This is the first in an occasional series of stories dropping in on families
in the first year of a new presidency, and at a time of societal change.
They were an American family, at the beginning of a presidential term in which the biggest clarifying lesson was that there were many different kinds of American families trying to share the elbow-space of one country.
There were the ones who hated Donald Trump from the beginning and made it clear. There were the ones who loved him from the beginning and made that clear, too. And then there were lots of ones like the Razmuses, for whom moments of clarity were centered on subjects that were considerably less divisive.
What Suzie Razmus was sure of: how she loved her husband and their three sons. How she was devoted to her faith and her community. How Shane, 13, really needed to eat more breakfast. How that inane “Pen-PineappleApple-Pen” song got stuck in her head every time Henry, 17, sang it. How the low, green mountains surrounding Corbin, Ky., could be breathtaking to newcomers but banal to lifelong residents, which is why, every morning when she drove to the movie theater her family owned and operated, she worked hard not to take the view for granted.
The Razmuses were the kind of middle-class family whose support the new president’s success would live or die on. And one thing Suzie was not always 100 percent sure of was how she felt about him. She’d voted for John Kasich in the primary. But Kasich dropped out, and Marco Rubio — whom she and husband, Greg, had also looked at — dropped out, and Ted Cruz, whom their oldest, Saylor, had grudgingly voted for, dropped out, too. Finally, Greg looked around, acknowledged there were no other options, and decided it was “time to get on the Trump train.”
Suzie, who believed in witnessing history as much as she believed in individual politicians, called up their senator’s office and requested tickets to the inauguration.
“If we pass a souvenir stand, do you all want some memorabilia?” she asked her boys, as they walked in front of the U.S. Capitol. It was two days before the inauguration, and the family had just arrived in Washington. “Maybe a Make America Great Again hat?”
They’d never bought any Trump memorabilia, but now seemed time to commit. “I’d take one,” Henry said.
Suzie knew that the inauguration would be important. She hoped that it would be inspiring, although she feared — at least a small part of her did — that the man they had decided to bestow their votes upon would careen off-script during his inaugural address, the way he was prone to do, and she would want to close her eyes in embarrassment.
Past the Capitol, on the Mall, speakers were rehearsing for the swearing-in.
“We live in a challenging and tumultuous world,” a voice boomed into a microphone. “But the American people always rise to the occasion.”
“That’s right, we do,” Suzie said to herself as she marshaled the boys into a museum. “We definitely do.”
A tumultuous world, but also, they hoped, one ready for change. “I feel like this is the last shot,” Greg had said ruefully a few times. “Like if this doesn’t work, nothing will.”
Corbin. When Suzie and Greg explained it to people who had never been there, sometimes they talked about Colonel Sanders, who opened his first fried chicken stand in the north side of town. Greg, tall with a salt-and-pepper goatee, occasionally pulled on a white suit to play the Colonel at social occasions, and Suzie, a petite brunette who’d recently finished a term as a city commissioner, had lobbied for and won a commemorative park to draw tourism to the area.
Sometimes they talked about how they wanted tourism to increase, because the railroad jobs that used to run the economy had disappeared. The poverty rate for the surrounding counties was about 30 percent. The opioid epidemic had hit Corbin like a hammer, and the place was beautiful but it was also suffering.
“Lord, please bless this food and nourish our bodies,” Greg said on the morning before the inauguration as the family bowed their heads at a restaurant breakfast. “In your name we pray, Amen.”
“You know, you’d like to think the whole world will change after an election,” Suzie cautioned, “but we can’t expect huge changes.”
The small changes she wanted: deregulation, which would hopefully bring back coal and manufacturing jobs, which would hopefully bring back railroad jobs, which would hopefully help the drug problem because, as Suzie believed, people “were not meant to have too much time on their hands.”
On these issues, the Razmuses had collectively been persuaded that Donald Trump was the right choice. Saylor, 20, had listened to the man from his dorm at the University of Louisville, where he picked his way through anti-Trump protests daily. Henry listened, chlorinated and tired, on the ride home from high school swim practice. Shane listened in his middle-school social studies class.
Suzie and Greg listened as they worked in the cineplex, a tiny intersection of liberal Hollywood with the conservative Southern locale that had gone 82 percent for Trump.
It’s not that Suzie couldn’t understand some of what Meryl Streep meant when she got onstage at the Golden Globes and chastised the now-president.
But at the same time, she and Greg saw how people in Corbin treated trips to the movies as the vacations they couldn’t afford. How patrons cleaned up their popcorn boxes on Saturday night, then returned a few hours later on Sunday morning to attend the church that used the theater as a chapel. This was why she told her boys, when they worked at the refreshment stand, “You better have smiles on your faces, and the popcorn better be hot and buttery.” She wanted patrons to be able to focus on the movie experience, and not how the woman on the screen looked down on them because of who they voted for.
It’s not that they didn’t want people to make decent wages, but the 35 people their theater employed were mostly high school students in after-school jobs. A 16-year-old living with his parents surely didn’t need $15 an hour, they thought; paying it would mean raising the ticket prices that people already complained were too high.
“It bothers me,” Greg said at breakfast, “that because we supported Trump, we get lumped in as racists, or bad people.”
It bothered Suzie, too, she said, but it was important to always try to remember how other people might be feeling.
“There’s that line in ‘Hidden Figures,’ ” Suzie said, referring to the movie about African American NASA employees in the 1960s, which their theater had recently run. “And there’s that line — what’s Spider-Man’s girlfriend’s name again?”
“Kirsten Dunst,” Greg supplies.
“Kirsten Dunst. There’s a line Kirsten Dunst says to one of the main characters: ‘You know I don’t have anything against you people.’ And the character says, ‘I know you think that’s true.’ ”
She had been thinking about that line. Trying to see other people’s truths and perspectives, and wondering whether the coming year would finally bring the country together.
It was still dark when they got up the next morning, Suzie ushering the boys into their jackets and ties and then sending them down to the hotel lobby for coffee.
“This is it, the big day,” she said when she joined them a few minutes later.
“I’m excited,” Saylor said.
“I wonder if when we get off the Metro we’ll start seeing protesters,” Suzie worried, but then reminded herself that it was people’s right to protest, just like it was her right to come to the inauguration.
They didn’t see any protesters, though, at least not obvious ones, and their seats by the Capitol were a sea of Trump buttons.
“This moment is your moment,” Trump said from the podium. “It belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today.” The Razmuses liked that message. It was what they were hoping to hear — a rebuke to big government, a promise that he would work for the people.
“Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red of patriots,” the new president said, and Suzie and Greg felt pride and relief in their hearts, feeling like Donald Trump had gone out of his way to try to speak to all Americans. He hadn’t ad-libbed, as Suzie had feared. He hadn’t taken detours to insult Democrats or Hillary Clinton — he’d even thanked Barack Obama for a smooth transition.
The speech sounded unifying, to them. It sounded how Suzie had always hoped Trump would sound when he gave speeches. “Of course, he was preaching to the choir,” she acknowledged, because they were already conservatives — but although she tried to picture other people’s perspectives, she believed that anyone who truly listened to the speech would feel the same way.
When it was over, they made their way back through the crowds, walking until they ended up at a quiet Greek restaurant.
“Let’s celebrate,” she said, deciding to order a glass of wine with her lunch. “Trump is here. He’s our president now.”
“If what he said comes true, we’ll be all right,” Greg said. “We’ll all be all right.”
The next morning, as they piled back in their car to leave the city, they would see that not everyone had responded to the inaugural address the way they did. Hordes of protesters walked the sidewalks outside of their hotel. They would see footage of White House press secretary Sean Spicer give a news conference that Suzie found “bizarre,” lambasting journalists and inflating numbers for inaugural attendance.
She would feel a small pang of anxiety, before reminding herself that she didn’t have to like the brash, belligerent way the new administration delivered messages, as long as they were making progress on the policies she found important. She would vow to ignore the nonsense and focus on the bigger picture of the country.
For now, they finished their meal, and the boys pulled on the Trump wool hats they’d bought a few days before, and they left the restaurant into the gray day that had finally stopped drizzling.
The year 2017 stretched out before the Razmus family, and here at the beginning of it, they thought the future looked bright.