LITTLE Rock was where I was going to be for the election night. I wanted to sit in on the results as they came through to declare who would be the 45th President of the United States of America.
So, I did a search online about where I could go and sit in and watch it all unfold. It soon turned out that the local Democratic Party headquarters, of all places, weren’t far from where I was staying.
This far into my travels, apart from my initial encounter with some Democrats in Houston, I had mostly met Trump-and-Republican supporters. I wanted to meet some more Democrats, so I emailed a woman called Sheila who was running things. She replied back and said she would be happy to have me join in. It was starting at 6.30 pm, so that gave me time to go out for dinner.
Little Rock is the capital city of Arkansas, and was first settled by the French, who originally named it after a promontory called Le Petit Rocher – the little rock. It is a city that has grown to a metro area population of more than 700,000, and was once listed as one of America’s most dangerous cities after a series of homicides in the 80’s and then early 90’s.
I found it to be a nice city with friendly people and I didn’t let previous history taint my views. The city itself is quite small and sits on the banks of the Arkansas River. It is now one of the better American cities of its size to live in.
I spent the day in the city, looking around and I went to the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library, which was really impressive. It showed what Clinton, more commonly known as Bill, had managed to achieve throughout his Presidency. He appeared to have been a very talented President during his eight-year tenure from 1993 to 2001. There was the attempt at impeachment after his Monica Lewinsky affair, but the library did show he worked very hard for the average American. He was a great campaigner, too.
I arrived at 6.30 p.m. on the dot at the Little Rock Democratic headquarters, eager not to miss anything. I was greeted by Sheila. All up there were only about 100 people there. From all the reading I had done, I had understood that under the Electoral College system, it’s not a direct vote.
The Electoral College is the group of people who make the final votes. Strictly speaking, those who cast their votes in the popular ballot are choosing their state’s electors and not the president, although I’m not sure how many realise this.
The Electoral College system was developed partly to balance the votes out in geographical terms. In such a big country, larger states would always win with more people to vote for their states’ candidates, whereas the Electoral College system allows smaller states more say. Each state gets two electors plus another elector for every seven hundred thousand people in its population, give or take a few. Thus, a state with well under a million inhabitants such as Alaska or Wyoming is three times more heavily represented, per head, than a state such as California or New York with tens of millions.
In 2016 the Electoral College was made up of 538 electors, and to be elected a candidate needed to have 270 or more of the Electoral College votes.
It’s an interesting way to do things, anyway.
At the Democratic HQ the hype was irresistible, everyone was clapping and waiting for the first female president of the United States of America. The results were displayed on a big screen, and as they started rolling in, I began to see a bit of a pattern. The usual states that were known for being solid Democrat supporters, showed up as won by red — the Republican party and that meant Trump.
I could feel a shift in the atmosphere as the night went on. Florida was the biggest surprise to everyone, with gasps of shock as the colour for that state turned red too, then Wisconsin and Ohio. By 9.30 the winner was blatantly obvious, and people started to leave. It was obvious that everyone was in a state of shock: the predictions were all wrong. No one had expected it, it seemed.
That night, Hillary didn’t concede defeat; people were in shock. She conceded the next day. It was a bit like Brexit: I don’t think people imagined Trump could win. I phoned a few people back in New Zealand to tell them the news, and they were just as surprised.
I made my way back to where I was staying. I wasn’t too sure what to think, really. Because as I said before, a lot of people I had met did support Trump.
I watched CNN and the country was angry. Hillary Clinton gave a very gracious concession speech and said you have you give Trump a chance, and then Barack Obama met with Donald Trump. Trump’s main platform was to repeal Obamacare, but after meeting Obama he decided against this at least for people with pre-existing conditions and with regard to letting older children stay on their parents’ insurance, a sensitive issue for teenagers. The following morning, I wasn’t feeling the greatest, so I stayed in the hotel and turned on the TV again. You would almost think some extreme catastrophe had taken place. People were crying; and then the TV showed
that people had taken to the streets protesting, all over the country.
Trump was obviously a bit miffed by this and he sent a tweet saying they were professional protesters.
I hadn’t realized that there were so many ‘illegal aliens’, to use Trump’s own words — ‘undocumented migrants’ is more polite — who had been in America for a long time while the authorities had turned a blind eye, and were now very worried about being deported. People were genuinely very frightened. People were angry.
People were also angry because they were disenfranchised within the Democratic Party, where Bernie Sanders supporters were marginalized by the Democratic National Committee.
People saw a lot of their rights disappearing and they were obviously very frightened and/or angry about that. Even so, in Little Rock, 60.6% had voted Republican, and a lot of the places I had visited so far on this trip had been Republican strongholds. So, I really wasn’t surprised.
In Portland and Seattle, they seemed to be angrier still. I sat and watched the protests and the TV reports and then documentaries all day, hoping the food poisoning I was once more suffering from would go away by the following day, as it did.
I went out to meet some locals and I met one woman who told me that she was sick and tired of the fact that the different races don’t mix. I’m not sure whether she meant that from a liberal or a reactionary point of view, and I wondered if this would become more of a problem under Trump.
The next day I got a coupon deal for a massage. I arrived and was greeted by the owner, a white woman who had three children and a black husband. She told me that she went to Church, met her husband and then got married. She said that in Alabama they had a ball for blacks and a ball for whites, and her and her husband can go to neither of them. But I’ve been told that doesn’t necessarily happen in Alabama, or not anymore. Anyhow she said that mixed marriages are quite common now and it wasn’t really an issue.
Then I went to the hairdressers. The shop was called One Love and I thought it was closed. It was a hairdressing salon owned and operated by some black woman. They told me they could do my hair not right now but shortly, so I went out and had a coffee and came back.
I ended up being there for three hours talking with them. I had great conversation about business and life. The woman doing my hair was twenty-two. But she was already buying a house and was going to be a landlord. She was really onto it. I never saw any other white people come into the shop while I was there.
So, my stay in Little Rock ended up being very hospitable.
I woke early in the morning the following day, ready to hit the rails again. I wanted to leave my backpack in the railway station while I wandered around, but it was closed until 10 a.m.
The only place I knew close by was the restaurant I had been to on election night. The guy who served me was called Steven and he said I could leave my bag there until 5 p.m., which was nice of him. He mentioned he had seen me at the Democratic election night function, and he only remembered me because I had drunk orange juice all night. He asked where I was from. Then he told me he wanted to leave the USA and asked me a whole lot of questions about New Zealand.
He said that he just didn’t want to live in an America that was ruled by someone who wasn’t a decent human being. He just couldn’t believe that his friends had voted for a President like that, who had put down women and different ethnicities, he said he just didn’t feel he could be friends with them anymore. He said that Arkansas had voted for decriminalisation of marijuana, but at the same time didn’t respect anyone else’s freedom.
Steven said when Trump comes into power there will be some changes. He said his business wasn’t doing as well, and he felt that because he was a known Democrat, he wouldn’t get the work he wanted. He said he had worked for the Clintons before. So, he was seriously looking at going to New Zealand. Then he invited me out to dinner that night with him and his wife Brenda. I agreed and then headed off back into the city to explore, I had a whole day to kill.
I went down to the river walk and found some nice places to eat and have coffee. I met a lot of people there and had a really good time.
Steven and Brenda were lovely people and I enjoyed having dinner with them. I got the train later that night and on the way back north I ended up passing through a small town called Springfield where Abraham Lincoln was from and was buried. I hadn’t realised beforehand, or I might have got off the train for more than a few moments and had a proper look around.
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