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Welcome to "The Battle for North Carolina," a series where we take you inside one of the most contentious states in 2016. Previously: Election night has already started.
Ten-year-old Jordan Sasnett and her sisters were working on their homework while waiting in the three-hour line on a warm Tuesday evening in October, surrounded by people decked out in red, white, and "deplorable." In the distance, someone shouted, "Trump water: Tastes like freedom!" Jordan has been paying close attention to the 2016 election, and tonight might be her favorite part of the entire season: She is finally going to get to see Trump. "He's going to make America great again and build the wall!" she said excitedly. Her mother, Jamie, was somewhat shocked that her kids were watching the race. "They just soak it all in," she said, musing that they must have picked up the hobby at school. "Well, we go to school," Jordan added, as if she were making an obvious point, "to learn."
The rally was being held at a tiny airport in a rural county in eastern North Carolina that Romney barely won in 2012, which is 40 percent black, with more registered Democratic voters than Republicans and only one early voting location. The county hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in more than 50 years. There were hardly any people of color in the line — one of the only black supporters inside the rally would get kicked out after Trump assumed he was a protestor. Not too far away, visitors could see the only full-size replica of a Confederate ironclad gunboat. The county used to be powered by the tobacco industry, but not so much anymore. It is rural and only getting more so as people leave.
All the young people in line were excited because this was the first time there had been an event like this right in their backyard, and because they were going to get to see the future president of the United States in person — presuming the whole thing wasn't rigged, of course. The area had been just slammed by Hurricane Matthew; residents in nearby Kinston had a mandatory evacuation, and some people with flooded homes were still stranded at shelters. But that didn’t dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Trump was the first presidential candidate to visit eastern North Carolina, at it hardly mattered to his partisans that he never mentioned the storm damage during his speech.
More interestingly, considering that many young people in line were convinced that the GOP candidate would make their lives better, Trump rarely mentions the needs of young people at all; his campaign didn't release a student debt plan (which wouldn't really help the problem anyway) until this month. But there have been plenty of moments that hint at why there are always so many youths at Trump rallies. If he were elected, no one could stereotype teens as being too petulant or childish — not when the guy in the White House acts worse than they do, even at their absolute angstiest.
The oratorical acumen that led him to say "No puppet, no puppet. ... No, you're the puppet!" at the last debate were on full display at the Kinston rally. "There's nothing better than the word 'stupid' to describe these people," he said when talking about government officials. "I mean, there's just no better word. I know so many words." But Trump's demeanor — which often makes it seem like one of the characters from The Toast's "Dirtbag" series came to life and ran for office — is not really among the reasons young people in Kinston gave when asked why they like him.
So what were those reasons? Mainly that everyone they know likes Trump, or at least everyone they're close friends with. Sage, Jacob, and Darren — 16-year-olds from New Bern — say they know a few Hillary supporters from school, but they hate them. "They're so disrespectful," Sage said, recounting the time when a car full of Clinton fans "flipped the bird" at them and then sped away. Sage also says that he is ready for something drastically new, as President Obama has been in charge for half of his entire life, and the whole time that he's been paying attention to politics.
Their parents like Trump, which makes supporting him seem like sponsored rebellion. Going to the rally was, for many, a family affair. Some parents brought along babies — one in a red "Babies 4 Trump" hat came over to the press pen solemnly requesting fist bumps. Other teenagers took selfies in front of the CNN reporters, before diligently turning around to boo them when prompted to do so an hour later. There were lots of cute kids in "Deplorable Me" shirts waiting in line, and one stand that follows Trump around hawking swag says that "Adorable Deplorable" shirts are their current bestsellers. One teenager said he loved Bernie Sanders and that Trump was the only option — a good one — left now.
The teens for Trump deploy arguments for hating Hillary that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever listened to talk radio or watched Fox News, which some of them watch religiously after school. Ask about the Access Hollywood tape or Trump's taxes, and there is a 75 percent chance that the response will be, "What about her emails?" or "What about Benghazi?" Susan West, who was wearing a star-spangled vest she reserves for all patriotic occasions, said her 7-year-old grandson told her that Hillary is "a liar, cheat, and steal who hides stuff." One teenager in line was complimented by a middle-aged woman who liked his "Trump That Bitch" button. That same teenager later told me, "Trump doesn't stumble when leaving his rallies." Drew, George, and Jacob, another trio of 16-year-olds, agree: "Hillary sucks." They are not alone in thinking that; another young person farther up in line kept yelling, "Hillary sucks — but not like Monica!" at regular intervals during the wait.
Many others are social conservatives. Fifteen-year-old Amanda Spear, who was at the rally with her 12-year-old sister Susie, wants Trump to make abortion illegal, and she is also against same-sex marriage.
In other words, a Trump supporter is a Trump supporter no matter what age. If you ask a teenager at a Trump rally what he or she wants President Trump to do in office, it's likely that an older person behind them will interrupt to say, "Put Hillary in jail!" — and the high-schooler will nod eagerly. Except, of course, these teenagers who are getting their first political education from Trump will be voting long after 2016 ends, even if their voices don't get heard this year.
Whatever happens with Trumpism in the future will depend mainly on how these young people's political beliefs evolve. As anyone who was once a kid — a population that includes all of us, even though some of us might not acknowledge it — knows, your outlook on life can change a lot after you leave your parents' house, or once you've had time to reflect on an insane year like this one. But even if these teenagers' views stay solid, they'll likely be outnumbered, despite their robust numbers at rallies; in the Scholastic election poll, only 40 percent of students sided with Trump.
But who knows, maybe that poll was rigged too.
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