Photo courtesy of Matthew King.
You would never have guessed it, but love was in the air at Donald J. Trump’s March 9th rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to Mr. Trump at least, though he’s not exactly considered the most reliable source of truth.
During the speech, as one of many protestors was removed by security, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t know why, but I love it. Am I crazy? I love this. I love it.”
Love was in the air. Apparently.
Through the eyes of an impassioned Trump supporter, the night was a wild success: Mr. Trump spoke with command, security tossed out protestors by the dozens, and America was on track to be great again. Chants of “USA, USA” and “Trump, Trump, Trump” echoed through the spacious stadium with freakish frequency.
But through my eyes, the eyes of a person who showed up to observe and think, the night was nothing more than a circus, a circus complete with an adoring audience, a few nifty tricks, and a demagogic ringleader.
In typical Trump fashion, there was no teleprompter in sight. As the crowd of nearly 11,000 cheered him on, Mr. Trump jumped from subject to subject with little coherent direction. That didn’t stop the massive audience from applauding him on, waving signs boasting their support for the celebrity billionaire.
Like a rock star, Trump interacted with the audience, feeding off of their energy. At one point, Trump paused his speech and walked over to someone holding a “Veterans for Trump” poster. He brought it on stage and marveled at it, evoking more cheers from the crowd.
The event was exactly what one would have expected from a Trump rally, full of promises to protect the second amendment, build a wall (that Mexico would pay for), “make good deals,” bring back waterboarding (and worse), and, of course, Make America Great Again. His words, in a way we’ve come to expect, were often repetitive and lacking in substance.
The speech was more of a self-celebration than a discussion of policy solutions. Boasting about his big wins in the primaries, he mocked “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco,” and constantly criticized the media who awkwardly continued to film him from the floor.
As would be expected, not everybody in the audience was on board with his rhetoric. ABC News reported that Mr. Trump was interrupted by protestors at least 17 times (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more). Often when Mr. Trump was speaking, it seemed that about half of the crowd was distracted by the demonstrations.
As troubling as the environment in the stadium was, the most compelling (and concerning) moments of the night took place outside of the stadium well after Mr. Trump left the stage.
Masses of protestors and Trump supporters amassed on either side of a road in the parking lot, jeering at each other, chanting at each other, and mocking each other. They were separated by a wall of police officers, and I would prefer not to imagine what could have happened had they not been there.
While the protestors were chanting, a man in a motorcycle drove up behind them and revved his engine, drowning out their for a few minutes. Eventually, he was told to stop and drive away, but he couldn’t; the motorcycle wouldn’t drive. Apparently, in his quest to silence the protestors, he had damaged his engine. He had to push it out of the way.
This level of division, which has plagued Mr. Trump’s campaign, was in direct contrast to Mr. Trump’s declarations. Commenting on the atmosphere of the crowd during the speech, he proudly declared, “When I make speeches, there’s so much love in the room… There’s so much love in these rooms.”
Where was this love? Was it in the jeers at a man whose shirt declared that “Love is the answer”? Was it in the eyes of a man who punched a protestor as he was being escorted out? Was it found on the street outside, where the wall of police separated the protestors from the supporters? Or was it in the words of Mr. Trump, who swore to bring back waterboarding and other instruments of torture?
“There’s so much love in these rooms.”
Mr. Trump, I was in that room, and I can say this with upmost certainty, sincerity, and solidarity: I have no idea what you’re talking about. There wasn’t love. There wasn’t compassion. There was jeering, there were obscene posters, there were divisive and racially charged chants, there were frightening pledges of support. There was, I am pained to write, visible hatred—a hatred I have never before observed in this great nation.