Sharing the Shore Uneasily with Trump Voters

The Villager, 2017

I had an inkling things were changing last summer as I sat on the beach at the Jersey Shore chatting with two seasonal companions.

“Enough with the lib stuff,” one told me. “You know we’re Republicans.”

Actually, I didn’t know, but naively assumed we had similar politics. We grew up in the same gritty city (Paterson), had lost touch and reconnected at the shore. I could handle them being Republicans but voting for Trump was more than I could stomach.

After that crack, we tabled election talk and chatted about the weather forecast and dining out.

I’ve lived in the liberal bubble of New York City for so long that I’m jolted when I visit Ocean and Monmouth counties in New Jersey. It is more scary this summer since Trump won.

Fast-forward to this summer’s July Fourth holiday. I was having drinks at a restaurant in Asbury Park with three female writer friends, all staunch Democrats and residents of my native state. Caren started ranting about how she hated Trump and how he was a misogynist. Dawn noted that the young people at the next table gave us dirty looks.

The next night I was standing on the boardwalk in Ocean Grove waiting for the fireworks. Dawn told me about her campaigning for Hillary and how she had a feeling Trump might win. I expressed my shock and disgust that he got elected.

“That fat guy on the bench is throwing us daggers,” she said to me.

“Maybe he is upset I made a remark about his stinky cigar?” I asked.

“No, he got a nasty look when you started dissing Trump. Makes me nervous.”

I always spend this summer holiday in Ocean Grove, which attracts a weird mix of liberals and gays (who revived the Victorian resort) and conservative Christians (who founded the town). I stay in a gay-owned B&B where other guests literally carry the Bible.

While I’d never bring up politics at the shared breakfast table, I’m not going to censor myself while talking with my liberal friends for fear of offending someone on the next beach blanket or the adjacent restaurant table. I refuse to lower my voice because the nearby family under the red umbrella planted a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and my companion insists that is code for supporting Trump.

A week later I was 20 miles south staying at the family summer bungalow in Ocean Beach (near Lavallette).

“Wait until you see the houses with the Trump flags,” said my niece, Monica, giving me advance warning.

I flashed back to the summer of 2008 when she tried to convince me to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary and I was a diehard Hillary supporter. It seemed like a generation gap. I’m a baby boomer and she’s three decades younger.

Of course I supported Obama after he won the primary, just as my niece voted for Hillary in 2016.

“Look to your right,” Monica said as we were driving down Rte. 35 South in her SUV. “There’s one.”

I turned and saw a big red-and-white flag flying from a tall flagpole visible for at least a block. In the middle of the white background, red letters proclaimed “TRUMP”. I’d been expecting a small flag affixed to a house, not this gigantic monstrosity.

To me, it takes a special kind of stupid to boldly advertise your support for Trump in a resort area in a blue state. While I know the year-round residents of both Monmouth and Ocean counties vote Republican, the population swells tremendously during the summer months, with folks like my mother and sister who own second homes, and with people who rent vacation houses for a couple of weeks. Most of the summer people are from the New Jersey counties “up North” who vote Democratic or they’re from New York City.

Aren’t these flag-waving members of Cult 45 worried someone might vandalize their houses after having too many drinks? I’d never go that far but I was tempted to round up some friends and sit outside their residences with “Impeach Trump” signs.

I wanted to ask them: Why are you proud to have elected a “pussy-grabbing” misogynist who attacks the media and our judicial system and our intelligence agencies and who wants to take healthcare away from millions? But instead, I just went to the beach and enjoyed reading novels and swimming in the ocean.

Although I’ve lived in the Village for decades, I’m a beach person who grew up spending every summer of my life at the Jersey Shore. I’m not going to let the Trump voters ruin my vacation. But this year, I really got what it meant to be a card-carrying liberal New Yorker. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.