America the Beautiful, the Bad and the Ugly

During the 2016 presidential election campaign, I took a road trip into the musical heart of America: Blues in Mississippi; R&B in Memphis; Country in Nashville; Bluegrass in rural Virginia. All served with southern BBQ, partisan chatter and, every day, something new and startling: the “Music and Firearms” store on a small town main street; the owner of Weasel’s Pawn Shop, who noticed our Canadian plates and demanded to know why we voted for socialists; a business advising shoppers that loaded handguns were welcome – just please keep them holstered!

It was so fascinatingly different from our reality back home that we took lots of photos, which I’ll share.

The most jolting experiences came during a political junkies’ summer holiday in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. We skipped the convention itself – not that we’d been invited – preferring to watch what was playing out in the streets and parks. Here, organizations with extreme opposing views confronted one another, requiring clusters of National Guard and police to protect angry groups from one another.

It wasn’t easy to fit in, but I tried. To strike up conversations with Republicans roaming the town, I pretended to be a Ted Cruz delegate – “I respect his position on the Constitution” I would declare, having no idea what that meant but seeing that it elicited approving nods.

Encouraged, I befriended an assortment of protesters setting up in a park reserved for that purpose. Ohio is one of many “open carry” states, so the first adjustment was acclimatising myself to fully armed, highly-opinionated folks struggling with anger management.

Despite some wonderful and often darkly hilarious moments, the trip left me fearful about the future of the United States. Even then, I was concerned about the potential for a civil war of sorts, opposing armed groups taking to the streets, feeling justified in harming one another. Last week, the New York Times reported that gun sales are up sharply, purchased by Democrats as well as Republicans.

I returned home in 2016 grateful to live in Canada; that feeling has only increased in the years since. Even if the Trump years officially come to an end after Tuesday’s election, the match he’s thrown into the tinderbox of division may set the country on fire for years.