Picking the brains of our Trump-supporting neighbors. There have been some surreal moments in the past year, and we just keep churning out the hits like some sadistic version of Motown. I guess that would make Trump hit parade guru Barry Gordy in this instance; but alas, I have no idea where this analogy is going, and neither do we have an educated guess on what will happen next in the race for the White House. The presidential election is basically 30 days away, and all reports seem like Biden should have this in the bag. But some days I have doubts. New Mexico is fertile ground for an upset. In a state with a notoriously low voter turnout, if you can mobilize your base, it can quickly become anyone’s race.
For the last week, I found myself reaching out to the local Republican Party members just to get to know some of these people as neighbors. Over the last week, I tried in various attempts to gain access to state Republican Party events but was continuously hindered in my quest for a decent conversation. I had a few moments where I asked myself, “Why do these people not want to talk? What are they hiding?” I went online and joined the “Trump Army”—which is kind of like the KISS Army but way less cool, and your makeup has to be orange. In either case it is still old white guys in front of an excellent stage show.
I went to the national website and requested tickets to the “Coffee and Conversation Meetup,” an early Saturday morning affair. I had dreams of coffee flowing free like freedom and doughnuts ringing like liberty. But pretty quickly, like within two hours, I got a call from Mr. Mike Curtis of the Republican Party of N.M. to tell me that my request would be denied. I asked if I could attend as a “patriot.” I was then informed these events are not open to the public or the media. I was starting to lose faith as a new member of this Trump Army. I thought we were tight? They do send me like five emails a day. Remember when getting an email meant something? These days my email box looks like a cyber version of ValPak more than anything else. So I backed down. I had another request for an entirely different event that had a different contact. To my surprise, I received a followup call from Mr. Curtis, who graciously asked, “What did you not understand when I told you these events are closed?”
Now usually in Albuquerque, that tone is an invitation to “put up your dukes.” But I wasn’t looking for a fight. So I explained to Mr. Curtis that I had sent multiple requests that morning. “Are there any events that I could just come and hang out?” I was told that they would “let me know” and that followed up with the good old, “remember, all media goes through me.” It wasn’t until a bit later, as I thought about my next move, that the previous engagement started to linger in my head, and I realized, “Did I get flagged or something?” I made a request seemingly to two separate events, hosted by two different people as per the contacts listed. But somehow, the main guy got my name twice!
The second request, I hadn’t even told them my intent yet. I just asked for the tickets. That felt a little suspicious. I almost unsubscribed as a member of the Trump Army at that point. Now, Mr. Curtis did hook me up with the names of some people he trusted to engage in a dialogue with me. Because apparently, we can’t just let any old Republican talk to the press.
Before I talk about these interviews: Saturday, I was minding my business with a buddy of mine putting equipment away in the garage when I was approached at random by a Trump party canvasser. Michele was super friendly, a mid-30s tired and drained mother in a floral dress. I felt for her. She looked like she had been dealing with all types by 10am. I may have been a little too enthusiastic. “Oh my god! Yes! Please talk to me! What do you do? How has it gone?” Poor lady didn’t realize she literally walked into an interview, so I broke out my pad and pen as her and my buddy made small talk. “Do you mind if I get your name? I have some easy questions if you can go on record.” I explained my story and that I wasn’t trying to “nail” anyone. Upon realizing that I was media, she quite literally backed her unmasked self out of my garage and was itching to leave. I asked why she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about Trump when five minutes ago, she asked me if I had “thought about voting for freedom.” Apparently, I have not been voting for freedom all these years. But Michele told us that she was instructed not to talk to the media. We thanked each other for our time, and I did take a few fliers—one of which had the worst presidential photo I have ever seen used in marketing. Trump didn’t look so much presidential as he looked like some villain or a mob boss. They also gave me info on Janice Arnold Jones, Michelle Garcia Holmes, N.M. Supreme Court candidates Ned Fuller and Kerry Morris. These guys are in dire need of new graphic design talent. So again, my media self was thwarted.
This brings me to the guys who were gracious enough to talk with me. Mr. David Gonzales, a local businessman and part of one of the oldest families in the valley, a Spanish land grant family, was nice enough to talk at length. Mr. Walter Brachen, also a multi-generational Burqueño who owns BAC Tactical in the South Valley, and Paul Nieto, another Albuquerque resident but from a multi-Pueblo heritage, rounded out my list. These three guys were actually super cool to talk to and open to having a conversation about tough subjects. I wish I could post the dialogue, but we talked for hours.
Mr. Gonzales and I hit it off pretty well. It was like talking to your distant uncle. He was a self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat who had found Trump’s stance on abortion one of his major deciding factors. He himself is a significant figure in his church and does a lot of assistance and outreach to people in need. We even talked about some things he didn’t fully agree with, including right wing militia groups showing off assault weapons in public and how Trump made a mistake in taking kids from families during ICE situations. “You know, he was wrong on that, but he admitted he was wrong and fixed it. Those laws were set up under Obama mind you.” When asked about Black Lives Matter, Mr. Gonzales exclaimed that Trump hasn’t ever said anything that could be misconstrued as a blatantly racist statement.
Walter Brachen was also really gracious about having an open dialogue. His family has been in the South Valley for three generations as business owners. He has been a lifelong Republican, as he says, “since day one.” I was super interested in his views, being that Mr. Braken owns a gun shop in town. We talked about crime and gun ownership. Apparently, the gun business is doing well right now, which is kind of unsettling but understandable considering our world’s current state. He mentioned to me that a very high percentage of people purchasing guns are first-time gun owners. That also is a little scary. Imagine we have all these people now with guns, who have never owned a gun before. When you have a new toy, the natural inclination is to use it. Just because you can, Braken says, doesn’t mean you should. But in the same breath he mentioned the fact that it’s a personal judgment. Not having been around high-end tactical weapons, I feel uncomfortable seeing groups like the New Mexico Civil Guard at events displaying their guns. “If you are around them [guns] and are trained appropriately, then no big deal, right? It’s like having an iPhone vs. a Canon EOS; the professionals want the big camera.” Now, I’m a big-camera type of guy, but I also know when the big rig is overkill, and the phone can do just as well. Nonetheless, Mr. Brachen brought up the assault weapons ban of 1994 as a major reason to not vote Biden and felt that Trump’s values were in alignment with his. He also made it apparent that he felt Trump is not a racist, given that he has done more for minorities than most.
The last gentleman who I had a chance to talk to was Paul Nieto, a professional working in Albuquerque with a multi-Pueblo background as his heritage. Considering that, generally, Native people vote Democrat, he was also a relatively recent Republican after jumping ship from what he considered a Democratic Party that was no longer aligned with his values. He mentioned that voting in some of our Tribal communities was often the work of outsiders coming in and telling us who we should vote for and, in some cases in the past, actually paying people in food, drink and cash to vote in specific ways. Those strong-arm voting tactics of the past are long gone, but in its place is propaganda and a 24-hour news cycle that caters to your political ideology. When asked what Trump has done for Native people, Nieto mentioned the MMIW issue. Murdered Missing Indigenous Women have been something we have long dealt with in silence, without a major voice. Trump signed into law last week an act that hopes to put pressure on law enforcement and to provide more resources for these types of cases in Indian Country. I saw it as pandering to our vote after three years of nothing—but, hey, to each his own, right? Is that enough? Well, Nieto also stated that he likes the “no candy coating” and the fact that Trump is not your usual politician.
These conversations all led up to the debate night, a night that will live on in infamy, I am sure. I was only able to follow up with Mr. Gonzales, and he exclaimed it was a “train wreck on both sides.” He continued by saying, “Trump I don’t think won, but Biden may have lost some votes also. He basically told his own voters he didn’t back the New Green Deal.” An interesting take from the night. We talked about the “gotcha” moment that has been all over the news, where Trump was asked to denounce a white supremacist group. Although I personally felt that he changed the subject, Mr. Gonzales told me, “He told Chris Wallace point-blank, ‘Who do you want me to denounce?’ But Chris kinda fumbled at that point, and he said what he said. I didn’t see it as him dodging the question.”
I honestly went back and watched this exchange, and yes, Trump got asked a point-blank question and, in the moment, did answer. Was that answer sufficient to the direct question? Maybe not, but there is a weird moment in that exchange where both sides missed the target. The proctor was flustered. Biden could have used the moment to nail Trump on a huge issue and didn’t take it. And Trump did what he does best: bulldozing and deflection. The constant bickering was hard to listen to. It was like a bad Zoom meeting. As a viewer, I’m sure I was there alongside millions of Americans at home, yelling loudly at the TV, shut up! I can’t hear what’s going on!
My 5-year-old put it best. She was kinda annoyed that dad was watching these two old guys yell on TV when she observed, “ad, this is the episode of ‘Muppet Babies’ when the new frog Carlos comes to class!” She took about five minutes to ingest what was happening on TV and gave me this gem: “They should mute him,” I had to pause for a second, “the Muppets have a new frog? And his name is Carlos?” But she was correct. We all needed a mute button that night.
Sidenote: Can we have “Sesame Street” do live coverage on PBS? I mean, it doesn’t have to be the entire thing. Just a quick toss from Judy Woodruff to Fozzy Bear for a quick bad joke and back to the analysis would be enough. I say this because, at this point, I may need someone I trust like Kermit to break it to me that this country could be headed toward an even more divided future.
A week ago, when I was told to go talk to some Trump supporters in the community, all I could think about was that old “Sesame Street” tune: “These are the people in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood, In my neigh-bor-hoo-ood.” They are not the boogie men or women; they are good people, people that I’m sure help others and care about N.M. just like any of us. We just have different takes on life; nothing is wrong with that. But what is scary is when a government uses these personal ideologies to help them create very real policies meant to divide. Policies that affect others negatively and promote an argumentative discourse instead of a healing one. Both sides had a chance to try to heal America Tuesday and missed greatly. My father is hard-of-hearing and kept asking me, “who’s winning?” and I would yell back, “no one!” And that was true, red or blue, Dem or Republican. We all lost. It was like two old deaf men having an argument, and when that happens, it is usually the one who yells the loudest that “wins,” only because he was the one that got heard. Trump was definitely louder.
Can Trump win in N.M.? I guess it depends on how deaf we are and who can scream the loudest. So no matter what side you are on, make sure you vote and scream your loudest. But remember we are all still neighbors.