The couple smiled at me, waved, and said how much they liked seeing our dogs, two greyhounds including a brand-new one we adopted a few weeks ago.
The greyhounds did their happy dog dance as they passed. A pleasant small-town moment, and at the same time, a moment that speaks to an uneasy conundrum. I know the couple from walking past their home. In their driveway is a truck festooned with multiple bumper stickers, pro-Trump, including one that alludes to the fact that liberals should shut up because the right-wingers have all the guns.
In the Cowboy Junkies song “Oregon Hill,” singer Margo Timmins paints a scene in a small rural town, including vehicles with “bumper stickers aimed to start a fight.”
That particular bumper sticker on my neighbor’s truck seems to be aimed at starting a civil war. Not exactly the quaint Mayberry vibe. But then again, the couple themselves gave off a friendly vibe.
This is a conundrum of our times. Sometimes when I see someone make a horrible, racist, and/or violent comment on Facebook, I look at the person’s page. Often, their post history goes like this:
- Smiling photo of that person with their grandchildren
- Photo and post about volunteering at church
- Sharing of a horrifying anti-democracy post that Trump made on Truth Social, with an “amen! That’s my president!”
- Post about looking forward to the weekend.
- Sharing a meme about shooting Black Lives Matter protestors.
- Photo of grandchildren with pets and a comment about how adorable they all are.
These are seemingly nice people supporting the most cruel, angry, hateful form of politics on this planet. It is both unnerving and endlessly fascinating to me. It reminds me of hearing on a podcast a woman remembering how her mother in Austria used to become enraged at neighbors who would tell her that she needed to forgive the man in her town who turned over Jewish people to the Nazis, including several of her mother’s closest friends. She would hear, but he’s so nice, look at how he smiles at everyone, the tourists love him. You should forgive him. Yet this man never expressed regret for what he did, which was sending people to their deaths based on who they were. Which means he would have done it again.
Look at these laughing, joyful young people.
They seem fun at first glance, great folks. But they are Nazi SS soldiers and SS Auxiliaries who worked at Auschwitz. That young woman, the third person in from the right, doing the little dance pose like she is a college student having a blast at a party, was a willing part of machinery that sent six million Jewish people to their death.
Meanwhile, in present-day America, we hear rhymes of this time. Trump has been quite open about his plans for a second term. They are clearly an outline for authoritarianism, including building concentration camps near the border and assembling 54,000 people to “clean out” anyone in government who might be a guardrail to Trump’s worst urges. Recently Trump has referred to liberals as “vermin,” echoing the dehumanizing language of the Third Reich. People who want to keep their heads buried in the sand and live in denial about who Trump is will say “Where did you hear this stuff?” and the answer, once again, is from Trump himself.
Trump has called Mexican “rapists,” openly mocked a disabled person in an extremely grotesque way, lied constantly, created cruel policies like the Muslim ban, and the only time his supporters got mad at him was when they didn’t think he was doing enough to hurt the people they wanted him to hurt.
January 6 happened and they cheered and called the participants heroes and patriots. Nancy Pelosi’s husband was brutally beaten with a hammer and his supporters laughed. They openly supported overturning the 2020 election and show nothing but contempt for our democracy. And as their bumper stickers demonstrate, they are very open to political violence.
Many of the people who wholeheartedly support all of this are not very outwardly happy people, oozing a threatening vibe that intimidates any outsider who dares venture into “their” convenience store or even a local who dares to dress outside the rules of the uniform – t-shirt/hoodie sweatshirt, ballcap (camo, generally), and jeans. But there are also the people who support cruelty and authoritarianism who are the seemingly nice people I am alluding to in this post. Like the pleasant Nazis having a little fun on a break from performing genocide.
These folks are all around me as I write this. What do I do? I smile and wave back. I support policies that would make their lives better, like rural broadband initiatives. I donate to a local food bank to help the people I see lined up one Saturday a month to get free groceries provided by one of our town’s two churches, a line of cars that stretches way too long in the side streets near the church. And yes, some of the cars have Trump stickers, a perfect example of the cruel, maddening irony that is our current American existence.
But at the same time, I know that on some level, my right-wing neighbors would likely support rounding up myself, my wife, and the Democrats who make up a third of the voters in our borough and ship us off to some sort of prison. At least some would. Who they are is a reality that we should not ignore, no matter how much we might want to deny it or ignore it. It’s part of the reality that people are complicated and this case, rather unsettling. In the meantime, I’ll keep waving back, hoping one day they’ll come around.
The last word goes to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.