Sometimes, after spending months at a time nestled in the liberal enclave of Ann Arbor, I forget that my hometown is representative of a demographic that dismisses my political views as complete garbage. Moreover, if I had bothered to interact with that demographic at all — I mean really tapped into their economic anxieties and understood their desire for dramatic political change — I probably would have seen the events of 2016 coming from a mile away. But I didn’t, so it was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else.

I came to this realization the other day, after being tattooed by a Trump supporter.

Our conversation began the second I swung my legs onto his massive leather chair. He asked where I had gotten my other tattoos done, and I told him that I had gone to a few shops around town and one in Ann Arbor, to which he replied, “That’s pretty far.”

We were in Center Line, about 45 minutes from campus. It was familiar territory — a sister city of my hometown.

I explained that I live and go to school in Ann Arbor, which prompted him to ask my major (political science), and my career goals (“Do you want to be a politician or something?” “Fuck no, I don’t.”)

It was a natural progression from there, so eager to jump off the tips of our tongues as it has been for everyone for the last month: 

“What do you think of Trump?”

Quick disclaimer: It’s always a good rule of thumb to avoid talking politics with someone who is steadily drilling a needle into your skin — just as you would with, say, a hairdresser or your distant relatives. But this time, the conversation seemed inevitable and a little urgent.

I winced as he sterilized his tools and arranged the ink in front of him.

“I’m not a fan,” I said.

He went to work, both of us speaking over the buzz of the needle at this point. I glanced down to make sure he wasn’t drawing a penis or writing “capitalism rulezzz” on my arm or something. We were all good.

“Did you vote for Hillary, then?” he asked, tracing the outline of the design above my elbow.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“She’s so corrupt, though.”

“She wasn’t perfect.”

No use in poking the bear. Onward.

Our discussion lasted, in total, about half an hour. It moved from our favorite presidents (his was Reagan, mine was FDR), to socialism (“I’ve never seen a socialist country thrive like America has”), to Steve Bannon (“Yeah, that pick threw me for a loop.”)

I explained that you can love your country and still work diligently to improve it. He didn’t buy it.

He explained that the billionaires in Trump’s cabinet became so wealthy because they were experts in their field. I didn’t buy it.

By the time he had finished, neither of us had convinced the other of anything.

We exchanged pleasantries, and that was that.

I toggled with the message of this column for a while, spending some hasty paragraphs marveling at the humanity of the average Trump supporter. In the end, it felt too contrived. The notion that Trump supporters are people is not a breakthrough discovery, after all.

There is something to be said about the qualities that drew people to Donald Trump — the anti-establishment rhetoric, the businessman mentality, the crudeness that is so often mistaken for honesty. I could spend pages speculating about what these people thought the president-elect would do for them, how he would help. But this isn’t a think piece, and if I’m being honest with myself, my geographic proximity to working-class Trump supporters doesn’t make me an expert. In fact, after spending years putting distance between myself and them, and having so fundamentally diverged in our ideologies, I can hardly claim to share their experiences anymore.

“OK, go look in the mirror,” he finally ordered, wiping the blood and ink away with a cloth.

I crossed the room to admire his work.

“You think you’ll come back here for your next tattoo?”

I nodded and handed him a tip as he wrapped my arm in plastic.

“Who knows,” he called as I turned to leave, “Trump’s so unpredictable, he could be the best president we’ve ever had or the worst.”

“I guess we’ll discuss it next time,” I replied.

Lauren Schandevel can be reached at schandla@umich.edu.

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