Depicted by the New York Times as the “least gay-friendly city in Montana,” with “59,000 mostly conservative citizens,” Great Falls is total Trump turf. It is also my hometown. When an official within the local political establishment informed me that the President of the United States would be flying on Air Force One into Great Falls International Airport, my mind was off to the races. Would he flip our only blue Senate seat red? Would this be the first of many trips? Would he announce his Supreme Court nominee early, and shock the world? With this president, anything is possible.
Naturally, I was over the moon when my local newspaper allowed me to lend my skills to coverage of the event. What followed was a series of observations and lessons that showed me why Trump won the presidential election in 2016. It all comes down to one word: we.
“We will make America strong again, we will make America safe again, and we will make America great again,” he recited to my friends, teachers, and neighbors.
“It’s the Trump trance,” my mom, a registered nurse, ingeniously explained to me. He routinely utilizes the divisiveness in our country, and manipulates the word “we” to create a sense of belonging among his supporters. It works.
It doesn’t matter how many half-truths, or flat-out lies, he tells. So long as he begins his falsehoods with “we,” his die-hard supporters will find a way to convince themselves of the essential role they played in accomplishing whatever grandiose achievement he conjures up. The crisis we now find ourselves face-to-face with is a basic law of the universe, a problem as old as humanity itself. Whenever there is an us, there is always always a them– always.
On the surface, it may seem as though Trump is constructing his constituency by unifying people, but underneath that erroneously confident facade is a cognizance of a fear that every human being struggles to reconcile: the fear of being alone. “Them” has come to include any number of individuals, from Democrats, to journalists, to immigrants– the list goes on. Not only are we afraid of being alone. We are just as terrified of being less than, and jumping on the Trump train is a way of solidifying our superiority over every group working in opposition to the president.
True to form, Trump’s statements were as hyper-polarized as ever. In a state where the Native American population is growing faster than the white population, he displayed no hesitation whatsoever before referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” Moreover, following the impetus of the #MeToo movement last year, sexual harassment claims in Montana more than doubled. The Ad-libber-in-Chief still found a way to discredit those victims, by suggesting that he would perform an impromptu DNA test on Warren during a hypothetical debate.
We’re in the #MeToo generation, so I have to be very gentle,” he joked, “and we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm, even though it only weighs probably 2 ounces.”
Hearing “we” makes us forget, because it puts us, as social creatures, in a state of playground survival. Hearing “we” gives us permission to become willfully deaf to the cries of the men, women, and children that this administration is hurting.
Standing before the coveted security checkpoint that meant I would soon find oh-so-cool, air-conditioned solace inside, I heard a MAGA hat-wearer say to her husband, “I sure hope they don’t separate families in that security line.” About four paces later, my gaze landed on another middle-aged woman sporting a replica of Melania Trump’s notorious “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” jacket.
“Of course I care,” I thought. “How can you not?”
Distracted by my incredulous frustration over the lack of compassion amidst the MAGA masses, a man standing directly in front of me tapped my shoulder three times before I snapped to attention. He said I looked hungry, and handed me a bright, Republican-red apple to tide me over for the time being.
I looked around. To my surprise, men and women, young and old, were fainting left and right in the intense July heat. Complete strangers forfeited their places in line to help one elderly senior reach a gurney. I took a step back. Maybe these people weren’t so different than me, after all.
What did I learn from President Donald Trump’s visit to my hometown? Maybe, if I weren’t a triplet, with loving parents and an extended family littering the western United States, I would be a Trump supporter. Maybe, if I felt more alone, I would fall prey to a powerful billionaire with an affinity for the word “we.” The question we now face is exactly how to break the “Trump trance,” and expose the countless lies he tells those who look to him for moral guidance.
Suppose “we” took a page out of Trump’s playbook. If every person in a position of power or leadership– CEO’s, politicians, celebrities– started making a conscious effort to use the word “we” more regularly, perhaps our country would start to bridge our divides. As ironic as it is, the president owes his electoral success to the exact sentiment that failed his opponent.
We are stronger together.