US Election Red, blue and divided: Six views of America

Across Trump-supporting social media this week, some were celebrating but many others — including the president-elect himself — were expressing deep frustration. Even after a stunning victory, they saw themselves being described as bigoted and unenlightened.

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Supporters at Donald Trump's election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York, Nov. 8, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times) play

Supporters at Donald Trump's election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York, Nov. 8, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

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Red, blue, optimistic, fearful. Here are six takes on a divided United States, in the wake of Donald Trump’s narrow election victory:

The Echo Chamber

DENVER — Marjorie Haun, 55, a Trump supporter living in Colorado, let me sign into her Facebook account on Friday. Anti-Trump protests had rocked cities across the country, and I wanted to see what the reaction looked like to her. And so I logged in and took a spin.

Her friends (she has 4,996) had posted images of a supposed Democrat defecating on a Donald Trump sign. Another shared a protest video — “Idiot Paid Anti-Trump Anarchists Yell ‘Peaceful Protest’ as they Bash Cars” — with the message, “Run these vile Liberal dirtbags down!!!” Others called protesters “spoiled brats” and urged friends to keep their guns loaded.

Haun had added a video of her own — “Anti-Trump rioters brawl — with each other!” — with a note: “Are we having fun yet?”

Then, I opened a new window and logged in as Meredith Dodson, 42, a Hillary Clinton supporter who lives in Washington, D.C. She has 1,176 friends. On her feed, no one was talking about the protests. Instead, there was fear. How would women, African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, gay people and others be treated under Trump?

“As a woman and a Latina I’m feeling lost and afraid,” one person wrote. “Friends please tell me you have my back.”

“This morning,” another wrote, “I started mentally planning how I would react if someone were to refer to me as the N word. It has already happened to 3 of my friends.”

Dodson had tapped out her own message: “The vast majority of my daughter’s DC Public Schools PreK classmates are the children of immigrants,” she said. “These are 3 and 4 year olds! I am so frightened.”

In some ways, the echo chamber was the winner of this election. Here we are, deeply connected. And yet red America is typing away to red America, and blue America is typing away to blue America. The day after the election, some people said the echo chamber had begun to feel like a prison.

I called Haun and Dodson and thanked them for letting me hang out in their social spaces. Dodson said that she had two or three Facebook friends who supported Trump, but no real-life friends who did, and that she had been trying to get out of her bubble. “I have this suspicion that I have no idea what’s going on in the rest of white America,” she said.

Haun has a few friends who support Clinton, but they largely avoid talking about politics online, she said. She was less concerned than Dodson about getting trapped in a loop of ideas. “We want to be inclusive in our echo chamber,” she said. “If anyone wants to come in, come on in.”

— JULIE TURKEWITZ

FILE -- Austin residents gather to watch the presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Scholz Garten in Austin, Texas, Sept. 26, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/The New York Times) play

FILE -- Austin residents gather to watch the presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Scholz Garten in Austin, Texas, Sept. 26, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/The New York Times)

 

In Power, but Still Not Elite

NEW ORLEANS — Perhaps the best way to understand “the elite” that Trump railed against is to consider what it is not — or at least how it differs from the way Clinton supporters might see it.

Elite does not simply mean having a lot of money. Trump, who inherited millions, is not considered an elite sellout by his supporters any more than Edward Snowden is considered a tool of the government for having worked at the National Security Agency. Rather, the thinking goes, it’s because Trump knows how it all works that he is in the best position to take it all apart.

“The people he hung around, with all those wealthy folks and how they manipulated everything,” made him uniquely qualified, said Pat Bruce, a conservative activist in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi, who grew excited about the Trump campaign when she saw that “he never changed what he said to fit what they wanted him to say.”

Elite does not necessarily mean educated either. While university professors might be scorned as condescending eggheads, book smarts are prized when used against the bookish. While covering the 2012 Republican primary races in the Deep South, I remember conservatives crowing giddily about Newt Gingrich’s ability to demolish foes in a debate.

Elite is certainly not, as many on the left would argue, a function of historical advantage: being, say, a white Christian male in a country that has long made little room for anyone else. It is in some ways exactly not this. Rather, much of Trump’s support arose from frustration that the majority must grant marginalized groups — immigrants, transgender people — particular protection and deference.

Last year, the political leadership of Mississippi came out for the dedication of a 110-foot metal cross south of Jackson, an event at which speakers talked of taking a stand despite “people coming against you, of course, your atheists, your critics.” There, in the most religious state in the country, atheists are an extreme minority. But they are the ones who ignite the court battles, who mean no prayers at high school football games, who must be accommodated.

This is, to many, what constitutes the elite: the people who set the cultural and societal norms, and who do so without their input or influence.

Across Trump-supporting social media this week, some were celebrating but many others — including the president-elect himself — were expressing deep frustration. Even after a stunning victory, they saw themselves being described as bigoted and unenlightened.

And even with the Republicans having achieved near-total control of all levels of government, this remained an irritating conundrum: The elites are still the ones who decide who gets to be elite.

— CAMPBELL ROBERTSON

FILE -- Supporters bow their heads during a prayer at a Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz., Oct. 4, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times) play

FILE -- Supporters bow their heads during a prayer at a Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz., Oct. 4, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

 

Guided by Religion

Religion is a purple state. There were indeed plenty of religious folks cheering at Trump’s rallies, but there were plenty of clergy members who fought hard to elect Clinton.

White evangelicals stuck with Trump. Exit polls show that 81 percent voted for him, more than either of the past two Republican presidential candidates drew. Majorities of Mormons and white Catholics, as well as many mainline Protestants, also supported Trump, undeterred by his offensive language and harsh perspectives on Mexicans, Muslims and the disabled.

In interviews this year, I often heard bewilderment and resentment from these believers at the pace of cultural and demographic change. Still reeling from last year’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, they felt pummeled this year when the Obama administration set rules for transgender students in school bathrooms. They were disturbed to see businesses setting aside prayer rooms for Muslims when Christians were not allowed to recite the Lord’s Prayer at high school graduation. Trump told them he was their “last chance” to protect their religious liberty and limit abortion — and many believed it.

The Clinton camp included many evangelicals, but they were predominantly black, Latino, Asian and female. Her supporters also included two-thirds of Latino Catholics and four in 10 white Catholics; Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities; and those who say they have no religious affiliation.

These voters are also guided by religious and moral values, but they arrive at a completely different destination than do conservatives. Their concerns are poverty, economic inequality, immigration, health care, criminal justice reform, voting rights, gay and transgender rights, reproductive choice, climate change and environmental protection.

The Rev. William Barber II, a black minister and civil rights leader in North Carolina, held “moral revivals” in 22 states this year with three friends: the Rev. James A. Forbes, the Rev. Traci Blackmon and Sister Simone Campbell.

After the election, Barber’s Twitter feed went silent until Friday, when he put out a stream of posts. “This is where we redouble our commitment to be instruments of truth, love, and justice,” he wrote, rallying people of faith to lead the way in resisting the Trump administration.

— LAURIE GOODSTEIN

FILE -- Members of the Black Lives Matter movement burn an American flag outside the White House after hearing about President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, in Washington, Nov. 9, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Al Drago/The New York Times) play

FILE -- Members of the Black Lives Matter movement burn an American flag outside the White House after hearing about President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, in Washington, Nov. 9, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

 

Seeing a Nation Under Siege

A Trump supporter called me Thursday to criticize my coverage of the president-elect’s immigration policies. He pointed to it as an example of egregious bias that he said had led the news media to miss the groundswell of support that lifted Trump to victory.

His tone was hostile at first, but we got to talking. The supporter, Douglas Freeman, a 67-year-old retired postal worker from Knoxville, Tennessee, explained why Trump’s proposals to raise a border wall and punish cities that protect immigrants in the U.S. illegally resonated with his view of the U.S. as a nation under siege — from outside and within.

“He speaks with conviction and passion,” Freeman said of Trump, “and he is obviously an American patriot who is very upset with the political ruling class, which is selling our sovereignty out to globalism.” He added: “When he said Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo, we stood up and cheered.”

For Freeman, Trump’s blunt immigration talk signified that he was a true rebel who would take on the powers that be, including in the Republican Party.

“We have a two-party duopoly,” he said. “They want to destroy this country by importing armies of people who will vote to keep the checks flowing from the federal government.” Clinton’s paid speech to a Brazilian bank, in which she said open borders throughout the Western Hemisphere were “my dream” — an excerpt that was released by WikiLeaks — confirmed that for Freeman.

In covering immigration for The Times, I’ve been to the southwest border many times in recent years. I have not seen the wide-open boundary Freeman depicts. There are 700 miles of walls and fences, 17,000 Border Patrol agents, and drones and aerial cameras. Homeland Security officials said last week that they were detaining more than 41,000 immigrants and opening jails for more. Despite a surge of Central American migrants, illegal crossings are at the lowest level since the 1970s.

But Freeman wants Trump to add a lot more border security to send a message to migrants to stay out, and to reassure his U.S. supporters that the borders “are no longer open.”

He said he did not expect Trump’s actions to match all the heated statements of his campaign. The wall does not have to cover remote, impassable stretches of the border, he said. He understands the country needs guest workers for agriculture. He does not expect agents to go door to door looking for immigrants to deport.

But he wants Trump to cut federal funding for cities that do not cooperate with immigration authorities. And he strongly favors “extreme vetting” for refugees from the Middle East. “We are deliberately importing Muslims who are very intolerant and don’t believe in live-and-let-live,” Freeman said.

“If Mr. Trump doesn’t deliver,” he said, “he won’t have support for very long.”

Donald O’Sullivan reads a newspaper detailing Donald Trump’s victory at Russ’ Diner, located in a once-reliably Democratic county that ended up backing Trump, in Erie, Pa., Nov. 10, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times) play

Donald O’Sullivan reads a newspaper detailing Donald Trump’s victory at Russ’ Diner, located in a once-reliably Democratic county that ended up backing Trump, in Erie, Pa., Nov. 10, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

 

— JULIA PRESTON

Competing Visions

In vowing to “Make America Great Again,” Trump laid bare competing visions of what the U.S. is — or should be.

For years politicians have framed the divide as Red America versus Blue America. But Trump’s victory has me thinking about our national divide as a clash between Americans who prize the melting pot, and those who embrace the concept of the “salad bowl.” So I reached out to several women I knew.

Mary Barket is 60, a Republican strategist and avid Trump supporter in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, squarely in the Rust Belt. Her grandfather immigrated from Poland shortly before World War I, joined the Army and returned to Europe to fight. He learned English and insisted his children do the same.

“He was all about assimilation,” she said.

Barket said she has watched with alarm as identity politics and racial divisions have flourished under President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president. She works in her church, helping run a food pantry, and once took in a black friend of her daughter’s for six months.

She said she approved of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but today’s Black Lives Matter protests against the police have unnerved her: “It doesn’t seem like they come from a place of peace.” She has a gay cousin who is in a long-term relationship, but she is not enamored of the gay rights movement; she says the focus should be on “human rights” instead.

“I just don’t like this striating of our culture,” she said. “I think we have to go back to thinking of ourselves as Americans.”

I met Tessa Hill-Aston — who is “60-ish” and the president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP — while covering the unrest spurred by the death of Freddie Gray after his arrest by the police. Her grandfather, a doctor in Kentucky, was the descendant of a slave impregnated by her master. “We didn’t come here looking for a melting pot,” she said. “We were tortured and brought here.”

Like Mara Kiesling, 57, who began life as a boy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and now fights for transgender rights in Washington, Hill-Aston envisions a U.S. where differences are celebrated, not airbrushed away. Both women are terrified Trump will roll back their hard-won rights.

“The feeling that is the strongest for me this week is that this is my country,” Kiesling said, “and no one is going to tell me I can’t be here. “

All of these women insist they want a unified U.S., and in many respects — including their age and socioeconomic status — they are very similar. Yet as they fight for their version of the U.S., they could not be further apart.

— SHERYL GAY STOLBERG

Demonstrators march to protest President-elect Donald Trump in New York, Nov. 12, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Christopher Lee/The New York Times) play

Demonstrators march to protest President-elect Donald Trump in New York, Nov. 12, 2016. In the wake of the 2016 election, one thing is clear – America is deeply divided, with issues such as immigration and religion tearing the nation apart. (Christopher Lee/The New York Times)

 

Taking, and Giving, Offense

HOUSTON — Before the U.S. had a presidential candidate who offended Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, women and the disabled, Texas had Sid Miller, the state agriculture commissioner, who compared Syrian refugees to snakes and called Clinton an obscene term on Twitter.

And Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, who said illegal immigrants were bringing leprosy and other “third-world diseases” to Texas. And Molly White, a state lawmaker who told her staff to ask Muslims visiting her office to “publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.” And Jonathan Stickland, another state lawmaker, who in 2008 wrote on an online forum: “Rape is nonexistent in marriage, take what you want my friend!”

A candidate for the state Board of Education — Mary Lou Bruner, a former kindergarten teacher, 69, who was pleasant when I spoke to her by phone in March — claimed Obama was a drug-addicted gay prostitute in his youth. Chris Mapp, a candidate for Senate, referred to undocumented immigrants as “wetbacks.”

None of this bothered Texas Republicans a great deal. There were a few apologies and statements of regret, but not much more.

Clinton’s supporters in blue America cringed at Trump’s inflammatory remarks during the campaign, but his supporters throughout red America barely flinched. They were used to it. They lived in places where public figures had been making Trump-esque comments for years. In red Texas in particular, I have found, the notion of being offended is regarded as a “blue” concept.

Lance Herrington, 73, has long offended Democratic motorists on State Highway 71 in La Grange, plastering the marquee and other signs outside his classic car company with provocative slogans. He told me a story about someone he had offended with his marquee in 2012. Red America will take it one way. Blue America will take it another.

After the debates between Mitt Romney and Obama in 2012, his marquee read: “The Mormon won. The moron zero.” He also hung a white plastic chair, a reference to Clint Eastwood’s conversation with a chair during the Republican convention that year.

“This minority, she was out front,” he said. She later called him and threatened to turn him into the FBI. “I said, ‘For what?’ She says, ‘For that chair.’ I said, ‘Darling, as you can see, it’s a white chair.’ And she hung up on me.”

“The pendulum swung so far toward political correctness that you can’t do anything without offending someone,” he said.

— MANNY FERNANDEZ

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