry Christmas anyway.” “Merry Christmas to you!” she answered, and strolled away in the moonlight.
I went to the new Local Grocer to get a gift for my Trump neighbors. I wanted leverage, a crutch, if you will, for a conversation. I bought them two organic ribeye steaks and a gift certificate, maybe to use for fresh local veggies or fast-frozen fruit from pesticide-free farmers up North. I wanted them to know I’m a warm-hearted person, if not willing to stand by silently while The Donald, Great Peddler of Fear, the Emperor of the Ignorati, denies climate change, and offends blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, and women.
At the Local Grocer, I told Franklin and Erin about the dueling signs. But Franklin, an African American, was not ready to thoughtlessly join my Trump-the-Chump campaign. “It’s worth listening to some of the things he says,” he commented cheerfully as he touched and swiped the cashier iPad.
I groaned. “Like what??” I demanded. But another customer needed help and I thus avoided hearing anything that would change my mind. This is the Flint I love, but please, you’re not going to make me happy about what I regard as The Donald’s casually brutal politics.
I delivered my little packet of peace to the Trump house on a day of bitter wind, sleet and snow. The steaks and gift certificates were graciously received, and my neighbor, grabbing a smoke on the frigid back patio, gave me a hug. I told her I was writing about the signs.
She assured me she and her husband were not offended by my counter-message. “We think it’s funny,” she said. “We know people have different opinions – that’s okay.”
“Frankly,” she added, smiling, “I don’t go for everything he [Trump] says. I’m actually leaning toward Carson.”
I walked back across the street, my shoes crunching through thin ice, hopeful that no matter what, neighborliness might trump our differences.
Jan Worth-Nelson is the editor of East Village Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.