On Wednesday, November 2, I walked into the Kirkhof Center at the Allendale Campus of Grand Valley State University expecting wall-to-wall people, protesters up the ying-yang, and the threat of a melee. Why would I expect this? Because Trump Jr. was there speaking at a rally.
Basically there to say, “Go vote for my dad, guys!” If those words had been spoken by a child, perhaps little Barron Trump, it would be adorable. Hell, if Hitler had had a kid and that kid said that it itwould be cute. I’d still say, “Sorry bud, no can do, but hey, points for trying!” Shit, I hope that kid makes it through this whole fiasco unscathed.
No, instead of a child it was a 38-year old man in a business suit that probably costs more than my rent, internet, and groceries combined and who looks like an extra from American Psycho. A few weeks ago I would have said it would have come off as a last, desperate grasp at votes, but things have changed.
After all, that same night the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series in an 8-7, 10th inning victory over the Clevlenad Indians. It’s been 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series, and I suppose that means just about anything is possible now, including a Trump presidency.
Yes, even after Pussy-gate, after multiple media scandals, after all of it Trump could still win the 2016 bid for president of the United States.
I don’t want to sound alarmist, I just think it’s funny that if Trump wins and spells the end of American democracy then at least part of the blame will fall on Anthony Wiener’s horny bumbling. It would seem like a fitting end to this absurd election, and maybe 100 years from now we can look back on this moment in history and laugh. We’ll need a sense of dark humor in the wasteland.
I suppose all civilizations have to go through things like this. Besides, it’s not like we haven’t dealt with political crises before; Watergate, the Civil War, the federalist/anti-federalist debate, all of it worse than what we’re dealing with right now. If we can survive Nixon almost destroying all faith in the government I’m sure we’ll endure this too.
Even Germany, Italy and Japan rebuilt themselves after the war.
Never mind that darkness, back to the straight-reportage.
I went up the stairs and found a small group of students milling in the corridor.
“I’m not voting for Trump or Clinton, fuck that!” one of them said, “I’m voting third party.”
The small group clapped their buddy on the back and shoulders, showering him with encouragement and agreements. Oh to be naive and idealistic like that. If Trump wasn’t the candidate I would have been inclined to agree, but now it seems like an exercise in folly. I brushed past them and headed for the Grand River Room; the location of the rally.
I opened the door and a campus police officer, tall and gray-haired and probably older than my father, greeted me and said, “Room’s at capacity, can’t let anyone else in.”
He didn’t really say it though, it was more of a growl and a mutter. Before he closed the door all the way, I noticed there was still plenty of room for more attendees. I couldn’t blame the poor bastard for being jumpy. Pack enough heated and fundamentally divided people into a room and there’s bound to be bloodshed. What if things had gotten out of control? I seriously doubt that the university police could have handled a full-scale brouhaha.
Some helpful tech flunkie told me there was room in the Pere Marquette Room to watch the rally via video on the projector screen. Two things went through my mind:
a) Screw it, it’s better than nothing at all
b) This feels more like a rock concert than a political rally.
Being the good, law-abiding citizen that I am, I obeyed the officer and shuffled down to the other room. When I entered the room I noticed that it was mostly full too, and that the majority of the attendees didn’t look like blatant Trump voters. That’s not meant as a generalization, but more as a direct observation. None of them wore the (in)famous Red Hat emblazoned with “Make America Great Again” or any other apparel. If there were any Trump supporters in that crowd they didn’t make it obvious.
In the back of the room there was a handful of people with some anti-Trump signs. Nothing too inflammatory or inspired, just the usual slogans (“Dump Trump!” or “Love trumps hate!” etc. etc.) I’m sure they’re passionate about what they believe in, but at the same time it almost feels routine. You have the protesters then you have the supporters. They have their respective catchphrases, one side shouts at the other and the other fires back, then everybody goes home. Something akin to trench warfare.
That’s not to say there wasn’t energy. Oh, no sir/ma’am.
On the projector screen I saw a sea of (mostly white…scratch that, overwhelmingly white) people, and a collection of Red Hats dotting that landscape. Evidently, somebody tried to get into the full room and a chant began:
“Lock the gates! Lock the gates! Lock the gates!”
My skin crawled, just enough to notice. The chant possessed an eerie, hive-mindedness quality, as if these people operated on some unknown collective brainwave that activated once you gave yourself over to The Donald. That crowd returned to its baseline collective hum of disjointed conversation. It was as if someone had kicked a hornets’ nest, and they got riled up, then resumed their neutral mood with the aggression waiting to be unleashed at the next provocation.
There was movement from off camera and the supporters began to chant again, this time it was:
“TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!”
Haunting memories of Nuremberg jumped to the forefront of my mind. We’ve seen the Black Shirts, the Brown Shirts, and now maybe it will be the Red Hats.
Even though it wasn’t Trump himself, the audience didn’t seem to care. The mere idea that someone directly related to Trump being in their presence was enough to get their pulse up and their tongues wagging. It felt like being at a sporting event before the players take the field. It appeals to the part of our brain that still wants to hit things with rocks and poke things with sticks. It’s the dark side of the human character and we all still have it, only showing it at appropriate times. The worst and most appropriate time, of course, being a political event.
Instead of Trump Jr. taking the stage it was two representatives from the Division of Inclusion & Equity. The man (who I think was Jesse M. Bernal) went to the lectern and delivered an introductory speech acknowledging the Republican students that coordinated the event and reminding everyone to respect Trump Jr.’s right to free speech and to abstain from protesting. Maybe he was sick, but he looked pale, sweaty, and his voice had the slightest shake to it. Maybe he doesn’t like speaking in front of crowds, or maybe the crowd he was addressing made him nervous. On the one hand I sympathized with him, he was trying to maintain calm and diffuse a potential time bomb. On the other hand I detested the calls for respect and abstention from protest. Provided it didn’t get out of hand, why shouldn’t the protesters get to have their say? I get it, “We aim high…” but would Clinton, or Stein, be given the same courtesy?
Still, the young Donald didn’t appear and my attention waned. There didn’t seem to be any threats of violence, and being the good modern Roman I am this bored me. I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty, but being an aspiring journalist a little conflict would’ve made for a more interesting story. Alas, Ares didn’t smile on me.
I left, went home, and made dinner. My phone buzzed twice on the way home, and for a brief second I wanted to believe that when I read the texts they would read, “Chaos has broken out…people and chairs everywhere…police immobilized with shock and disgust.”
Instead the first one read, “He finally got onstage (Time delivered 4:48)”
The second one read, “He just left (Time delivered 4:55)”
Seven minutes. Seven minutes of onstage time. What the hell could he actually say in that amount of time? Once the cheering and jeering died down what meaningful speech could he have given? I’m sure it amounted to nothing more than what I wrote earlier: Vote for my dad, because…y’know, he’s my dad.
I can’t fault him for supporting his father, but I can fault him for being late and being onstage for only seven minutes. I suppose none of it makes any difference, though. The front lines have been established and the respective coalitions have dug their trenches. The middle ground still exists, a no man’s land of swing states.
I suppose all of us, American and non-American alike, will see what happens November 8, 2016.
A luta continua.