I went to a Donald Trump rally so you don’t have to

IMG_20190314I’ve never been so scared for a case of mistaken identity in my life. As the Donald Trump campaign has shifted from humorous slideshow to legitimate contender to horrifying prospects, I haven’t been able to shake the simple thought of, “who exactly are these people who are supporting the things he says?” and I had to see for myself.

So with the Donald making a stop in my home town of Kansas City this evening, I decided to take the chance to see. Not to protest, as so many did, but instead to experience the rally, observe what happens, and relay it to others who might share my bewilderment. So I headed downtown, and found myself in a line wrapping around the block from the entrance to the theater. I clearly wasn’t the only non-supporter in the line, but I was determined to stay quiet, and, unlike most of the others, leave the rally without the help of the police.

We do that to one of their rallies and it’s front page news.

IMG_20160312_181223There couldn’t have been a more apt comparison for the divide in American politics today than the barricades separating the protesters on the East side of Main Street from the line of (mostly) supporters on the West. A few protesters had made it over to the side of the rally, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected more violence than I saw. At times I saw protesters outside the theater meeting with those who were waiting in line to get in that were face to face in screaming matches. Every one of these near altercations revolved around race, though the ones that looked most likely to come to blows were consistently white men arguing on each side.  For the most part, people in line looked across at their rivals as though they were smarter and better than the others, while those on the left side of the street assumed that every person in line was a hate filled individual.

We’re going to take our country back from these people. These are bad, bad people.  

Once inside, the rally began, about 30 minutes late, and the first 25 minutes were almost exclusively dedicated to groups of protesters taking their turn to yell something, start a chant, or otherwise be heard. While I wouldn’t be the first to make a comparison between Donald Trump’s campaign to the rise of Hitler, and I would certainly say that comparison is extreme, I can’t think of another way to describe watching secret service agents and police officers systematically hunt down and remove anyone who showed even the slightest measure of dissent.1

One by one members of the crowd would point at anyone who they thought wasn’t supporting Trump, primarily younger audience members, particularly black or less conservative looking people, and cheer as a member of the Secret Service or Kansas City’s finest would unquestioningly pull them from their seats and escort them to the exits.

…And I say it in front of these lying, thieving reporters…

I saw no violence, and Trump, seemingly having learned his lesson from the beating he’s taken in the media the past 48 hours never encouraged violence. Instead, in a sing-song voice, clearly meant to mock anyone who believes that the protesters shouldn’t be harmed, repeated the refrain of “Get ’em outta here! Be gentle… don’t hurt anyone. Be very, very gentle.” Then, as though a light-bulb went off in his head, he announced, as though a direct order to the police, that he would be pressing charges against anyone protesting his campaign… even going so far as to say that they deserve to have their lives ruined by having an arrest on their record. And, as lambs being led to the slaughter, the roar of the crowd only grew at the idea that anyone who disagrees with their leader should be punished, even though any person with common sense could see that no laws had been broken.

We have a first amendment right to free speech and we’re not allowed to do it because of this garbage right here.

As Trump continued the rant against anyone who dared speak against him, he alternated mocking them for being single, being small, being female, or anything else he could characterize as a weakness, with taking the role as the victim – even as he clearly relished in every moment he got to spar with the dissenter. He consistently called out their “weak, small voices” that couldn’t possibly keep up with the boom of his microphone.

The second half of the appearance continued to draw the occasional stoppage for a protester, but most had been weeded out, and Trump was able to get through more of his rambling stream of consciousness. He bragged about not reading speeches. He just stood up and said whatever came to his mind, interrupting himself as often as the protesters did.

He’s ISIS related. You can tell by his name he’s ISIS or ISIS related.

I didn’t hear the outright racism that I come to expect from a Trump speech. There was no talk of banning Muslims or Mexicans being rapists. But the only slightly more subtle racism seemed almost tame in comparison. The crowd, made up largely of white males, roared with approval when Trump said that his attempted attacker from this morning was “ISIS or ISIS related” with only what he considered an ethnic sounding name2. He also compared black protesters, whom he referred to as “Bernie supporters” to people who are just looking to sit at home and be taken care of.

The entire event led to a crescendo in much the same way that Springsteen builds until he can tear the roof off, but instead of a chorus of “Born to Run” the crowd was treated to a chorus of “Build the wall!” and all the reasons that Mexicans need to stay out of America.

At one point in the evening, Trump read a poem about a woman who saw a snake who needed help. The woman in the poem brought the snake in, and was immediately bitten. When she questioned the snake as to why this was the case, the snake replied, “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” Trump provided no context for the story, but the crowd gave it a standing ovation – clearly missing the irony that we know damn well that there’s a snake in our midst.

 

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Notes:

  1. I’m not saying that a political speech should be a free-for-all. Clearly that’s not the case. But the tension here was thicker than anything I’ve ever experienced on this big of a level. Under different circumstances, seeing this devolve into a riot wouldn’t have been shocking.
  2. the actual name, doesn’t sound that way at all. I’m intrigued to know if Trump was knowing lying about it, or was given incorrect information.