Doomsday Preppers of the Trump Presidency
“Prepping” is bigger than ever, but the lifestyle has changed a lot since the ‘90s.
There was a general increase in anxiety across the board among people in the U.S. in the year following Donald Trump’s election according to an online poll from Psychiatry.org. About 2/5ths of all adults are more anxious now than they used to be. Of course, you don’t really need to turn to polls or research to have a gut feeling for this. The sheer amount of chaos since the start of 2017 has been steadily increasing. Following a highly divisive presidential election events have spiraled to a point that it can be hard to keep up: claims of fraud, and collusion from both major political parties; an endless parade of hiring and firing of high level officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill; mass shootings; rising tensions with North Korea, Russia, China and Iran; accusations (and confirmation) of sexual harassment of many once-respected individuals; the fight over net neutrality; the big data scandals; the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdowns; and the mass protests against systemic racism.
One of the most unnerving features of these past three and a half years, however, has been the all-too unscripted, off-the-cuff and out of control politicking that our president has been engaging in with his use of Twitter. Engaging in mudslinging and exchanging threats with both seeming allies as well as economic and ideological enemies has pulled back the curtain on a White House that sorely needs better advisors for our Chief Executive.
It doesn’t really matter which political side you are on during this. The heat and confusion and shock is felt by both equally. Driven by a ravenous news media that feeds on ratings, every nook and cranny is probed to the greatest extent possible and conflict is intentionally sought after and indulged in. Every last scrap of meat on the bones of democracy will be picked away.
Places on the internet like http://www.doomsdayprepperforums.com are as busy as ever, and contrary to my own initial assumptions, much cooler heads seem to prevail on most online prepping communities. Members work to be helpful to one another and offer a wealth of good advice. Though the common refrain among preppers is that once SHTF (prepper shorthand for when the Shit Hits The Fan) the general mood will be every man for himself, doomsday preppers and survivalists believe that well-meaning people who want to protect themselves, their property and their families deserve some level of support, and they strive to provide that to each other.
In this excellent article from Quartz published in May 2017, there are several key points to be found regarding modern prepping:
- Liberal Doomsday Preppers are now a thing.
- Some liberals feel now that Trump is president, they don’t trust the government.
- The prevalence of prepping in countries has a lot to do with how much people trust the government. Scandinavian countries trust the governments to take care of them, so there aren’t many preppers to be found in places like Finland and Norway.
- Liberals are buying guns more often than pre-2016.
- One of the primary reasons behind liberal prepping is often cited as fear of economic collapse.
An April 2018 poll run by YouGov and HuffPost shows that the top concern of voters going into this year’s midterm elections are health care availability and costs, the economy, gun policies and immigration. All of these issues are highly divisive, and the current iterations of them have roots in the past ten to twenty years: Obamacare, the recent recession, rising incidence of large-scale gun violence, and the fallout from 9/11. Though the majority of voters in the 18–34 age bracket still identify as liberal, almost 40% continue to be registered as independent while white men in that age range have flipped to show a majority as registered Republican since the 2016 elections. Millennial voters are the most flexible voter demographic, and the rapidly evolving problematic issues facing them have created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the future that only seems to be growing.
In my home county, one of the most rural in Maryland and roughly an hour’s drive outside of Washington, DC, I organized a small meeting of a few people who consider themselves preppers and/or survivalists. The county might be described as 70% conservative and primarily Republican, and 30% liberal and primarily Democrat. Calvert County is a peninsula, 30 miles long and 9 miles wide, no point further than 5 miles from a navigable body of water (the Chesapeake Bay to the east and Patuxent River to the west). It’s mostly farms, parks and deer-filled woodland interspersed with a number of town centers and housing developments.
The preppers I spoke with included a 57-year-old farm owner named Mary, a 45-year-old electrician named Scott, and a 28-year-old mechanic named Josh.
Mary lives on what I would call a family compound, with 4 generations represented. Half of the food they consume is from produce and animals they have on their property, and they keep stores of preserved food along with other supplies in the basements or storm cellars of the five homes on their eighty-plus acres. Mary is mostly concerned about weathering some kind of general social collapse, whether economic or racial in nature. “I’m mostly just worried that things were just too good for too long,” she says. “We live in the best country in the world. Everywhere else you look, there are wars happening where they live or right next door. But we have it great here, and now it just feels like we’re getting ready to come apart at the seams.”
Scott and Josh are both hunters and know each other through mutual friends. Scott owns an AR-15, and Josh is thinking of getting one. Both are avid users of Ham radio — amateur radio equipment. This is very common among preppers of all stripes. In the case of any major emergency, whenever SHTF, it is likely that power and phone lines will be useless, the internet will be out of commission and 911 will be overloaded. Battery or generator-powered radio will be all that remains for long distance communication, so being a part of a radio network will be of great importance.
Josh came to the U.S. in 1991 from Puerto Rico with his parents. They lived in Baltimore for a while and moved south into Calvert County when Josh was in elementary school. “Being around people here is what really got me into the whole idea of survival, you know? Learning to hunt and fish and live with the land instead of just going to a corner store for everything,” he says. Josh married a few years ago, and the couple just had their first child in 2017, a few months after Trump took office. He began to take the idea of preparing for the worst very seriously at that time, and began learning about prepping from Scott.
Scott owns a nice bit of property in the county, over thirty acres, mostly wooded, on which he does some of his own hunting. He had an underground shelter installed somewhere on his land about 8 years ago, a choice that was precipitated by the economic downturn that coincided with Obama’s first term in office. It’s a rather large eight-person, three month shelter, that only his and Josh’s family know about. Even though it was a large investment for him, Scott believes a nuclear or biological threat is less likely that something more along the lines of an EMP strike or total economic collapse. Because of that, much of the shelter acts as secure storage space for a cache of items that would prove valuable in such a scenario: medicine, ammunition, shelf-stable food and common toiletries that will rapidly become luxury items in a post-apocalyptic world. Scott doesn’t think precious metals or cash will be much use if there is no economy to use them in.
Scott says, “My dad was big into having a backup plan. He had a fallout shelter put in when I was a kid, back in the eighties. He was a prepper back before that was the word for it. He worried more about Russia and some kind of invasion. That’s not the kind of thing that would happen now, though. Our enemies outside, they have ways to get in and use our vulnerabilities, like hacking the power grid. That’s more the worry. And the rest of it’s what we’ll do to ourselves.”
In the mid to late 20th century, prepping was born in the wake of Cold War fears. People learned about strategies from books and in-person meetings and communicated in Ham radio chains across the country. Since the turn of the century, though, the internet and the rise of reality television that glorifies survival challenges have contributed to a nationwide surge in prepping. The base of hardcore preppers has grown considerably, but the businesses that have traditionally supported them are seeing massive growth as large proportions of average people buy supplies from outdoor and camping stores, freeze-dried food suppliers, and gun and self-defense companies. There is even a new class of retailers, like Emergency Essentials, that have been able to thrive solely due to the “prep-shopper” category.
It’s clear that we’ve come to another dark place in the history of our United State. What isn’t so clear is whether we are just at the beginning of this era or if we might be nearing its end. The prepper philosophy always assumes the worst case scenario might be right around the corner. If we give in continually to those thoughts, however, we need to ask ourselves how much it is costing us to ignore the opposite side of that coin — hope? Hope is what got us through the worst of times in our past. If we lose all hope, we’re left only with despair.
Prepping does represent an element of hope, but it’s a “selfish” hope: that you and yours will be able to survive and make it through because you were ready, even if it’s at the expense of everyone else. There doesn’t seem to be another option, though, when our government itself, with trillions of dollars at its disposal, never seems to be prepared even for emergencies that have high probabilities of occurrence, like Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans. Perhaps, as prepping becomes more mainstream, the ideas it brings with it, of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, will provide some positive effect on society overall.
Maybe it will help us realize that we’re all in the same boat.
Thank you for reading and sharing.