Let’s address the elephant in the room.
Since everyone is talking about Donald Trump today.
You know, believe it or not, both of my parents are avid supporters of the guy.
And my parents are no dummies.
They both got college degrees in China, which was an achievement in an of itself at the time. Later, after coming to America, they both earned a master’s in computer science.
(Which is kind of funny if you know my mom, that she has that degree. She’s the most computer newb I know.)
And we know all about the American Dream.
We know that it exists. We know because we lived it. We are proof of its existence.
My parents arrived in America with a few hundred bucks to their name. One of the first places they took me, after we got here—I was two and a half at the time—was to Shop Rite, out in New Paltz, across the river from Poughkeepsie. That’s where my dad was studying.
I remember wanting an apple. And I remember my mom telling me that we couldn’t afford it. I was upset, the brat that I was.
My dad had come a year earlier to work, make some money to pay for living expenses and also tuition. That summer, before we arrived, he toiled away at a Chinese restaurant.
It’s a funny story that my mom likes to tell because my dad can be a bit of a prick. He’s really smart and has a lot of pride, which makes him sort of unsuitable for being a good busboy or a waiter, whose job is mostly to just STFU and take abuse with a smile.
If you know my dad, that’s not how he’s used to operating, especially back then. He likes to be the man, the guy in charge, the guy telling you what’s up.
And he just can’t resist himself, that smug motherfucker. Trust me, I know, as the recipient of the majority of his snide comments throughout my life. It’s not just the tone of the delivery that triggered you so hard. The power of his microaggressions was grounded in truth. What killed you was that he was right.
“You coming to my soccer game today, dad?”
“No. The way you run. You don’t run hard enough. I like how Sharukh runs. He runs with power.”
And so after less than a week, the owner of the restaurant was ready to fire him. Who does this guy think he is? With all the fucking attitude?
But the owner’s wife stopped him. My mom likes to brag that my dad is a handsome guy, that he was a catch. And so I guess the owner’s wife took a liking to him, this scrappy asshole. Because you can also tell that he’s a good guy at heart. His intentions are pure. So she convinced her husband to let him stay, as long as my dad stayed in line. And so my dad learned to eat some shit.
He tried, he really did. And every week he would call my mom and complain about all the shit he was eating. I mean, he must have been just steaming inside, which, looking back, can only make me smile.
But give the man some credit. He kept his head down and ate it.
And by the end of summer he had saved up a few thousand dollars, which to my parents back then was an insane amount of money.
With that money, he paid for his first semester of tuition and bought a total piece of junk of a car.
And so when my mom and I got there that first day, we all went to Shop Rite, and my parents bought some pork and stuff which is a big deal, and we had a really nice dinner. My mom remembers it being such a magical night. We were in America and it was beautiful.
But by the end of the week, reality had set in. My dad was in school full-time and we were already running out of money. All that money my dad had saved now had to feed three mouths. The situation was clearly unsustainable.
“I think you guys should go back,” my dad concluded after doing the math.
My mom resisted. She would find a job, she promised.
“How are you going to do that? And take care of a 2-year old kid at the same time?” My dad wondered aloud.
But my mom was adamant. Her English wasn’t great, but it was certainly better than her peers. She had studied on her own time just in case this moment ever arrived.
And so every morning she would scour the classifieds. (It’s a routine, BTW, that she’s kept to this very day. At one point she lamented, “I can’t believe the NYTimes allowed Craigslist to eat their lunch.”)
The struggle was real though.
What business wants to hire a brand new Chinese immigrant, two-year old in tow?
The answer’s easy. None.
Instead, as is often the case, someone helped us out. Our host family, who was affiliated with one of the local churches, which made it a point to help out recent immigrants acclimate to the community, heard about my mom’s failed search.
And so they hooked her up with a housekeeping gig, cleaning one of their friend’s homes.
If you know anything about my mom, you’ll know that she is first, a ruthlessly efficient worker, and second, just has a certain way about her with people. She was basically the antithesis of my dad, you could say.
So people loved not only her results, they loved her. One job became two. Two jobs became four. Before long, the jobs were rolling in.
Along the way, she got her driver’s license. She passed the written test in only a week. The road test took her only two months.
That’s another story my mom loves to tell. My dad was off for winter break so the big project now that he had some free time was to teach my mom how to drive. He told her that this was their only chance because, if not, we’d have to wait until summer.
In other words, what my dad was saying, very much in the style of my dad, is—”You better not fail!”
And I already told you about my dad. As you can imagine, he’s a difficult teacher, full of condescension, that tough love approach.
“You know, Jing could three-point turn after only a week. You’re still struggling with left turns,” he’d note, mockingly.
Jing was one of my dad’s classmates who he was also helping to teach.
“You wanna know who failed on their first attempt,” my mom likes to joke with the benefit of hindsight, that glint in her eye, as she tells one of her favorites stories.
“You wanna know who passed?”
By then, my mom had a full schedule. She was still cleaning some homes here or there for clients she liked, but she had long moved on to motels, where she would blast through multiple rooms in a single afternoon.
And as the soon to be three-year old kid, I was her official sidekick. One of the memories that really stand out in my mind were the times she’d she check under the couch cushions, that yelp of glee when she found a quarter. I’ll never forget that.
Every cent counted back then, which is honestly, for my parents, an approach that’s never wavered to this very day.
Over time, those quarters added up.
Those were humble times, but you know, my parents are humble people. Because in a way, those were also the happiest times.
We lived in an apartment complex called Riverside, and in the summer evenings, we’d take walks along the riverbank, which had a view of the Mohonk tower. One day, we found duck eggs, which my mom took home and cooked. It was one of our happiest days. One of the funniest was when my dad tried to take an inflatable boat out onto the water only to discover that his inflatable boat was rapidly deflating due to a hole. On the weekends, we’d walk to the library. I had pizza for the very first time.
We didn’t have much, but really, we had it all.
And so while my dad studied, my mom cleaned motel rooms to support the family.
It was barely enough but we made it, all thanks to my parents’ hustle.
Fast forward to today, a lot has changed, but a lot is still the same.
My dad is still doing his computer science stuff, but he does it for IBM and he gets to work from home. He takes a walk every morning and goes for a run every afternoon. Every night, he does a dozen or so pullups. He can still do more than me, a fact he is, as you can imagine, quite proud of.
And my mom, she’ll still clean a motel room here and there, but there’s a kicker.
Years later, while skimming the classifieds section one morning, an ad caught her eye. 30 efficiencies, great condition, the listing read. She knew instantly that this was it.
It wasn’t long before she was the proud new owner of the Lagrange Motel.
To my parents, it felt like they had finally made it, that all of their hard work had finally paid off. And for a while, the American Dream was truly grand.
After my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I started helping her with some of her responsibilities.
Every week, we went to the motel to collect money. The first time we went, I just remember watching her counting the money and swelling up with pride. It was just like the old days, back when I was three when I would accompany her to work, just me and my mom. Except nowadays, she wasn’t counting quarters but stacks of bills.
She had built something real, something all her own. It’s really only in moments like that where I’ve been able to truly appreciate just how far my parents had come. This brave, incredible woman and my handsome jerk of a dad.
Her little old motel helped put both me and my sister through college.
And yet, the road has been far from easy and in a way, the toughest times have been more recent history.
The Great Recession and its aftermath hit my parents particularly hard.
My dad got laid off from the financial firm he worked for just as my mom’s handful of real estate properties were underwater. She had to refinance our home just to keep up with her monthly payments. It was a risky play and my mom is a worrier. There were times, she admits, looking back, that she was afraid we would lose everything, everything that they had spent their entire lives working for.
But she kept that all to herself at the time.
After having a look inside her, the doctors told us that her cancer most likely started a couple years back, basically around that same time, that time that was my mom’s darkest hour. She was working long days. She was stressed every moment, and she wasn’t taking care of herself, eating poorly if she was eating at all. She visibly lost a lot of weight.
Today, she can’t help but wonder if she might have avoided cancer if things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong.
Even so, as is typical with my parents, they survived.
Still, that experience left a bad taste in their mouth about this whole American Dream thing.
For my mom’s businesses, the revenues are only just starting the come back to where they were ten years ago before the financial crisis. The value of many of the properties themselves have yet to fully recover, far from their pre-recession highs.
In that time, while revenues plummeted, then stagnated, all of her expenses have increased, from taxes to oil to healthcare.
“We still eat pretty well,” she chirps, searching for a silver lining.
The lingering sense of defeat is made more prominent by the soaring property values of places like Palo Alto and other major cities around the world, places like Vancouver, places like London.
Everywhere she looked, the rich got richer.
“You know, we would be better off if we had never left Shanghai,” she’ll joke. The sad fact of the matter is that deep down, she’s not necessarily joking.
Because there would be nothing more sad if all their hard work was for nought.
Some of her old friends and acquaintances who have done little more than stick around, to be in the right place in the right time, have made it big. You can tell it hurts her, given all the sacrifices she’s had to make. She wishes she had more to show for it.
And given the nature of her businesses, she has a front row seat to what’s really happening in America.
She knows what’s happening because they’re her tenants, the blue collar workers paying the rent. She sees the people who lost their job, the once proud contractors who slowly became addicted to painkillers after they hurt their back. She sees people on disability who get their checks from the government, who don’t have to pay for healthcare, people who don’t work.
And she looks at her own situation, where she’s done everything she’s supposed to, everything that she possibly can, where she is almost sixty and still working hard, still showing up, and yet she’s the one getting squeezed.
In her eyes, the government is helping everyone except her. Those at the bottom are getting handouts. Those at the top are getting bailouts.
“They’re killing the middle class,” she tells us. “They’re punishing the people working the hardest.”
It was becoming clear that in this new reality, good guys finished dead last. And when you see evidence of this day after day after day, what else can she think, but that this is fundamentally unfair?
If this is what the American Dream is all about, it’s not what she signed up for.
“This country is going in the wrong direction,” she sighs.
My mom isn’t fancy. She’s not cosmopolitan. In fact, she doesn’t even wear makeup. But my mom isn’t stupid. And she’s an elegant person.
She’s also a proud American.
She cares about her community and is deeply involved. She’s the type of person who knows everyone, the people who matter, the type of person who knows what’s going on. She’s got her investment club, which is all the Chinese wives. And she’s also part of a book club full of white women, which, for my mom, is kind of a big deal.
I poke fun at her, pointing at that she never actually reads the books.
“That’s not why they invite me,” she counters, beaming a megawatt smile. “I think they like me because I’m not afraid to have my own opinion.”
And after my mom was diagnosed, everyone showed up, day after day, week after week. In truth, I never realized how influential she was to the community, really, until all the people she had touched started showing up at the house, one by one, one after another, week after week after week.
When one of the girls in our old neighborhood, Kerri, found out the news, she burst into tears.
“Connie’s the nicest woman I’ve ever met,” she told her mom.
And so if anyone should have a sense of how the community is feeling, it’s going to be my mom.
“People are afraid to say what they really think,” she tried to explain to me last year as I expressed doubt over a Trump presidency.
And the general feeling is a sense of being left behind.
Sure, those who left are doing great.
They’ve got the good jobs, jobs that include great benefits and health insurance. They’ve got nice homes whose values are going up and up and up. They are enjoying the benefits of a globalized society.
The problem is that most people can’t just get up and leave and move to the new kewl trendy place.
And it’s not because they are dumb or uneducated. It’s not because they don’t have the talent or the ability. (After all, both of her kids left, so it would presume that her genetic stock is OK. One is back, though. But he might be the dumb one in the family.)
For some, leaving just isn’t an option.
My mom certainly can’t. This is where she built her home. This is where she built her community. This is where she built her business. Plus, when you have a bunch of mortgages to pay off, you don’t get to just get up and leave.
And what’s more, she doesn’t want to, anyway.
This is her home. And you know what, she quite likes it here.
So for my mom and others, it feels like the political establishment has failed them.
It didn’t just happen this past election cycle. It has been ongoing. You had Obama, who seemed to cater to the poor while also catering to corporate and Wall Street establishment. And you had Bush, who seemed to cater to the rich while also catering to the corporate and Wall Street establishment.
No matter who was in power, those in the middle got squeezed a little bit more.
In truth, both sides catered to exactly those who left, often the ones who left for big cities to work for the corporate and Wall Street establishment.
But then you had Donald Trump.
Trump was a breath of fresh air because finally, you had a guy who spoke to those who were excluded. He addressed what was on my mom’s mind. He said what everyone was thinking but afraid to say. And what Donald Trump was able to do was to convince them that he was on their team and that he would do whatever it took to fight for them, to get them a fair shake.
When you have seen your healthcare costs go up year after year with little help from the state and then you see people who are just coasting along get their costs totally subsidized, it gets you a little riled up.
When you see the wealthy with their accounts in the Caymans and corporations with their headquarters in Dublin, and you start to wonder why it seems like you’re the only person paying taxes in this country, it starts to get you a little riled up.
When all your life, you have been paying into the system as a hardworking American, and you see an influx of people who sidestepped the process, who skirted the rules, come in your community who are now accepting benefits from that same system having never paid into it, then you start to get a little riled up.
When you look around and the roads are crumbling and the buses have stopped running and the local government’s coffers are all but tapped and yet we are spending trillions in far off places like Afghanistan to no end, it’s hard not to get riled up.
When the companies in your community decide to lay off your friends and family and then proceed to give those same jobs to people in other countries, and then the executives who make those decisions end up pocketing all those profits, it’s going to rile you up a bit.
And when you see the media talk down to you and tell you what’s good for you and make jokes about you while patting each other on the back, it only cements your convictions.
People want to talk about alternative facts and fake news, but the truth of the matter is, this is exactly what happened and this is exactly how a lot of people feel about it.
This has nothing to do with a lack of compassion for the poor.
This has nothing to do with racism.
This has nothing to do with anti-immigration.
This has nothing to do with anti-globalization.
And this has nothing to do with people not knowing what’s good for them.
It has only to do with fairness.
When it feels like you are the one who did everything like you were supposed to but instead, everyone else benefits while you are left to suffer, then you are naturally going to cry for help.
And you want to know the truth?
Only one person answered those cries and that person was Donald Trump.
Look, no one is kidding themselves. Donald Trump is an imperfect operator, my mom will be the first the admit that.
“He brings a lot of it on himself,” she conceded. “It’s silly.”
And yet, to those who will go on about how he is sexist, how he is racist, how his supporters are deplorable, how he is basically Hitler, then she’ll simply tell you that you are wildly overplaying your hand. If that’s your only angle, then she isn’t listening. If that’s the best you’ve got, then she wants you to try a little bit harder.
None of those same people said anything when he was just a real estate mogul, when he was just the star of his own reality TV show, when they were inviting him to their parties and fundraisers. That they’ve suddenly had a change of heart only proves to people like my mom that it’s mostly just politics.
And politics is nasty.
Because what they also see is a guy who, despite being born into wealth, still wakes up early and works hard every day, a guy who raised a traditional, beautiful, successful family, and a guy who genuinely wants to help his country.
“He’s a billionaire,” my dad likes to say. “He doesn’t need to work. So why is he stepping up? Because no one else is doing it.”
Who they have in Donald Trump is someone who is going to bat for them in a town where they feel like they were long forgotten.
Look, they are under no illusion that he will succeed in every which way or that he will be able to keep all of his campaign promises. Honestly, they are just happy that someone is actually fighting for them and their interests in Washington.
They understand that Trump is learning on the job.
They know that he’s going to make mistakes, say some dumb things.
They accept that he has fundamental flaws, that he is better at the short game than he is the long game.
But you know what, even if he fails, he’ll have already made all the difference, simply by proving to the establishment that people like my mom and my dad still matter, and that the issues they care are important, important enough to get you voted president of the United States of America.
My mom and dad aren’t alone out there, either. There’s a lot of good people just like them.
Because whatever happens, he’s helped write the playbook for the next guy to come along. And the thing is, the next guy won’t frame things in such polarizing terms. The next guy (or gal) will be a lot loss problematic.
But for now, they have the Donald and they aren’t going to turn their back on him just like they know he won’t turn his back on them.
They know that for now, Donald Trump is their man.
And they also see what Trump is up against, the forces that he is fighting every step of the way. That’s what happens when you disrupt the status quo. No one’s going to make it easy for you.
When they see Trump under furious attack, it only emboldens their resolve, heightens their sense of us-against-the-world. That’s the underdog way. It’s the American way.
And there is very little that will be able to change their minds.
If they do manage to kick him out of office, trust me, they won’t be surprised. The status quo has been squeezing them for years and years. This would simply be more evidence of that fact. Finally, someone showed up to fight for them, won fair and square, and you know what, the establishment found a way to take him out. Doing so would only confirm their worst fears.
I am still sometimes surprised by how many people don’t see this, haven’t yet come to understand this reality, the people who will look at people like my mom and dad and shake their heads smugly, noting that they don’t know what’s good for them, how could they vote for such a monster, a buffoon, a charlatan.
Because the opposite could not be more true. They know exactly what’s good for them. They feel it every single day. This is their livelihood.
Because in fact what is true is that my parents are no longer buying what those other guys are selling, whether on the left or on the right. They’ve been duped far too many times.
And you know what, they’re just happy someone is trying, that someone is giving it a go.
They are well aware how hard it is to make real change. They intimately understand the many hurdles standing in his way. And they naturally understand that even Trump is just one guy, and that he may not have all the answers.
But at least he’s there for them.
And really, that’s all that matters.