I was working the phones in the eastern Crawford County Democratic Headquarters on Election Day 2008 making last minute, get-out-the-vote calls and arranging rides to the polls. Around mid-day, I walked down the street to the Quality Market to get some food. I was wandering around the produce section when I overheard two elderly women talking. The first one greeted the other and asked how she was. “Oh, I’m so frightened,” the second woman said. The first one looked concerned and asked her why she was afraid. “I’m afraid of the dark one,” she said. “What will become of us if the dark one wins?” The first woman patted her friend’s arm and reassured her that everything would be fine. I purchased my lunch and walked back to the headquarters, but I was in shock. I couldn’t get my head around someone being afraid of Barack Obama.
Fast forward eight years to Election Day 2016. The people in this area vote in the local township building, a metal structure that is mostly a large garage with a small office attached. In all the previous elections I’ve voted in since moving here in 1989, the experience has consisted of going into the office, signing your name in the book and going to one of three or four voting booths. There is rarely a line at 10 a.m. because most people are at work at this time. This year was different. The line went into the garage and snaked all along the walls before entering the office. There were hundreds of people in line by the time I got there. As you would expect, most of them looked to be, like myself, over fifty. There were probably twenty to thirty people ahead of me who hadn’t even reached the door yet. I pulled out my phone and started reading a book.
Then my attention was caught by a woman two or three people in front of me. She turned to the person next to her and said in a voice quivering with fear, “She’s a Mooslim, you know.” Her companion looked startled.
“She’s a Mooslim.”
“I’m pretty sure she’s a Methodist,” the companion said.
“She was raised Methodist, but then she became a witch, and now she’s a Mooslim. Her girlfriend is one, too.”
I looked around to see how the crowd was taking this. A few people snickered quietly and some others looked at her wide-eyed, but there were some who were nodding their heads. This woman looked to be in her mid to late seventies, like my mother, and she was clearly terrified of what this modern-day Medusa would do if she got into office. I went back to my book, again unable to comprehend how our world views could be so completely different.
You know what happened next. Thousands of my fellow Pennsylvanians helped give Donald Trump the electoral votes he needed to win the White House, and we are still dissecting the results. Did these people feel that the government had ignored them for long enough and they decided to get to the polls to voice their displeasure? I’m sure some of them did. Were many of them life-long Republicans who had decided to hold their collective noses and vote for Trump even if they found him personally repugnant? I know many of those. But many of them voted for Trump out of fear.
They were actually afraid of and threatened by Hillary Clinton, and keeping this monster out of the White House became a passion with them. This was not simply a case of a difference of political opinion. In their eyes, Clinton truly was a monster. They had been conditioned to believe outrageous and horrible things about a woman who had made a career out of standing up for the rights of children and people who couldn’t afford medical care, who had worked for equality for women and to improve life for families. They swallowed whole the fake news reports that Clinton had ordered people to be killed, that she was running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant in D.C., and that she and some Jewish bankers were using a private e-mail server to plot world domination.
I don’t know what we can do about this societal brainwashing, but I see it happening again. For the last thirty-six hours, my Facebook newsfeed has been full of photos, memes and cartoons with the hashtag #Nevertheless, she persisted. The GOP is demonizing Senator Elizabeth Warren just like they did Barack Obama, but especially Hillary Clinton. They can see that Warren is an intelligent, talented, powerful woman who is not afraid to speak out or to challenge the Republicans and their CEO who thinks he is king. We need to keep our eyes open and remember their actions, so that we may spread the truth and oppose them when we hear their lies. In four years, I hope there will be a crowd of little old ladies in pink pussyhats standing in line to kick out Trump (or possibly Pence, by that time) and finally shatter that glass ceiling.