CLEVELAND — There’s a reason Donald Trump’s be-very-afraid acceptance speech resonated with his supporters.
They’re already really afraid and certain the country is near doom. It doesn’t matter that the stock market is booming, that the job market keeps improving, that budget deficits are declining, that inflation is low, that wages are finally picking up and crime remains at historic lows.
They believe Trump’s false claims that crime is sky-rocketing, that police officers are getting slaughtered at record rates and immigration is destroying the economy and the country. They are afraid that the non-existent downward spiral will only get worse.
And they’re especially afraid that Hillary Clinton will win.
“Boy, that’s a scary thought,” said Mike Huey, a bluff, friendly 56-year-old from Illinois who was nevertheless willing to sport a button that read “Life’s a bitch. Don’t vote for one.”
He was among many Trump supporters asked by The Huffington Post in Cleveland how they would feel if Clinton wins, and the country becomes Hillary’s America. Many of them expressed fear, and not just your garden variety fear of political disappointment, but more your arm-yourself-to-the-teeth kind of fear.
“Well, I would run to the store as fast as I could and get as much ammo as I could and buckle down,” said Pamela Nicolay, a central Californian who last voted for a president when it was Ronald Reagan.
“Oh,” said MaryAnne Kinney, a state representative from Knox, Maine, whose sunny smile turned rueful and pained at the thought of Clinton in the White House. “I’ll cry. I will. It’s just… I can’t let that happen.”
“She will continue the destruction of America,” said Paul Braswell, a rancher from central Texas. “She will continue radicalizing Muslims, moving them here, and then letting them attack us, and go, ‘Oh, it’s because the police are bad people.’”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump backers would say such things during a convention that opened with a pastor calling Democrats and Clinton “the enemy,” and featured chants of “Lock her up!”
But it opens a window into a reality that has a lot of liberals and Democrats just as nervous: thousands of people who gathered in Cleveland this past week — and many more around the country — actually believe the scary rhetoric that spewed from the stage of Quicken Loans Arena. Wherever the ideas originated, they are not just talking points to the millions of Americans who made Donald Trump the leader of the Republican Party. They are “facts.”
And that raises trepidation among Democrats who watched the outpouring of racially tinged, unfounded fear and rage. It worries them that because the anger is based not on actual facts but emotion, and it leaves little room for reasonable argument. Beliefs that Clinton was a bad senator or an ineffective secretary of state get translated into a set of “truths,” and those were used repeatedly to condemn Clinton during the convention. A woman who has been in the public eye for decades is pronounced a killer, liar and traitor who should be in jail.
“I think it so demeans and diminishes our political debate and our democracy,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a surrogate for Clinton who spoke with HuffPost just outside the Q, as the arena is known.
“It’s fine to have an opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but we’re not each entitled to our own facts,” Becerra said. “When you start to portray the facts only as you see them, and then use adjectives to describe people based on what you call your facts, that’s when it gets offensive. That’s when it goes beyond debate and discussion. And that’s when it becomes rhetoric that’s harmful to our democracy.”
Most of the Republicans who spoke with HuffPost did indeed prefer their own facts, especially people who think Clinton committed a crime by using a private email server while she was secretary of state, even after a year-long FBI probe couldn’t prove a violation.
Not all of them seemed aghast at a Clinton presidency, even if they don’t like the former first lady, and weren’t ready to start fracturing the country or pulling up stakes at the prospect of her moving back to her home of the 1990s.
“Where can I go? This is the best country and I will fight as hard as I can to keep it the best country,” said Mariam Noujaim, an Egyptian immigrant who’s angry at unions and likes Trump’s business record.
“Well, we’ll have to support her. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. But you know you always have to support the presidency,” said Jack Leinweber, a Texan who spent 21 years in the military. “Have to support the commander in chief.”
Roger Stone, one of the manufacturers of the facts that were so prevalent around Cleveland, was far less willing to accept the idea of a second President Clinton.
“I’ve been looking at property in Costa Rica,” said Stone, a notorious aide to Richard Nixon and author of a book bashing Clinton’s treatment of women.
“If she should win, you’ll see the most massive civil disobedience in this country you have ever seen. People aren’t going to put up with these criminals in the White House,” said Stone of a woman who has not been tried or convicted of anything, let alone indicted. “I think the country will be paralyzed.”
Like a good partisan, Stone insisted Clinton would not win, but none of the other Trump backers were as adamant, suggesting that however much Clinton disturbs them, they at least recognize she is favored to win. It suggests that for people like Stone and conspiracist extraordinaire Alex Jones, who have been hatching fresh truths, there’s still a chance to break through all the fear and loathing. That’s what Democrats hope, anyway.
Becerra pointedly declined to denounce the characters of the people who selected Trump, even as he criticized the rantings about Lucifer, prison and killer immigrants often uttered during the convention.
“I think it’s important to let them know that I find it offensive, that I object to some of what they say, but at the same time, they’re my brothers and sisters,” Becerra said. “They’re part of my family. And I have to work with them and live with them, and I don’t want them to feel like I cast them aside. Because one of these days, we’re going to find ourselves in the same fox hole and we better be ready to protect each other.”