Letter from Phoenix

On the morning of Election Day, I went looking for the Trumpmobile. It’s a white sports car—all of its identifying logos removed, so I can’t tell what make and model it is—neatly covered in MAGA decals. The door panels are emblazoned with big 45s with stars-and-stripes patterns. There are smaller decals elsewhere, but they can be hard to read, and I hesitate to get too close. I do not wish to have a conversation with the Trumpmobile’s owners about the Trumpmobile. But it insists on being heard. When I’ve seen it in my neighborhood, it’s always making roaring revving sounds, though the noise is all show. Speed bumps are everywhere here, and the car’s front lip is very low to the ground. Driving faster than 15 MPH would wreck it.

Election Day was supposed to be a big Trump-y day in Arizona. The consensus was that Republicans would triumph cross-country, with a particular boost from the Grand Canyon State. My ballot included a slate of swaggering fuck-your-feelings MAGA goons running for governor (Kari Lake), U.S. Senator (Blake Masters), state attorney general (Abraham Hamadeh), and secretary of state (Mark Fincham). I’d figured the Trumpmobile would be revving proudly, if slowly, through my neighborhood to emphasize the point.

No luck that morning. It was absent from the driveway of the house where I’ve often seen it parked. A gray truck was there as usual, with a few snotty stickers that are typical among MAGA-heads here. (“Let’s go Brandon!” “Defund the media.”) A small Kari Lake sign was planted on the fake lawn. The front yard of the house is neat as a pin, neater than any house in the neighborhood. Flagstones leading up to a gate with a beware-of-dog sign. American flag hanging nearby. A garden hose, neatly coiled, near the front door. But the lawn is fake. What are they watering?

Homes here are designed to escape the summer heat, with attached garages so you can drive straight into them; the Phoenix area’s sprawl all but necessitates owning a car. So people don’t casually stroll outside to talk to each other very much. Yard signs and bumper stickers are the chief mode of neighborhood communication, so I pay a lot of attention to them. Too much, probably. One household has an American flag except the stripes are replaced with red silhouettes of AR-15s. Two others have “Let’s Go Brandon” flags in front, in a bright blue that’s faded more and more over the past 12 months. A block from Chez Trumpmobile is a home that flies both an American flag and a Progress Pride flag. One home that usually posts signs for hard-right candidates now only hangs a French tricolor out front. Sometimes the garage is open. There’s a van for a home-security company inside. That house, too, is neat as a pin—I once saw the owner mopping his garage floor. Who does that? As I walk by, I develop a theory about the relationship between fastidious neatness and fascistic tendencies. I feel at once a little jealous and proud of my own half-assed housekeeping habits.

Streets out here are well-organized—fastidiously neat, even—with clearly marked bike lanes, intersections for main streets every mile. On Election Day, every corner of these “milers” is cluttered with campaign signs. Vandals or pranksters seem to be in the habit of cutting out letters from some of them. Why is the “K,” and just the “K,” missing from this Blake Masters sign? Other candidates have other missing letters. Is somebody making a very large ransom note out of corrugated plastic? Somebody has cut out the head of Donald Trump that’s on the larger Kari Lake signs. A fan looking for a MAGA memento, or somebody tired of seeing his mug? In a purple precinct, it can be hard to tell. 

Days pass; the count continues. The Democratic candidates for Governor, Senate, and secretary of state all seem to have acquired safe leads, but nobody is calling those races. Every morning I walk by the Trumpmobile home, but nothing has changed. 

The uncertainty of the vote, its closeness, means the takes about Arizona keep arriving from the East. “Not much can grow naturally in the barren desert landscape of Arizona’s Maricopa County,” one analyst writes. Get bent, we Arizonans reply: We are awash in saguaro and ocotillo and prickly pear and cholla and palo verde trees,. But even a proud Arizonan—and after nearly a decade here I’m starting to count myself as one—has to acknowledge the artificiality of that nature in our actual lived everyday lives. The native plants in our neighborhoods come from nurseries; we didn’t build our single-family homes around desert flora; our dream of low-density sprawl demanded that we import the desert in. 

By the weekend, the races for senator and secretary of state have been called. Fincham, a particularly egregious and unqualified MAGA tool who once said he doesn’t believe Joe Biden is president because he never personally met a Biden voter, spins a theory on Twitter about a money-laundering scheme involving the Ukraine that implicates the Maricopa County vote, somehow. Saturday is when I do my usual Windexing and dusting. I do it poorly.

Meanwhile, something’s different at Chez Trumpmobile when I walk past. The garage is open, but there are no cars inside. The defund-the-media truck is out front, and so is a shiny new convertible Mustang, two tone, black and palo-verde green, no Trumpiana or decals of any kind on it. Perhaps the Trumpmobile has been sold, traded in? I picture the Trumpmobile screeching into a Ford dealership, doing a couple of donuts by the entrance. The owner gets out, tires still smoking, and as the salesman walks out, he says, “What’s the douchiest thing I can get for this sweet ride right here?”

I’m an assistant coach on my son’s Little League team. They took a vote and called themselves the Mighty Sand Frogs. (All sports teams should be named by 12-year-olds.) One of the pleasures of Arizona is fall baseball: The nights can be blustery, but usually the games are pleasant. When I coach first base, I’m supposed to tell batters when to run through a single or head to second on an extra-base hit. But Little League ball only intermittently involves contact. Usually kids reach base by drawing a walk on four pitches straight to the backstop, or get hit by a pitch; they move around the bases through steals (12-year-old catchers aren’t especially accurate) and passed balls. We’re just muddling through. But there are bright lights and clear air and snacks afterward.

Our league has begun putting out signs of our own to promote the spring season. “Tired of Politics? Play Baseball,” they say. I’m a little conflicted about this style of counterprogramming. I don’t want to diminish politics, or suggest that it’s something to be “tired” of. But as I hammer in one on a busy miler intersection, I have to admit that it pops against the likes of “Blake Masters Won’t Ask Your Pronouns In the U.S. Senate.” Masters has conceded; Lake has lost, but is busily thundering about malfunctioning tabulators and other alleged errors in the vote count. Maybe if the signs said “Tired of Kari Lake?” I’d feel better. But you never know who’s on the team you’re on. Little League parents don’t talk about it. That’s stuff for political signs.

November afternoons here are perfect: Mid-70s, light breeze, dry air, cloudless blue skies and bright sunshine. My son and I go for a bike ride; the state attorney general race still hasn’t been called yet. I consider suggesting a route that’ll take us past the Trumpmobile home, but I leave him to his own devices, which is fine. We tool around. The political signs are being removed, mostly; Fincham’s are still up, and a lot of Lake and Masters ones have been kicked in. 

There’s a lemonade stand in front of one house, and we decide to stop. Four kids around my son’s age are manning it. Two options, pink and regular. One dollar. The handwritten sign with prices has a QR code pasted on it in case I want to pay by Venmo.

“What are you saving up for?” I ask, because that’s the kind of dad I am now.

“It’s just fun,” one of the girls responds. 

Two weeks after election day, the Kari Lake sign is gone from the Trumpmobile house.

Mark Athitakis