WASHINGTON POST: In a living room in western Pennsylvania, the Republican National Convention was on TV, and Melanie Austin was getting impatient. “Who’s that guy?” she said, watching some billionaire talk about prosperity and tolerance. “Prosperity and tolerance? Forget that sh–.”
She lit a cigarette. Her boyfriend, Kevin Lisovich, was next to her on the couch, drifting to sleep, a pillow over his head. On the ottoman was her cellphone, her notes on the speakers so far — “LOCK HER UP!!” she had written — and the anti-anxiety pills she kept in a silver vial on her keychain.
She was a 52-year-old woman who had worked 20 years for the railroad, had once been a Democrat and was now a Republican, and counted herself among the growing swath of people who occupied the fringes of American politics but were increasingly becoming part of the mainstream. Like millions of others, she believed that President Obama was a Muslim. And like so many she had gotten to know online through social media, she also believed that he was likely gay, that Michelle Obama could be a man, and that the Obama children were possibly kidnapped from a family now searching for them.
“So beautiful,” Melanie said as Ivanka Trump walked onto the convention stage to introduce her father, and soon the soaring score of the movie “Air Force One” was blasting through the TV. Melanie sat up straighter. This is what she had been waiting for.
“Here comes Big Daddy,” she said, clapping. “The Donald. Big Daddy.”
Kevin was snoring.
“Here he is, babe,” she said. “Donald’s here, babe.”
Trump walked onto the stage, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
“That’s right, Donald — USA, baby,” Melanie said to the Republican nominee for president, who began his speech by marveling at all the Americans who had gotten him here.
“Who would have believed that when we started this journey on June 16th of last year we — and I say we, because we are a team — would have received almost 14 million votes?” Trump said, looking out on the cheering crowd.
“I would,” Melanie said to the TV. “I would, Donald.”
The first time she had seen him, at a rally in June, she was just beginning to realize how many people saw the world the way she did, that she was one among millions. At the time, her hips were still sore from a series of injections intended to calm her. She had gotten them in February, during a difficult time in her life, when she had been involuntarily hospitalized for several weeks after what she called a “rant,” a series of online postings that included one saying that Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground. On her discharge papers, in a box labeled “medical problem,” a doctor had typed “homicidal ideation.”
Melanie thought the whole thing was outrageous. She wasn’t a person with homicidal ideation. She was anxious, sure. Enraged, definitely. But certainly not homicidal, and certainly not in need of a hospital stay.
“It never crossed my mind that I’m losing it,” she said several months after her release, and a big reason for this conviction was the rise of Donald Trump, who had talked about so many of the things she had come to believe — from Obama being a founder of the terrorist group ISIS, to Hillary Clinton being a co-founder, to the idea that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in a White House plot involving a prostitute and a pillow. MORE