Profiles from a Polarized America: He voted for Trump once. Whether he will again depends on who is willing to talk to him

A USC alumnus looks ahead to the 2020 election.

It’s lunchtime at the Los Angeles Jewish Home. When the classic, old-school lunch bell rings across the campus, there’s a frenzy in the form of a traffic-jam of walkers, wheelchairs and canes on the pathway outside the dining hall. But Mack Stevens quite literally stands alone in the sea of wheels, briskly walking towards the hall.

This is not the only thing that sets Stevens, 68, apart at the Jewish Home. He is also one of the only conservative Republican residents, which can make for some turbulent resident-run weekly Political Club conversations.

Of the 108 people who live at this residential continuing care retirement facility in Reseda, California, Stevens is the only one who chants “four more years,” while holding up four fingers, when the club turns to the topic of President Trump.

Being surrounded by “ninety-nine percent Democrats” at the Jewish Home doesn’t bother Stevens “a bit.”

“I don’t mind expressing my opinion. And knowing it’s not popular doesn’t bother me, because I think I’m right,” he said in an interview in February, smiling.

Being right in arguments is important to Stevens, who was eager to pursue a career in law after graduating from the University of Southern California with an economics degree in 1973.

But the price tag of law school was too high, so Stevens had to pivot his career plans.

Instead, he used his economics degree to become a broker.

A career focused on the economy and personal wealth began to drive Stevens’ own political activism. Politicians with platforms focusing on strengthening the economy were most appealing and became the driving force for who could earn his vote.

This was what drove Stevens to vote for Richard Nixon in 1972, and eventually, Trump in 2016.

“I like that Trump has strengthened our military, and our economy is doing so much better,” Stevens said.

While Stevens is pleased with “most” of Trump’s policies throughout his presidency, he’s not sold on wanting to re-elect the president. What it will come down to, in Stevens’ eyes, is simple.

“I would rather not vote for him again, but it’s going to come down to who the Democrats have as the nominee,” he said, adding, “It also depends how many more stupid things Trump does in the next six months.”

In the interview, conducted when the candidate field was still large, Stevens said he would only consider voting for a Democrat if the nominee was hedge fund founder Tom Steyer or former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Attempts to reach him for a followup interview after former Vice President Joe Biden rose to become the presumptive nominee were unsuccessful.

One of the “stupid things” that makes Stevens less inclined to vote for Trump a second time is the recent impeachment trial and the U.S. relationship with foreign governments.

While Stevens became concerned about the way Trump handles foreign affairs, “he’s not the first president to hide things,” and it won’t ultimately be the deciding factor of who he casts his vote for.

What the country is facing in the upcoming election, in Stevens’ eyes, is not about policies or political promises.

“The biggest problem we have is the lack of cooperation between the two parties,” Stevens said, adding, “there’s always been division, to some degree, but it has never been this polarized.”

Both parties see the other as the enemy and, “This presidency has brought out the worst in people,” he said.

And while he sees this divisive rhetoric every day through political coverage on Fox or CNN, he also experiences it personally.

“Nobody wants to sit down with me and hear what I have to say. They say, ‘You’re wrong’ and end the conversation. I want to listen to why you feel the way you do, and why you have the opinions you have. Why won’t you do the same for me?”

Stevens has also been yelled at and called a “phony” by other residents when he expresses his opinion at the Political Club meetings.

The moment he shared his support for Trump in a Political Club meeting changed the way the other residents interacted with him, Stevens believes, both inside and outside the club meeting room.

He felt immediately ostracized, noticing dirty looks in the dining room and sly comments when he passed others in the hallways.

To Stevens, these small interactions he experiences mimic what’s happening in Washington.

“You know, 20 or 30 years ago, Democrats and Republicans would drink beer together, play poker… be normal colleagues. This doesn’t happen anymore.”

Conversation may just be the answer to mending the division our country is experiencing, not just on Capitol Hill, but also in everyday interactions.

“You vote for Trump once and everyone immediately assumes you will support him on everything he does. That’s not true. I may vote for him again, I may not,” he said.

“But I’m flexible and I’m willing to learn, it just comes down to who will sit down with me and chat.”

This story was reported and written through a journalism course on politics and government affairs reporting, and edited by USC Annenberg Professor Christina Bellantoni. Annenberg Media student editors reviewed the story and published it per newsroom guidelines.

Annenberg Media is a student-led multiplatform news media overseen and funded by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Many of the journalists are working weekly shifts in its newsroom, known as the Media Center, to fulfill curricular requirements. Annenberg Media is independent of the university administration. Please direct news tips and press releases to mediacentereditors@gmail.com

Click here to read more Profiles from a Polarized America.