We commandeered a big, stupid Budget rental truck from Detroit, Michigan to Tucson, Arizona with all my stuff, slicing a 2,000-mile path straight through this big, beautiful, ugly, joyful, fading country.
The trip was a loud, clammy road song like most, marked by gristmills, soy fields and free-range cattle, the briny taste of its soil on our tongues, and crack-head motels in dry, bible-thumper counties. The corporate hegemony fueled carsickness and one passenger's attendant hangover, but we found indelible beauty in huge skies and chipped-up towns whose boom had long since past, except for the Wal-Mart.
Also found no shortage of women-loathing race-baiters. They were seemingly lovely working-class folk until queried about the upcoming presidential election. Then long-festering resentments rose and intolerance was suddenly and creepily bracketed by chortles, and diluted by yearnings for "how things used to be." They acted like they had unwavering knowledge of something that I didn't. The Trump fans.
Talked to a couple of empathetic people too.
This highly unscientific American temperature gauge was conducted like this: I approached working-class folks in different states in rural America and asked them questions. Some wouldn't talk. One young Canadian woman in a Missouri coffeehouse giggled aloud at the very idea of the upcoming American elections.
The goal here wasn't to engage like-minded morons such as artists, writers or musicians, or blubbery white dudes in truck stops wearing T-shirts that said things like "VEGUN – One Who Only Shoots Organic." Too easy. I tried to avoid anyone obviously voting either left or right, except that trio of hard-working Latinos in New Mexico, whom I'd pegged as hardcore Hillary supporters, and whose ill-informed inertia shocked: Angry-faced Marty Salas told me that he "didn't like either one. So I'm not voting." His young Mexican wife with a child in tow was much gentler, and said she was undecided about for whom to vote, but Trump was probably her choice. She couldn't say why Trump mattered to her.
Pissed-off indifference was everywhere. One bewildered Asian-American liquor-store owner in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, who looked about 40, nearly frothed at the mouth about how health insurance costs were killing him, his business. He didn't give a shit anymore, he told me, and wasn't voting for anyone.
The overriding narrative against Hillary was the Republican one, and it came down to two things: She's a liar. And as Secretary of State she was responsible for the deaths of our own, especially those killed Benghazi, Libya. Trump's incompetence didn't exactly weigh into their decisions.
Most Trump supporters wouldn't give their last names and some wouldn't allow their photo taken, while others waved me off with a dismissive backhand. I attempted to cover a wide range of ages and ethnicities.
This purely empirical observation revealed that Trump could very well become president of the United States. Yessir.
Name: Javin Whitlow
Lives in: Taylor, Michigan
Occupation: Car rentals and student at Wayne County Community College
Voter Preference: Hillary Clinton
Why: I go to church and we talk about different things. It's not a Democratic or Republican thing, it's a right and wrong thing.
In past elections it did feel like my vote mattered, but in this election I don't really know if my vote really matters.
Don't you think a vote against Trump is better for America?
I definitely do. That's why I'm more toward Hillary because it's the less of two evils. That's what we say at home. Now Trump turns me off. He's an asshole. Some of the stuff is just ridiculous. That stuff about make America great again? The past wasn't so great for everybody. It wasn't so great for my ancestors.
Name: Patty B.
Lives in: Cloverdale, Indiana
Occupation: Front desk at an Econolodge
Voter preference: Donald Trump
Why: Trump can make it the way it used to be back in my days. You know? Where government did what the government should. It protected us. It didn't tell every little whoop-stitch to do. Just like Obamacare is a farce. There's a girl here that's a maid, you know how much maids make. She's on Obamacare and the best she could do was a $3,000 deductible.
I think he will make our economy better. I think he will build up our military, protect us better. I think Hillary Clinton is a liar and as far as I'm concerned she murdered those people in Benghazi. My son and my daughter are voting for Trump, too. My son's in the military and he's not too fond of stuff Clinton did, he said, "you never leave your people behind."
I'm still a registered Democrat. I just know that if you don't take care of this great country here, nobody else is. Everybody out there wants to get us. We're the only great country going, and they want to change us, make us socialists where the government takes care of everything. That's not the way it's supposed to be.
Is Donald Trump fit to run the country?
Absolutely. I think he's got some things wrong with him; he's never been in politics and he says some really off-the-wall stuff (laughs). ... But compared to Hillary Clinton? She's a 100 million times worse at taking care of the country than he would ever be. I'm up to here with the Clintons. They do bad stuff. I'd be first to admit Trump is no saint, but I know he hasn't killed anybody. They talk about bodies buried everywhere from the Clintons. I'm talking even in their private life ...
As a woman, do you have a problem supporting Trump?
He's just the way men used to be in the day! It's not offensive to me. You weren't offended by that. I don't get that. Now if they treat you bad, that's a different story, if they knock you around.
Name: Ralph S.
Lives in: Rural Indiana
Occupation: Retired, worked for a pharmaceutical company
Voter preference: Trump. Says all his friends are voting Trump
Why: I don't like any of them. But I'll vote for Trump. Hillary is a liar. And I don't think a woman should be president. Too much PMS (slight laughs).
Is Trump fit to be president?
That's questionable. He's got advisors. There's nothing he's going to do without them. I don't think they would advise him to do the wrong thing. Hillary would lie about anything to get in there. She says she doesn't want to change the Second Amendment, and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. She's saying that now, but let her get in there and she'll change her mind. That's one thing I'm afraid of. She didn't do anything for those who died in Benghazi. I think she tried to lie her way out of it. It was an open and shut case. She's not going to stop lying just because she's president, Madame President, or whatever you want to call her.
Lives in: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Occupation: Server at Ruby Tuesday
Voter preference: Trump
Why: He's the Republican Party, man. He's who you gotta go with. We need people to get off food stamps, get jobs, quit living off the government. You know, support their families, not have the government support their families. Quit printing off money and blowing money on stupid shit.
Like what stupid shit?
We spend, I think, like a billion a year on food stamps. I think we can cut that down somewhat. Federal aid, this free housing shit. People are just lazy, man (laughs).
Name: Julia Salas
City: Socorro, New Mexico
Voter preference: Undecided, leaning to Trump
Why: I don't like everything Donald Trump is saying or trying to do. Can't agree with all of it, but agree with some. I come from a family of politicians. I'd rather avoid it (laughs). My dad is a commissioner, my grandpa is a county assessor. So I avoid politics. It takes over everything. But I am going to vote. Probably for Trump.