14 Sep 2016

What it’s like to live with Trump supporters

8:22 am on 14 September 2016

On arrival in Florida for a student exchange, Rob Randall discovered that his new American flatmates were two avid fans of aspiring demagogue and front-runner for world's most dangerous narcissist, Donald Trump.

This man needs no introduction.

This man needs no introduction. Photo: AFP

‘What it’s like’ is a weekly Wireless series. For more, click here.

As told to Eloise Sims.

After a really lengthy exchange application process, I was eventually offered a place at the University of South Florida in Tampa. About five months later I was standing in my new apartment with two Americans I'd never met before.

It’s interesting that they both support Trump, because they’re hugely different people.  

One is a 6ft tall, tanned Florida local. He studies engineering, wears tank tops, drives a Mustang, and happily calls Hillary Clinton a Communist.

The other is of Jewish origin, though he’s not religious, and he works at his family’s bagel store in the weekends. He’s pretty reserved. He studies geology, wears glasses and a cap 95 percent of the time, and plays a lot of Call of Duty.

He calls himself as neutral, but he can’t stand Clinton, and sees Trump as the only choice. He’s really against Obama as well, saying he promised a lot of stuff he hasn’t given.

He often says, “Democrats say they’re going to give you stuff, but never do, and Republicans don’t say they’re going to give you stuff - so you can never be disappointed.”

The Trump topic came up as soon as I told them that I studied politics, on the night I moved in.

The initial conversations were actually less about Trump, but more of a massive torrent of abuse directed towards Clinton. I stayed quiet – you know, best not to descend into a leadership debate whilst we were trying to bond over pizza.

That night, I witnessed the engineering guy adorn his wall with the Confederate rebel flag. When I asked him about his decoration he said that, to him, it signified devolved power to each of the states. He’s a big fan of minimal power for the federal government. He never once mentioned the flag’s link to slavery.

As I said, they’re both crazily anti-Hillary. But they do have other reasons for supporting Trump. They've said how they both don't like money to go abroad - saying that there are enough problems in America, which have yet to be solved. They want money from federal aid to other countries to go towards controlling the border with Mexico instead. And they stress that illegal immigration is the greatest issue they have - claiming it’s associated with crime, drug trafficking, and areas getting really run down in the States.

They also both say that they trust Trump with money, with one suggesting that tax cuts would benefit America, by allowing the rich to employ more people.

I've found the political conversations so interesting, just because it’s obviously really different to England. Out here being a Trump supporter is perfectly normal – and back home he's only backed by the radical fanatics.

One thing I feel I have to mention is the issue of racism. Talking about Muslims, or Islam at all, is tricky. My engineering flatmate is a devout Christian, and he speaks about Muslims like they’re second-class citizens. Phrases like "typical Muslim driver" get dished out pretty regularly. That’s probably been the main culture shock for me.

I’m not saying that the UK is perfect (like, sorry for Brexit and everything), but the level of intolerance here is staggering. I’ve had to vent to friends back home to blow off some steam, every now and then.

My flatmates and I are yet to have any big political arguments, however. I try not to say anything that will provoke a response. I did get labelled a Communist today, though, for saying I’m a liberal.

“What’s a Communist, just by the way?” I asked.

“They hate America,” came the reply.

But when you take the politics away, they're just regular guys - actually a pretty chilled-out group to live with. We'll play beer pong together, eat on campus together and laugh together.

They always offer to drive me pretty much anywhere and take me shopping. A 20-minute walk is apparently way too far to manage in America.

My geology flatmate has been done for speeding several times in the past, however - got a bit of a record. This has fuelled his dim view of the police, who he refers to as “crooked” all the time.

Despite hearing their views a lot, my opinion of Trump hasn't changed - and it probably isn't going to. I do love hearing their perspectives though, and I think it’s helped me understand his popularity – when back home; all we see is his outrageous statements.

I would love to offer a prediction about the election; but it’s currently too hard to tell. The polls seem to change everyday.

If I were to go with a consensus from my politics classes, then I'd name Hillary the winner right now. But then again - if politics students’ opinions were a good meter for an election result, Britain would still be in the EU, right?

And it’s almost kind of fun living with Trump fans in the run-up to the election.

Hillary Clinton’s coming to our university to speak this week, and my engineering flatmate is going to turn up wearing a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt. The very same guy is growing vegetables on our little balcony in an attempt to keep us self-sufficient. It’s so amusing to watch him sit outside checking for sprouts from his pots.

I guess Trump supporters really do come in all shapes and sizes.