Fort Worth, TEXAS — Some Texans are pining for the days of Ann Richards. Others miss the Bushes. Still others are enamored of Donald Trump’s role as the “non-politician” in this election, thinking he will be the person to break the Clinton influence streak.
Surprisingly, in the middle of all this there are pockets of Hillary: small neighborhoods typically inhabited by young, modern and affluent people, like Fort Worth’s upscale Ryan Place.
There you will indeed see the only Clinton signs for miles in any direction. But one thing you will find in spades is the reluctance of older adults to talk openly about voting choices, or politics in general. Party pride, once a mainstay of election cycles, seems subdued, if not forgotten.
Visiting my family on their beautiful ranch off the beaten path some 30 miles from Fort Worth, a few Trump-Pence signs glinted in the sunlight on utility poles, though not as many as one might expect. Still, one relative married to a local Texan whose family has owned ranches for generations refused to talk about politics. She shook her head in disgust. “I’m just not going to vote,” she said. She didn’t want to talk about either candidate, and neither did others in cities outside of the larger and more progressive Dallas.
At no time in recent or longer-term memory have American voters been more polarized, disappointed and genuinely afraid for our country’s future on both sides of the aisle. Each thinks the other party’s candidate will lead to World War III, and no one wants to talk about it in specific terms … except young people.
Pam Laukaitis, 27, a hotel bartender in Fort Worth with a degree in English, describes herself as "a walking hate crime.” Of multiethnic heritage that includes Egyptian and Spanish, she is olive-complected, with a long braid of dark hair and expressive brown eyes. Laukaitis is engaged to a U.S. Marine stationed in the area, and says their private conversations at home about the candidates are probably unique among military families, noting that the armed forces are directly impacted more than other workers by whoever wins the presidency.
A recent transplant to Texas from her native North Carolina, Laukaitis was happy to talk about her observations. Her job, she said, provides plenty of opportunity to people-watch and talk to business travelers just passing through.
“A lot of people here are from Fort Worth and have not left Texas, or have only been to Oklahoma or surrounding states, so everything is very grassroots, very local,” she told me. “There are a lot of Trump supporters here.”
But it’s a transient place as well because of the military base and several colleges, so Laukaitis thinks the area “will see a lot of third-party voters. I am a big fan of Jill Stein. A lot of people, like my neighbors, are voting for Trump because they don’t like Bill Clinton, and feel Hillary is an extension. They are only looking at one aspect of it.”
Asked about social media’s influence on young people in this election, she mused, “I was on Pinterest yesterday, and I saw a lot of political ads, which I thought was an interesting way of reaching women, because a lot of them go on there and just look at pictures of cats. You have to reach people where they are."
Nearby, at the Justin Boot outlet, it's wall-to-wall cowboy boots, belt buckles and other assorted Americana.
A song called "Redneckin'" plays on the radio as Harmony Atchley, a well-spoken blonde and recent Halton High School graduate -- she was captain of her school's debate team -- threads plastic hang ties through big metal belt buckles. "Once Obama called all people from Texas ‘swamp crazy,’ people pretty much decided to vote for Trump next time,” she said matter-of-factly. There’s a germ of truth there: At an Ohio Democratic dinner on Oct. 13, President Obama said that some Texas officials who had believed that a routine military exercise might lead to martial law belonged to the "swamp of crazy.”
“We learned in our economics and government class that politicians are usually a certain kind of people,” Atchley said. “Donald Trump is not a politician, so he’s different and that is important -- that’s how we see it. Basically, you could be homeless and have a chance to become president. There were some Hillary supporters in our class, but not many. Usually it was because they come from a Democratic family."
The Atchleys are a mixed-opinion family: Dad is Republican, and Mom's Democratic. But Harmony says her mother doesn’t want to vote this year. "She feels like she’d rather not have the right to vote right now, because either way she votes it’s going to happen in the end … that the world’s gonna end, terrorists. She thinks it won’t make a difference, no matter which one wins."
Harmony's colleague Sofia, whose family is of Mexican descent, looked on quietly. She didn't give me her last name and said little, but when asked responded that she cannot discuss politics in her family. “My aunt and mother were talking the other day about voting for Trump and how great he is, and I just couldn’t say anything. I’m amazed that my family will vote for him. We’re Mexican!”
Atchley noted, "My school is predominantly Mexican. We did full-on debates, and we had some people who weren’t really understanding the election the way others were. Once those from Mexican families found out that Trump wasn’t going to deport all races, just the illegal immigrants, they changed their mind to Trump. These Mexican-American kids were born here, they are safe. It’s all the others.”
What do the people of rural North Texas seem to have in common? Election fatigue. Most say they can't wait for Nov. 9. Wherever the chips fall, much of the election-related dissension in families and among friends will dissipate. As the flush of disagreement fades, talk will turn to the holidays, children and work as before. But here and everywhere else across the country, the bitterness associated with the election of 2016 will not soon be forgotten.