“Do you have a Nasty Woman?” a woman with an elaborately knotted scarf asked loudly. “I was really hoping for a Nasty Woman.”
A handful of vendors walked the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum parking lot holding posterboards with dozens of buttons attached, everything from pictures of a bright-eyed Hillary Clinton, to the stylized “I’m With Her” arrow, to one of Michelle Obama rolling up a chambray sleeve and flexing her bicep, Rosie the Riveter style.
The man adjusted his “Hillary for President” hat and shook his head no, as did all of the other vendors who walked past the 10,000-person line that slowly inched its way toward the door. We’d been standing outside for hours, excitedly shifting from foot to foot as we waited to see Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama in their first joint campaign appearance, and we still had at least two hours to go.
The woman settled on a hat instead. “A hat’s probably better anyway,” she said, placing it lightly on her head. “And I’m still a Nasty Woman, even without a pin.” Despite the lack of branded merch, the line was filled with self-described Nasty Women (and dudes) waiting to see our newly christened patron saint. Some were in brand new “Grab Him By the Ballot” T-shirts that still bore creases down the center, others had well-worn gear from the Clinton-Gore campaign, and we were all accessorizing with our most optimistic facial expressions.
“I got this one because she looked really strong,” 17-year-old Ariel Gardner said, pinning a new “Madam President” button to her sweatshirt. She and her mother, Annette, had driven from Mount Airy for the event. They had just finished taking pictures of themselves with the massive crowd, and now she was debating whether to post them online.
“It’s my birthday and my first political rally,” Annette told me. “And today I’m also coming out as a Democrat. That’s the part that makes me nervous.”
She had been a lifelong Republican, she said, but the nastiness of this election had made her question whether she wanted to press the buttons on that side of the ballot.
“I’ve always voted for the person, not the party,” she said, as she swiped through several fresh selfies. “I have Christian beliefs, and I think Hillary has more of those beliefs than Donald Trump does. It really is love versus hate this year.”
This has been the most contentious election season that I can remember. A couple of weeks ago, I taped an anti-Trump sign in my own window and within 12 hours, some of the my pro-Trump neighbors were making threats, calling the property managers and waving copies of the building’s bylaws in my general direction. (Based on the number of double-parked cars in the garage — and the amount of pee that recently decorated the elevator — there are a number of pro-Trumpers who live here). My Obama signs four and eight years ago never attracted that kind of anger, but maybe my neighbors didn’t learn how to read until recently
Trump’s own rallies have been a stark contrast to the tame-looking Clinton crowd lined up in Winston-Salem on Oct. 27. Two days later, a frothing man in a “Hillary for Prison” shirt proudly chanted anti-Semitic slurs at a Trump event in Phoenix. He spread his arms wide and gave a television camera a side-eye glance, not because he seemed worried that it was filming: He actually seemed more concerned that it wasn’t.
Although he doesn’t represent the majority of Trump supporters, there are a lot of men (and women) just like him, who seem to be galvanized by their candidate’s words and actions. Knowing that those people are out there — and are unlikely to go away after the Trump/Pence signs have been yanked out of their front yards — is one of the most concerning takeaways of this election.
One of the other lingering effects is the idea that, regardless of the way this thing turns out, anyone can be president. If you’re a woman, you can be president! And if you’re a completely unqualified doofus who acts like someone collected a bucket of the hate slime from Ghostbusters 2, put it in an ill-fitting suit and gave it a teleprompter, you too can be president! What a country! Every time I think that America will make the right choice on Nov. 8, I remember that this is a place where we have to print how-to instructions on our toothpaste tubes, and I start chewing at my own cuticles again.
Back at the LJVM Coliseum, Annette Gardner had decided she was ready to post that picture on Facebook.
“This really could impact my life and it could affect some friendships,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “I haven’t had a conversation about it until now, but here at the end, I can have an opinion and I can share my beliefs. It’s my birthday. No one will be ugly to me on my birthday, right?”
With that, she slipped her phone into her purse and we all took another step toward the door.