It was a hot day at the Trump rally in Lynden. So hot an elderly woman sitting in the bleachers next to me passed out while waiting for Trump to address the crowd of a few thousand. Luckily, the passed-out woman's daughter was sitting right beside her. She and a few other people in the crowd lifted up her mom, sat her in some shade, and then alerted security, who alerted paramedics. The woman had woken up by the time the paramedics arrived, and she looked a little embarrassed as they wrapped her arm in a blood pressure cuff and handed her a bottle of water. "Oh would you look at all this," she said almost to herself, as her daughter listed her mother's medical issues to another paramedic on the scene.
It's hard to remember that Trump supporters didn't spring up fully-formed from the nightmares of urban liberals. They have parents. Around the dinner table, or on the way to the grocery store, or sitting in the heat at the Trump rally, those parents hand down their beliefs and values. Kids variously rebel against or embrace these teachings, and then become political actors in their own right.
Since Trump's stated (if mercurial) positions don't neatly align with Democratic or Republican platforms, and since Trump's Washington rally fell on Mother's Day weekend, and since Trump himself has roots right here in Seattle, I had family on the mind. So I tried to ask as many self-identified Trump supporters as I could about their political lineage. Which political party did their parents belong to? Who did their moms vote for in '84?
Of the sixteen people I interviewed at the Trump rally, twelve told me their parents were Democrats. Small sample size, sure, but I thought I'd get much more of a mixed bag considering Trump's mixed messaging. In any case, here are a few of their stories.
James, who said he was "in his seventies," stood at the entrance of the grandstand and shook hands with anyone who looked him in the eye when they came in. Blue eyes beneath a white cowboy hat. Clean, crisp shirt. His speech patterns matched Trump's speech patterns a little too precisely. "I have to say I'm a bit of an insider" he said. "I've got friends at the sheriff's office. And believe me—it's not good what's going on," he said, referencing some general menace, "It's really, really, bad." He told me his parents were both liberal for nearly his entire life. "Mom switched in her 90s when Obama came on. She thinks he's a liar and a cheat," he said.
Paul, 30, and Jeff, 26. Paul's mom and dad were both Democrats most of their lives. He says his political views changed gradually, and that his parents' views are stuck in the past. "When I think about politics, I'm thinking about the future," he said. Jeff's mom and dad were both liberal Democrats, too. "When you have parents who are one way, sometimes you want to rebel," he said.
Wayne, 48, was wearing knock-off Oakley's against the sun and had a pinch of chaw tucked between his lip and his gums. He works at an oil refinery in Bellingham, WA. "Mom and dad used to be Democrats, back when Democrats were okay," he said, adding, "They didn't used to be all 'love everybody' and 'free love." Wayne became more conservative in his 20s, which was right around the time his parents made the same switch, too.
"We didn't talk politics at the house," says Trump supporter Michelle Kornelis, 38, about the state of conversation at her childhood dinner table. She says her mom and dad were both Democrats. Her husband, Sam, 37, was standing next to her. His dad is "very conservative" and his mom "likes to prove dad wrong," he said. He admitted that his dad "goes overboard" during conversations about politics, and that in those moments his mom rushes in to correct him. When asked if Sam inherited his dad's temper when it comes to talking politics, Michelle nodded her head yes and Sam looked bashful.
Kevin, 58, told me he's only been to two political rallies in his life. "The first one was for Dr. Rand Paul, and now this one for Trump," he said. Kevin described his dad as a "Reagan dude," but said his mom voted for Mondale in 1984 and then Dukakis in 1988. He said his mom taught him and his three siblings to keep an open mind about politics. "I only close my mind about opinions that go against my heartfelt principles," he said.
Brandon, 27, had a baby carrier strapped to his belly. He told me both his parents were "diehard liberals." He identified himself as "a high school dropout who was raised on food stamps," but said he started his own business when he was 20. Now, he says, he makes $100,000 per year. He credits his success to his own hard work. I asked if he gets in fights with his parents about politics. "All the time," he said. In fact, just that day his parents had asked him if he was going to take his baby to the Trump rally. "Yep," he said. "You're stupid," they said.
Kelly, 38, from Everett, didn't want me to use her real name. "I'm a closet Republican," she said. Her dad is a "hardcore Democrat," and she told me she had to hide from him the fact she was planning to attend the Trump rally.
As a person of color was exiting the arena, I thought I heard Steve, 33, yell, "Go back to Mexico, José." I pulled him and his friend aside on their way out. Both men wore mustaches. When I identified myself as a reporter for The Stranger, he called me a "fucking communist." When I told him he didn't know my political views, he said, "Whatever. I heard everybody got fired or quit there anyway." I asked why he told that guy to go back to Mexico, and he told me he didn't say that. "I told him to go back to California," he said. "I don't want them bringing their California values to Washington state. They're all about 'safe spaces' there." Finally I asked him about his parents' political leanings. "Mom and dad were lifelong Democrats," he said. He claimed his mother was a "union president," and that she was going to vote for Trump this year. Steve's mustachioed friend was shaking with anger. I told them both that I didn't feel safe conducting this interview any more, and they both left. Just then, a young man in a "Make America Great Again" ball cap asked me in passing if I was a reporter. I said yes. He said, "FUCK YOU," flipped me off, and exited. Then a security guard approached me and asked if I was antagonizing people.
Lesley, 52, was standing outside the arena with her son. She said she was a conservative from California. Her parents were conservative, too. "We didn't have a whole lot, and we had to work hard for what we got," she said, adding, "You can't walk around expecting government handouts."
On the way out of the rally, attendees were funneled onto the sidewalks. State troopers closed off the streets, so there were lots of close-quarters shouting matches going on between Trump supporters and Trump protestors. "Fuck Trump!" someone yelled next to me. "TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!" Toren, 30, yelled in reply, over-enunciating the 'P'-sound in his favorite candidate's name and waving a Trump sign. He told me his mom and dad are both Democrats. He doesn't talk with his parents much, though. And when they do, they never talk politics.