On the last Monday in September, I looked at the polls, saw that Trump was gaining on Clinton in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and thought, “He’s going to win. He’s actually going to win.”
But I couldn’t immediately pack my bags for Canada because I had to go teach American Government and Politics, where Ryan (the most vocal Trump supporter of all my students) immediately raised his hand yet didn’t wait to speak before I called on him. “Did you hear about that teacher who made her class compare Trump’s speeches to Hitler’s? The story was on Fox News. This guy recorded her on his cell phone and after he proved she was trying to indoctrinate her students, so they fired her.”
I looked at the clock. Two minutes into class and I already was wishing it was over. “What’s your point, Ryan?”
He shrugged, his face beaming underneath his Make America Great Again baseball cap. “I thought you’d think it was interesting. Everyone talks about the liberal bias of the media; what about the liberal bias of our educational system?”
I lifted my chin and squelched down the hot ball of resentment that had formed in my stomach. “I don’t think there’s a liberal bias with either the media or with public education. If anything, both institutions have to go too far to prove the opposite.”
“But you admit that you’re for Clinton.”
“No.” I stepped out from my podium and walked in front of it so I could stand closer to Ryan. I couldn’t let him get the best of me. “As your instructor I won’t say who I’m voting for, but I will admit that I’m against Trump.”
Ryan burst out laughing. “That makes you a hypocrite! And I’m so tired of women like you trying to turn Trump into a bad guy.”
“I don’t have to try! With the stuff he says about immigrants, minorities, and women – I can’t even pretend to have an open mind about him. He is a ‘bad guy.’”
“Better be careful,” Ryan sneered. He held up his cell phone. “I might be recording you.”
I stepped even closer. “Go ahead.”
What was I thinking?
I should have been more careful. Instead, I forged on with class and then went home to watch Hillary and Trump debate. My mood lifted dramatically as I realized that maybe packing my bags for Canada wasn’t necessary, not yet. And I could learn something from Hillary about how to stand up to a bully.
The week that followed was great, full of late-night Tweet rants and shocking revelations about Trump’s taxes and his “charitable” foundation. I was no longer afraid to look at FiveThirtyEight or at the news headlines, but perhaps my giddiness came too soon. Yesterday, after I gave my students grades on their first formal essay, Ryan approached me.
“Why’d you give me a C-?”
I gathered my papers, trying not to flinch as he stood over me. “It’s all in my note. Your thesis wasn’t supported and your arguments were weak.”
“You mean you don’t agree with my argument,” he retorted, waving his cell phone in my face. “I’ve been recording you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ryan leered at me. “I have proof that you’re biased. You gave me a bad grade because you hate Trump which means that you also hate me. I have the evidence on my cell phone, and unless you change my grade right now to an A, I’m going to the Dean.”
I stood as tall as I could and looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m not changing your grade.”
He just smiled and waved his cell phone again. “Good. Because I think the Dean will want to see this.”
Then he strode off and my stomach sank.
I told myself not to worry, this is community college, not high school, and I’ve done nothing wrong. But last night, as I watched Kaine and Pence duke it out, Pence evading and pirouetting past accusations about Trump with ease, I had to admit that I was worried.
When delivery is more important than the truth, it’s anyone’s game.