Most of us still remember exactly where we were when Donald Trump was elected president. For my family, it was a scary day. It felt as if America had given its stamp of approval to bigotry and hate. After Trump’s election, I remember feeling uneasy just walking outdoors, wondering if I would be accosted because I was a brown man in Trump’s America.
Fast forward 11 months, and my wife and I were enjoying our “babymoon” in the Midwest. As part of this vacation, we had planned a drive from Madison to Minneapolis. I was aware that we would be driving through rural parts of Wisconsin, and I was also definitely aware many rural areas of the country had voted for Trump.
The drive from Madison to Minneapolis is about five hours, and my wife and I started getting peckish just about two hours into the drive. We pulled over into a small-town diner to eat. We parked and walked in, immediately, it became clear that we were the only people of color in the diner. The owner was friendly enough, and took our orders soon after we sat down.
We talked quietly to each other, looking at the charming décor and debating whether we should visit the cheese factory across the street. When had just decided we would indeed visit the factory, the door to the diner opened and a crew of about 15 white men walked in. They were wearing outfits I had never seen before: camouflage clothing with knapsacks and metal gear that I couldn’t place. As usual, I was totally clueless and my wife had figured out what was going on. She leaned over and whispered to me, “oh, they’re just hunters!”
Our food came soon after and we ate slowly, people watching and enjoying the large portion sizes. We were used to having folks stare in spaces where there are no people of color, and I was relieved to see that nobody was staring at us while we ate.
Eventually, I stood up to join the line to pay, and found myself in front of two of the hunters. My curiosity got the better of me, so I introduced myself and mentioned that I was visiting with my wife, who was a doctor. They seemed quite interested in the fact that she was a doctor, and one of the men started opening up about his struggle with diabetes. He mentioned that he was 68, and he was worried about how diabetes would affect his quality of life. As I listened to him talk, I found myself concerned about him. I started to think about how the ongoing policy efforts to repeal Obamacare would actually make it harder for him to afford health insurance. I was really moved by the palpable concern in his voice, and I wanted to see him in clinic to help him manage his diabetes.
Once I reached the cash register, I noticed a number of handmade signs requesting donations for breast cancer research. When the owner rang up our bill, I learned from her that both she and one of her co-workers had recently fought and overcome breast cancer. I congratulated her on her survivorship I made a donation to support her fundraising efforts. She thanked me profusely for supporting their efforts, and I realized that she probably didn’t get donations very often.
At this point, I was starting to feel quite comfortable in this small-town diner, far away from San Diego. I was appreciating that despite presumed political differences, I could really connect with the people in this part of rural Wisconsin.
My wife and I eventually walked out and had an amazing time at the cheese factory. We tasted free samples and were given a personal tour by the factory’s owner. We got around to chatting with some of the workers and were struck by how much pride and love they had for their hometown. In what felt like a rather humorous exchange, my suggestion that they visit San Diego was politely declined.
The rest of the drive to Minneapolis, I couldn’t stop talking about cool it would be to move to small town America and open a rural practice. I had the potential to learn and serve by spending time in small towns, and I was coming to appreciate the rural lifestyle.
As the Trump administration continues its long string of inappropriate policy decisions and inhumane deeds, I try to recall my generally positive experience in rural Wisconsin as a reminder that I should never wall off from the people who voted for Trump. Yes, some of them may genuinely wish that America looked more like them and less like me. But the struggles in this country are universal: the struggle to make ends meet, to get good medical care, to find a community that is loving and accepting and remain rooted in that comfortable space.
I am not happy that Trump is our president. But I also cannot say that I dislike everybody who voted for him. The question is: how do we come together as a nation, and push forth a political movement that actually helps all Americans, including people in both urban and rural America? Based on my experience in Wisconsin, it is clear that the status quo under Trump has not been good for the average American. As we build the next political movement, urban doctors and small-town hunters may have more in common than meets the eye.