Watching Trump on the Stump last Saturday at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, was a bit, shall I say, boring? I attended the event intending to get video footage of Trump or his supporters and was expecting to be bowled over by the rabid bigotry among the crowd. But it wasn’t like that. It was more like a bad television production of a right-wing populist political rally.
The tickets were free, but you had to go online, give your name and email address to get a pass to enter, that was either emailed or uploaded to your cell phone. And they did have people checking for this at the event entry.
Fifteen hundred people attended. Mostly white. Range of age, old and young, mostly working class. To get to the Expo Center for Trump’s event, you had to walk through the fairgrounds past vendors selling buttons that read “make America great again” or “say no to Monica’s ex-boyfriend’s wife” with a picture of Hillary. The vendors were very poor. I wondered if they were part of the apparatus or were scavenging on the crowds, selling unauthorized merchandise the way Trump himself played unauthorized music of Adele, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the crowd as it waited over an hour for his speech to begin.
TSA security stood at the entrance of the Expo Center. President Obama had stumped in the very same fairgrounds four years ago, but that was a sunny summer afternoon, under an oak tree where a stage and riser were placed for best possible camera footage. Trump’s event was indoors, on a December afternoon, in a building where last summer people brought their cattle and hogs to be viewed and judged. No more hay at this event, but the cattle gates were up, separating special ticket holders from the rest, directing the crowd to the front of the room by the stage. The back half of the building remained empty, hollow, echoey. I saw a woman there, Pentecostal, Methodist? Wearing a skirt, tending to four clinging children, with her hair tied up.
To get in past the TSA, we had to go through a metal detector and get scanned by an agent with a wand. Other agents searched through our purses, bags and jackets with plastic gloved hands. Secret Service Agents scattered throughout, watched with suspicion and boredom. There were big black SUVs parked on the perimeter.
Inside, the media were set up on a riser in the middle of the space, bright hot lights aimed at the stage for the money shot.
The sound system echoed and reverberated, drowning out your thoughts with rock music.
Then when the speeches started, the echoes made it hard to hear what was said. The crowd behind the stage on the riser was well selected, with young people in the front row holding Trump signs. Women, men, still, very white.
When Trump called out to the veterans in the room only a few cheered back. They obviously know better than to waste time at a Trump rally. Trump bandies them about like a stage prop. Just about everything at that event felt like a prop, myself included.
Trump spoke incoherently jumping from topic to topic with no segues. He could barely complete his sentences, interrupting himself over and over again to stress a point – usually the point being that he was right and others just followed his lead.
He said he would build a wall bigger than the Great Wall of China. Then he repeated his debut scandal by reminding everyone of the illegal immigrant from Mexico who raped an American woman in California. There was one young man in the crowd who put a Trump sticker on his arm at the shoulder like a badge. For a moment, with his fair skin, hair, and shirt, I couldn’t help but see the American version of a Hitler Youth. He was with 2-3 of his buddies who had clipped miniature American flags to hang down their backs like mini capes.
The woman in front of me wore a Bears sweatshirt. On a riser to the right people were handed Trump signs. A white male in his late 20s with a cell phone camera led them to shout pro-Trump chants which he caught on camera. None of these chants caught on with the rest of the crowd. After 1-2 minutes, the sound died out.
When Trump finally appeared the crowd cheered and waved signs. Trump waved back, nodded glowingly at the crowd, pursed his lips as the music roared, thanked the crowd for loving him.
Paying attention to Trump feeds his beast. Trump wants coverage, and the media want ratings, so this cycle repeats itself on station after station, headline grabbing headline, social media echoing the echoes until you get to a point where the only point is outrage.
Not a single policy is suggested beyond the impractical. Let’s build a wall one foot higher than the Great Wall of China. Let’s register all Muslims, ignore the Constitution. Let’s call out the media as liars as we lie repeatedly about everything anything. Let’s say we will put the smartest people in charge, in charge of what, doesn’t matter.
Why? Because politicians are dumb. They are stupid, Trump says, “chicken shits.”
The military leadership – they don’t know what they’re doing. They should carpet bomb the place. All of it. Just blow ISIS to bits.
And China, man China. They pulled a good one on us. They coerce and force us to import all their stuff.
He doesn’t mention trade deals, or currency manipulation, or anything that makes a shoe made on the other side of the globe cheaper than one made in your own city. That’s too much detail for Trump and his supporters. Never mind the Walmarts and Targets that sell the Chinese stuff they enthusiastically buy because they all want to make or save a buck.
It’s a really bad reality TV show, “Welcome Back, Fascism.” But the crowd mostly is not fascists. At least, not yet. Trump is a fascist. Clearly, definitively. Surely some hooters and hollerers in the crowd were fascists, the ones who cheered, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” smiling and laughing with the cheer, nodding to their fellow fascists near their fists pounding the thin air. But many were as dumbstruck as I. What’s going on here? It’s a big production, with bright lights, camera crews, handlers, and would-be important people taking that important call in the middle of the crowd, in their dark suits and shiny shoes, fashionable ensembles.
Trump tells the crowd CNN is the worst of the lying media. The crowd cheers. Then Trump quotes a CNN poll putting him 30 points up, and again the crowd cheers.
As has been the pattern in this six month power trip, Trump never directly deals with his opponents’ policies or offers answers to the woes of Middle America. Instead he insults Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and his Republican rivals either by brushing them off as inconsequential, or “stupid,” “dumb,” and “disgusting,” not as smart as him. He gets a laugh when he mentions Hillary’s pant suits.
So the question remains, what will happen with Trump’s campaign? I think it is easy and wishful to say his brand will eventually go away. But we’ve seen this show before. The excellent 2009 film “Videocracy” documents Berlusconi’s media driven rise to power in Italy, driven not only by Berlusconi’s celebrity, but mainly due to his decades long monopoly of the media, and hence, the message. You will find many parallels to the Trump machine. Like Americans, Italians are obsessed with celebrity. And the more scandalous, the higher the ratings. As the coverage blankets cable, social media, the airwaves, and newspaper headlines, Trump’s own ratings rise.
Let’s start by starving the beast, which is why this will be my last and only Trump Blog.