ATKINSON, NH — Before Donald Trump ran for president, Kenny and Sharon considered themselves largely apolitical, rarely concerning themselves with the distant machinations of officials in Washington. Two years ago, Kenny, 33 and now out of work, was a tree-trimmer taking home a decent paycheck, “not really paying attention to what was going on in the world,” he said.
Sharon, who had voted for Democrats all her life and asked only to be identified by her first name, never got too involved with politics. “Didn’t know, didn’t care, whatever,” she said.
But then along came Trump.
Trump railing forcefully and unapologetically on television about the scourge of career politicians. Trump decrying the insidious influence of big banks on government. Trump fulminating about a corrupt media that was keeping the public in the dark about all of this.
His message spoke to both Kenny and Sharon in a way that surprised them, as if a light had switched on in a shadowed corner of consciousness. Before long, they were spending several hours a day on social media and obscure corners of the internet, educating themselves with equal parts thrill and disgust about alleged sins of the Clinton Foundation and wealthy financiers like George Soros.
Now, with just days left in the race, neither can imagine how life will ever go back to normal, whether the Republican nominee’s unprecedented candidacy ends in the White House or not.
“Obviously both the Democrats and the Republicans are corrupt and you can’t really trust either of them,” Kenny says. “When Trump came on the scene, it was a big awakening for me.”
“I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing this for 16 months,” says Sharon, contemplating her post-election life. “I think I’ll stick with [internet activism] because there’s going to be a lot of mess to clean up."
"You can’t just be like, ‘Well, cool, we’re done with that,'" she said, slapping her hands together. "People have to keep their eyes on what’s happening.”
At a relatively intimate rally in the ballroom of Atkinson Resort and Country Club here Friday, Kenny and Sharon were among more than a dozen Trump supporters who said his whirlwind candidacy had altered their personal world views in a way that felt as big and consequential as the election itself. All expressed rueful exasperation with conventional politicians, whose congenital self-interest — long considered the nature of the beast if considered at all — they had recently come to view as disqualifying.
“He really showed that the media is corrupt, our government is corrupt, and we need to go back and start at bare, grass roots again,” said Helen Marrone, of Carver, Massachussetts, director of lending at a credit union.
“He brought out the hypocrisy of the mainstream politician,” said Mike, 68, a former Romney supporter who found himself awed by Trump. “He’s a coarse person who managed to break through every single barrier that these smooth guys set up.”
Scott Watkins, 50, said he loved that Trump "can’t be bought."
"Politicians on both sides of the aisle are making decisions for themselves and their connections and not the good of the country,” he said. “They make fun of him for saying that the system is rigged, but by making fun of him, they’re actually proving it.”
At the rally, Trump repeated his claim that Clinton's statements on her use of a private email server may result in perjury charges. He casually dismissed the Department of Labor's report that the US added 425,000 jobs in October as phony, without citing evidence. And he made a litany of promises to roll-back the effects of what he called government neglect in New Hampshire — a must-win battleground state for his campaign — including the loss of manufacturing jobs in Portsmouth and a growing heroin crisis.
The supporters who spoke to BuzzFeed News all admitted discomfort with some aspects of Trump’s personality, especially his penchant for so-called “locker-room talk,” as displayed on the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape where he boasts of groping women without their consent. But they dismissed a dozen charges of actual sexual misconduct as a concerted attempt at character assassination. Trump has come so close to seizing the levers of power in Washington, some said, that Clinton and her allies in the global elite will do anything to stop him.
Even if he loses on Tuesday, these followers say they’ve only just begun.
“After everything that’s happened in this election, after everything we know now, things can’t ever be the same again,” Sharon said, cracking a smile. “This is history in the making.”