They are taking over. I heard it repeatedly throughout the past two weeks.
President-elect Donald Trump casts a massive shadow over Palm Beach County, Florida, where I spent almost two weeks with my grandmother and distant aunts and uncles. His Mar-a-Lago resort is a veritable seaside palace. He's spent a decade wrapped in a $100 million lawsuit with the county attempting to stop the air traffic from the municipal airport. Last week, he dropped the lawsuit since the presidency gave him what he wanted.
I flew in just after the election and the surroundings offered an almost surreal setting from which to ponder what Trump's victory means.
The Canadians were "taking over" the gated West Palm Beach community within which my grandmother lives, she and her friends complained over pancakes at the local Denny's. Quebec license plates spotted the 900-unit park. More arrived every day. Outside the walls, the Latinos were "taking over" the county, they repeatedly protested, seemingly numb to the Latin food and history that, in a very real sense, defined the local culture.
For this collection of retired teachers and telephone engineers, isolated behind their walls and steady dose of Fox News, the others were closing in. And they were exceedingly uncomfortable with it.
I spent most days reading on the beaches of nearby Singer Island. At any time, I was surrounded by different languages and a pallet of skin colors. An Italian man dipped his young daughter's feet into the surf. Spanish and German were nearly constant. Women, each clad in a hijab, avoided eye contact with me at all cost. I only wanted to offer an accepting smile. A mile or two off shore, massive freighters -- the concrete representations of globalism -- moved giant containers to and from the United States.
One day, we took a drive. My grandmother, great uncle and his wife wanted to show me around. They pointed to the multi-million-dollar estates lining the coast in Palm Beach. We followed the winding road until Trump's Mar-a-Lago towered over us.
"There it is. Isn't it something?" my great-uncle, a Korean War veteran, asked. "Now, that's a businessman."
Trump's wealth impressed them. That whole governing bit, well, he'd figure it out, they assumed. "Have you seen his plane? It's really something," one said.
The trip back to the walled community took us through less affluent neighborhoods. Shuttered storefronts and boarded windows.
"Look at this. F---ing Obama," my uncle snarled.
I'm still unclear as to the the president's alleged role in the closures. Only their wholehearted belief that he was somehow culpable was within grasp. I did my best to avoid an argument. I didn't point to the unemployment figures. I bit my tongue instead of argue about the potentially higher costs Trump's tariffs would impose on consumers.
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"He's such a hard worker," my grandmother said as Trump started fleshing out his cabinet.
Following Trump's appointment of Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, I sniped, "It's not about how fast he does it, grandma. It's about who he appoints."
I hid my frustration with the newly empowered white supremacist movement. I snapped just a couple times about Trump's unprecedented conflicts of interest, and only when my hosts' praise of the incoming president deviated completely from reality.
Most of my stay was sitting on a white sand beach, reading, listening to the many languages and feeling numb.
Trump's election hasn't left me full of rage. I'm not calling for a rebellion by the Electoral College like my more liberal friends. No, I spent those days on the beach in a state of hopeless melancholy over how easily people I love and respect rejected basic democratic principles.
As I left the beach for the final time, two Muslim women walked passed. I peered over my sunglasses, smiled and nodded. They reciprocated.
And I made my way to the swinging gates that, in the minds of those living behind them, kept the outside world at bay.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org