I don’t know how much further I can push. With every further question, I ask I am scared to step over that line of being too nosey. I missed the moment to tell the two ladies I am talking to that I am a journalism student. Here as a journalist. To be fair: they never asked, they were too excited to share all their knowledge, their opinions.
“I better not be on that!”
A sentence spit out with dismay. My heart stops, as my friend-slash-classmate-colleague Ryan walks by with his camera. The lady adds “He’s not one of us.” Her friend: “Oh, you can tell in a heartbeat!” My collegue is wearing his typical lumberjack. He left his NYU cap in the car. Smart. How can they tell? Is it just his camera? Lucky for me, they forget about him and rage on.
When they asked me where I came from I said “Germany, I just moved to the states” How did I hear about this event? “Oh, I’m with a group…” my voice fading, they don’t really care, they’re too excited about the parking lot around us filling up with people. I use the moment of distraction to justify all my questions: “I just moved here, I was raised in Germany with dual citizenship, so I always felt American.” I am intrigued to hear what they tell the Me who is a foreigner, instead of the Me who is a student living in New York. I don’t lie. “I want to understand what that means. What being American means…”
We are 30 minutes north of the border to Illinois in Waukesha, Wisconsin where predominantly white, middle-aged Americans whipped out their favorite colors: red, white, and blue, and put them in their hair, on their heads, accessories, jewelry. And bumper stickers. The woman next to me mentions how she can tell a Democrat a mile against the wind. She gives my journalist colleagues a derogatory glimpse. I ask her, how she can tell.
“It’s the whole look, their outfits. Run down and ugly or too sleek and shiny.” And what’s the Republican look? “Normal. We’re normal people.”
Her sneakers glitter, white cargo pants low on her waist, the black T-shirt picks up on the stars and stripes that embellish her fitted denim jacket. It is embroidered with US flags and a patch supporting WW2 Veterans (something that would scare the shit out of me if she was German). Welcome to the USA.
Her eyes sparkle as much as the red blue white beads on her hoop earrings. “Oh, I absolutely love my colors!” I can tell. I ask about the huge flag that is held by a crane behind the stage. Did they put it up for the event? “Of course! They always do – they better!” I explain how in Germany we do not show pride, we learn not to. Thanks to history. Got your flag out one week after the soccer World Cup ended? Your neighbors suspect the worst.
These women are the opposite of all I learned. Or shall I say, the opposite of the bubbles I call home? The small bubbly blonde with the WW2 patch explains that she doesn’t identify as republican, not anymore. She’s a proud American. She researches her candidates, supports and votes accordingly.
“I want my country back!”
She doesn’t trust anyone. The election was rigged, stolen, Joe Biden is not her president.
So why do she and her friend support Ron Johnson? The, so far, more calm woman in the blue fleece explains
“I think he’s straightforward. I think he’s truthful. He, he has his own business –” “and Ron’s not a politician.” Her bubbly friend interrupts her. “I hate Rhinos.” (Rhinos?) “I don’t consider myself Republican anymore. At all. I’m a patriotic American.”
She will vote for the best candidate, in her humble opinion.
“Love that flag, love my country, love my military. I mean, how demonized our military is right now by the regime?”
She calls it “The Fourth Reich”, referring to Hitler’s Third Reich. Wait – what side are we on here? I try to let her explain
“What did Hitler do? History is repeating itself. I don’t remember what disease it was that hit Germany when Hitler was disarmed.”
Disease? Disarmed? Last time I checked, Hitler killed himself in a bunker in Berlin. I can’t keep up with her.
“Disarmed all the people, took all their guns away, and convinced everybody that there was a mortal enemy.”
Wait, who got disarmed now? Hitler? The Germans? “They’re doing the same thing with the MAGA supporters.” I’m dizzy, I do not know where to ask what question. I must have missed that whole part in my yearly touch-up on german history in my twelve years of German schools. I make a mental note to call my grandparents who were born that time the next day. The friend in the blue fleece just nods her approval, while the waterfall continues.
To her, Fox News is too liberal. Except for maybe three people. She is on Telegram – I know that one from German conspiracy theorists – and TrueSocials, Trump’s own social network. She doesn’t trust Elon Musk (yet) and sure not Mark Zuckerberg; she got banned from Facebook after sharing a video of Democrat representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez giving a blowjob (doctored, as I later researched). She laughs and adds, disgusted:
“I mean, she was a bartender!”
She leans in as if she just shared that the representative was a proud prostitute (and I think: even if she was I wouldn’t mind).
I originally came here to talk about climate change. I ask her to recommend platforms to get her side of the news. I think that this might be a good way for me to ease into revealing that I am a journalist myself. As she takes out her phone to look up the sources – theories she believes to be facts about covid, vaccines, and criminals; dirty secrets and horror stories about every democratic candidate out there, and, of course, the stolen election – she is distracted by Bumble notifications. I can’t help but hope that at 55 I will not be online dating. But more so, I hope I won’t be as bitter.
“You won’t believe how many hateful messages I get because my profile says I am not vaccinated!”
And here goes my mission to pick up climate change.
Her friend tells us how her daughter had a miscarriage because of the vaccine. I ask when she got vaccinated. It was before she was pregnant. Of course, we hear the next opinion bubbling right out: “It’s horrible. I mean, miscarriages happen all the time. But if you KNOW that it’s because of a vaccine. That’s just horrible.” How does she know? I don’t ask. She is honestly surprised as I tell her that the vaccine in Germany was developed by German pharma. (I leave out the part of the developers being Turkish migrants, I am not here to talk about myself, I want to hear from her).
“Wait, so no one died from the vaccine in Germany?” She’s speechless, but only for a second.
Next to us, my friend and classmate Interviews a bearded man with a MAGA hat. He too wears a lumberjack. So what gave away my other colleague? The woman looks up from her phone and over to the conversation. To no one in particular she says:
“You better stop talking, she’s gonna twist all of your words.”
My blood freezes. To us, her friend who has red white and blue strains clipped in her ponytail, and me, she adds:
“I would whip that little recorder right out of her little hand.”
My blood is still not moving back into my heart. My phone is in my vest’s pocket, recording. What happens if she finds out I am “with them”?
That reminds me of my mission.
“Climate change? That’s a joke. I don’t give rats, you know? It’s a way to funnel money to the Democrats. That’s all it is. Funneling money to Democrats.”
Okay, haven’t heard that one before.
“Our earth has been around for how long? And climate changes.” Is she getting scientific?” it’s just not, we can’t have impacted it that much.”
The German in me chuckles, as I realize that while the US sees itself as the needle of the world 90% of the time, these individuals deny all their power when it comes to impacting the state of the planet.
Her friend mentions that “We need to be better about doing stuff for our Earth.” but not in the way that “they” talk about it. The evil “they”, who “use that little girl over whatever country that was” – Greta Thunberg. She giggles as she remembers how a Republican Senator allegedly joked that she was too old for Harvey Weinstein. “And it was like, it’s so funny. But it’s true.” She continues laughing about her own humor and remembers she still has her phone in her hand.
She laughs at her phone. Bumble? No. A picture of Obama. As she’s laughing hatefully, all I can make out is the word transvestite. Barack Obama? Noooo, Michelle. Michelle Obama? I add that to my mental list of conspiracies to look up. Currently on there:
- The relation between vaccines and miscarriages
- The democrat’s plans to release 50% of highly dangerous criminals from prison
- How democrats profit from climate change action
- Michelle Obama being a transvestite
- Comparisons of the current state of the US to Germany in the 1930s, “guns being taken from people, history is repeating itself”
Some of her arguments are not new to me. “I’m very conservative.” Okay…
”I don’t give my money to people who need my money,” she pauses “because they don’t work. No, you work!”
It’s a belief many republicans share about democrats: that they want to take all their money to give it to lazy people.
Her stance on abortion surprises me. After hearing her state how conservative she perceived herself and that she, in the first place, didn’t get vaccinated for religious reasons:
“If at any point there was ever fetal tissue used, it’s against my religion”
And apparently, there is fetal tissue in the vaccine. Man, I wish I could press pause and look things up, study medicine and politics and gather arguments. But nope, off to the next topic:
“Do I give a shit about abortion. There’s the morning-after pill. There are condoms. Birth control is free. You don’t use abortion for a form of birth control. Your body or choice, absolutely, but you’re being fucking stupid about something that doesn’t even need to be an issue. I mean, if you’re really going out having sex with that many people – “
I ask her about miscarriages and emergency terminations to save the mother’s life.
“Not here. Okay. No way. Not a fucking chance. Not a chance. Not in atopic pregnancy, not a miscarriage. No, it’s not.”
She goes on explaining that if her daughter was “stupid enough” to come home pregnant she’d drive her over to Illinois, “that’s a short trip”. Women’s rights? Bodily autonomy? She laughs at the latter argument and flashes back to Covid:
“I won’t have a nurse talk to me about bodily autonomy when she’s got a shot that the government made her get to keep her job!”
Another woman joins us, probably twenty years older than the women I talk to. Long grey hair and in full trump gear: a fisher hat saying “trump 2024”, American flags, stickers, and patches on her vest, and a T-shirt with the silhouette of trump’s face. My new ‘friend’ makes a face: “Trump 2024? DeSantis! It has to be DeSantis!” My blood begins to boil. I only arrived in this country ten short weeks ago but I’ve seen and heard enough – especially podcasts from both sides of the spectrum – to know that Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis is every liberal’s nightmare. The women get into a short argument about who the better president might be and I get a bit dizzy: Where am I, how did I get here and how do I get out of this without at least one of them getting aggressive?
“So many journalists here”, “There always are.” It becomes clear to me that they will not let me quote them. But there will have to be an outing. I need to ease in. The blonde woman will not tell me her name. “I can’t be seen here, I called in sick today to be here.” She begins to hide behind her green banner, she will throughout the rally. Her friend, who hardly got a word in, turns to me: “So, what brings you here?” My moment of truth. I ease in: “I moved ten weeks ago, for graduate school.” “Where to?” “New York.” Uff, step one. They tense up lightly but still smile.
“What do you study? Journalism?”
The friend is smarter than I thought. And kinder than I dared to hope for. I smile, a shy smile of a child that was caught having candy when she already had enough. Almost embarrassed “Yes, journalism.” Quick, very quick, I add: “I am new to the country so I want to know all sides, I am genuinely curious.” Still, after seeing them talk about my friends in the distance, I fear that they get angry. They don’t. It’s always easier to get mad and talk badly when things are in the distance. And, lucky for me the event is about to begin.
I listen up for quotes that I can use for my piece on environmental politics.
An hour earlier, as I prepared for this rally, I texted my friend Antonia, who works for a deputy of the Green Party in the European Parliament:
“I’m about to ask a republican candidate for senate who denies climate change about climate change. Any last words?” Instantly, she replied: “Ask them how they are going to explain to their grandchildren that they did nothing to ensure a healthy future!”
It’s the same advice my professor gave me at dinner the night before. So I listen up when incumbent senator Ron Johnson quotes former President Ronald Reagan:
“You know, freedom is always one generation from extinction.”
Standing here and an hour later, hearing Johnson in the flesh talking about leaving a better world to his grandchildren, I realize: there is a fundamental disconnect in what caring about the future of our planet means to the people around me versus where I come from.