I survived a Trump rally!

I have been watching Donald Trump’s campaign with a sort of morbid curiosity for the last few months.
It feels almost surreal to me that the reality TV star could actually end up winning the White House, but he is certainly closer than any other Republican running for the Oval Office.

Recently I became aware of a visit by the Trump campaign, and took a chance and applied for media credentials to attend the Trump Rally. I really didn’t think that I would be able to get approved, but I thought, “What the heck” – I will give it a shot.

After a short while I received a nice email from a representative for Trumps campaign saying that I and my political editor for The Word, Rick Sutton, were approved to attend the rally as Media.

On the day of the rally, as we made our way through light security toward the media entrance, I noticed that there were very few protesters on the street and out in front of the venue. We made our way into the hall and were greeted by security. I found it fascinating that one of the security people was a more butch, but very pleasant, lesbian who directed us to the media staging area.

As Rick and I wandered through the throngs of media people setting up staging areas and equipment, I looked over the crowd and tried to see if I could identify any potential danger zones. That morning I posted online that I was going to attend, and received a plethora of messages from friends and business associates encouraging me to be vigilant and careful due to the reported escalating violence at Trump rallies across the country.

As I positioned myself for the best vantage point to hear Trump speak, I became aware of several people and small groups of people who clearly looked like they didn’t belong there. They fidgeted and looked around as if waiting for something, and I looked where they were looking to see if I could see some sort of pattern or indication of what was yet to come.

As Rick and I waited we chatted with a few of the other journalists and compared our analysis of the size and makeup of the crowd gathered to hear their candidate speak.  We wondered whether or not the artists whose songs were being played would have approved of their work being used to energize a crowd that were blatantly against some of the musicians’ basic civil rights.

Trump fan T-shirt

A Trump fan shows his support

As people from the Trump campaign and their supporters incited the crowd with chants like “U.S.A.!” or “BUILD THAT WALL!” I anxiously waited for Trump to appear.  The crowd was predominantly white with a few Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans. I hate to stereotype any group of people, but in this case it was so blatantly clear it was hard not to. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity Trump emerged from behind the curtain and was met with thunderous applause.  It took him nearly 10 minutes to regain control of the crowd and begin his speech.

I was amazed at Trump’s ability to blatantly pander to the crowd and give them what they clearly wanted to hear. He was extremely adept at firing off one-liners that ignited the passions of the people in attendance. They came to hear him rail against the Republican establishment, the media and the do-nothing Congress, and he was rewarded with thunderous applause from the crowd each time, energized by the vitriolic, if not circus-like, atmosphere.

About 15 minutes into his speech the first protesters revealed themselves. They have become a common occurrence at most if not all of his rallies, and were quickly identified by the crowd and removed from the venue by plainclothes security and the State Police. As I stood watching and listening to Trump’s speech, more protesters revealed themselves in what appeared to me to be pre-planned intervals. From what I couldtell, most of them from what I could tell were under 30, or even 25, and wore T-shirts underneath the clothes they wore into the rally with blatant anti-American or pro-Bernie slogans written on them.

One by one and as they were identified, they were escorted out. I quickly made a note of one particular individual who clearly worked for the Trump campaign and who swam through the crowd like a great white shark looking for its prey. He was a big guy in a nondescript grey suit, but when he was needed he could move like lightning and was able to cut through the crowd like a hot knife through butter.  It seemed to me like he was hopped up on adrenaline during the whole speech and was actually enjoying pouncing on the protesters before they were led out of the venue.

As Mr. Trump fanned the flames of passions still burning hot over the recent decision by local company Carrier to lay off 1,500 people and relocate operations to Mexico after receiving big tax breaks, he highlighted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a “DISASTER” by asking some former Carrier employees in attendance what they thought. He touched on how the U.S. has rebuilt China with our trade deficit and that it can no longer be sustained, and how U.S. jobs are being ripped out of the country like stealing candy from a baby.

Trump eluded to the devastation of the coal and steel industries and pointed out that we are making bad trade deals because of the “dummies” in Washington and that the U.S. is getting smaller and weaker.  He reserved his most vitriolic diatribe for the Republican delegate selection process as a rigged and crooked system.

Lastly, he implored his supporters to go to the polls and vote for him because he is not controlled by anyone, and as a result the Republican establishment and the Washington political system doesn’t like him – then proceeded to explain that the lobbyists for big pharma, lumber, energy and more are in reality running the campaigns of the remaining Republican candidates.

After about 35 to 45 minutes, his fragmented and herky-jerky style of speaking began to give me a headache and I had seen and heard enough. I motioned for Rick to follow me outside and we proceeded to leave. We got some funny looks from people as if they were wondering why we would want to leave before Trump was finished speaking.

As we left the building through the side entrance designated for media, we made our way toward the front to see if we could get some photographs of the protesters and maybe interview a couple. There was a cross-section of every possible group chanting and holding up signs. As Rick and I spit up to cover the most ground I couldn’t help but notice the eclectic make up of the crowd and the messages that their signs promoted. They seemed to be pretty orderly, albeit a bit vocal. There were plenty of State Police present between the protesters and the entrance, keeping things manageable.

After taking a few photographs, I reconnected with Rick and we began to leave just as the event had ended and the attendees were spilling out of the venue. We quickly made our way out of the area where the flow of exiting attendees and the protesters were about to converge.  We made it to our car and left the fairgrounds rather easily, but I noted that Trump’s motorcade was leaving at about the same time.

Later that evening, as I began to reflect on the days events, I couldn’t help but wonder what a Trump presidency would look like – how would it affect people in their real lives, away from the surrealness of campaign speeches and overhyped-up rallies.

Would we move backwards and lose recent civil rights advances that we fought so hard to get? Would we feel safer from terrorism and would the economy survive in a new Trumpified reality?

Clearly there are enough people who think so, like Amy Brammer, 31, of Ft. Wayne: “I don’t think anyone running for President can help me as much as he can.  (Trump) understands why were all mad.”

Teen with protest T-shirt

Indiana teen Nadia Lomax, not eligible to vote against Trump until the next election, was ejected from the rally for having written her pro-Sanders feelings on her T-shirt.

Or John Bell, 44, an out of work electrician from Ohio: “We can’t let the Mexicans win on this wall.  We have got to win these wars.”

Then there was the young woman, Nadia Lomax, 15, who was escorted out of the rally for wearing a homemade Bernie Sanders T-shirt. She said nothing to incite fellow bystanders – she just wore a shirt: “There were different types of people in there, but they were angry about my shirt. I think that’s sad. Maybe it’s funny, too – no, its sad.”

All in all, I am glad that I went to the rally to see first-hand what I already knew. Trump is an electric speaker and clearly a successful businessman, but does he have what it takes to lead a country filled with ethnic, cultural and religious influences that make the United States the great and exceptional nation that it is?

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