My top 10 Takeaways from a Trump Rally in Houston as promised:
1. The current POTUS has no tolerance for dissenting opinions, dissenting Americans, or dissenting news media, and makes his open hostility toward any voice of dissent very clear to anyone walking toward a rally.
The first, and most disturbing statement I heard began before I even started toward the arena. As I was parking my car, I could hear a woman’s voice on a loudspeaker, playing on a loop that stated something like this (paraphrasing the very first sentence because I didn’t catch it on audio recording).
“President Trump values the first amendment, just as much as he values the second amendment. This is a private event paid for and hosted by ‘Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.’ and you came to hear the President. To accommodate the right to free speech and peaceful assembly while securing an orderly rally, we have provided a secure area outside the gates for all protestors and we ask anyone choosing to demonstrate to please exit to that secure area. Despite this accommodation some individuals may seek to disrupt our patriotic event and President Trump needs YOUR help in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere at all times. If a protest starts near you please do not in any way touch or harm a protestor. Please notify law enforcement officers of the location of the protestor by holding a rally sign over your head and chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Encourage others around you to do the same until officers can remove the protestor from the rally. We’re glad you are here for this special occasion with Donald Trump. Thank you for helping us make America great again!” Her matter of fact instructions fade into the first notes of “Freebird” at top volume. My break with reality begins, and I feel actual chills in this new dystopia.
The second time I heard the looped instructions in the lilting woman’s voice, I was in line, and became aware of everyone around me surveying each other, looking for any signs of “otherness” and ready to call anyone out for thinking or speaking differently.
This was encouraged mob mentality. Groupthink at its worst. Before even entering the arena, we were being asked to join Trump’s army of peer pressure, intolerance and sameness. That initial shock of just how deep his need for control runs still sends shivers down my spine.
Update: It bears mentioning that I left out of my report from the Trump rally that the president pointed out where the media was sitting before deriding them, and that the crowd began chanting “CNN sucks.”
2. The average attendee, by far, was a white male, attending with one or two other white males – some with their wives — mostly middle aged, some portly, some white haired, some a little scruffier than others. Most looked rural, or suburban. Few looked to be executives or urban professionals. The only ones in suits were the secret service agents. No one had strolled out of a C-level office downtown to come hear the president speak. Blue jeans, t-shirts, and red hats were the uniform of the day. Take for example, the t-shirt of the man I followed into the arena. On the back of it, a statement read: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” – James Mattis (a quote from the Secretary of Defense.)
The microaggression of that quote was obvious. Some were less so. I heard the next one when I finally made it to my seat and could make out the voices of the men seated behind me. One leaned over to his friend and said, “I am just waiting for someone to start acting up.” This crowd had heard the instructions from their leader, and they were itching to take down anyone who spoke out against him.
I admit I had hoped to enjoy some small level of civil disobedience. I tried writing “FU Trump” on my eyelids in a finely sharpened eyeliner for a selfie, but it crossed my mind that if I looked at the ground too much someone would spot it and a mob would soon take over and surround me. I was not afraid of ejection – I was afraid of physical aggression, no matter what the audio instructions had said. So, I settled for writing “impeach” on my middle finger and snapping a picture of it for Facebook, ever so carefully and discreetly. Even as I did so, I was mindful of the people behind me that could potentially see, so I smeared the letters as soon as I was done. That tiny act of resistance was frightening, and I knew it could have serious consequences. Imagine that. I wrote a tiny word in makeup on one finger, and doing so not only frightened me, it caused everyone on my Facebook page to begin inquiring about my safety. One word, not shouted, not even spoken out loud, and people had legitimate concerns for my well-being. I had concerns for my safety, as an American, not among terrorists, but among Republicans going to hear the President of the United States. Let that sink in.
3. Each successive Texas leader who addressed the crowd looked just like most of the members of the crowd itself – middle-aged white guys. Only, these guys were angry. All of them were. Abbott, Patrick, Cruz. Angry, defiant, shouting louder and louder into the microphone. The more they shouted the more the crowd roared. These were modern-day gladiators, and the more they fist-waved and shouted out their bravado, the more the audience roared back. This audience was bloodthirsty and ready for all the self-righteous hollering each successive politico was ready to belt out into the room. Punch words like “Hillary Clinton” (yes, still) and “Nancy Pelosi” drew the biggest, heartiest “boos.” I thought of those powerful women, and the sharp contrast they offered to the trio of women calling themselves the “Deplorable Choir” (no seriously, check out @DeplorableChoir) who flounced out on stage in cute little costumes and “howdy, y’alls” and belted out a pitchy, off-key rendition of the national anthem to uproarious cheers. At some point Laura Trump, a daughter-in-law made it on stage, too, as did a female consultant accompanying “Digital Director” Brad Parscale of campaign management fame. These women added high, feminine cheerleading tones to the event. They were side acts. Only the men brought the gravitas, the shouting, the full chest beating on display that the crowd came ready to see, to hear and to applaud.
4. The crowd joined together in reciting the pledge of allegiance. I flashed to how proud I have been to hold my hand over my heart and recite those words throughout my life. It was the one moment I thought maybe I was among people with common interests. That thought was fleeting, and proven naïve.
5. Ed Young, Pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist came on stage to offer a prayer. He was greeted like a rock star and the crowd began to chant “USA! USA!” What followed the “bow your heads,” though, sounded nothing like a prayer, apart from the brief recitation of St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace, including such wisdom as “where there is hatred let me sow love.” The Pastor himself, though, seemed to quickly forget his prayer for union over discord, when he went on to say, as part of the alleged prayer “lord, in fifteen days we vote. Oh father, help us understand, the question before us is, which way for America? Will we continue to be a Republic under God, or will we slouch toward Godless socialism? Oh lord, our God we understand that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are on the ballot.” I found myself wondering if the good preacher thinks only Republicans can be Christians. I found myself wondering if he truly knew that Christ cared first for the poor, and the sick, and that accessible healthcare seemed to be on the ballot, too. I wondered how he could possibly call socialized healthcare Godless. I wondered how many poor people would have to die of preventable diseases before he might have the same notion of Jesus’ priorities that I do. I wondered how many of his tax-free dollars were channeled in the direction of the other angry men on stage. I wonder if his presence here made other middle-aged white men feel sanctified in their anger. I wonder if he knew the parables of bags of gold and what he had driven, or been driven in, to the rally.
6. Dan Patrick called for straight ticket voting. He asked the crowd to chant “We love Trump!” over and over again, like a good foot soldier. He was mostly forgettable.
7. Ted Cruz was angry. Really angry. Fire and brimstone and shouting and spitting angry. The crowd ate it up. I thought back to the last time I heard Beto O’Rourke speak. Beto was fired up, but in a different way – speaking about uniting Democrats and Republicans and serving all Texans. Beto and his Whataburgers and non-stop live Facebook feeds have been a constant tone of hope in my daily life. This was something else entirely. Ted Cruz wasn’t speaking to me, he was describing me. He was describing me, and any other left-leaning Texan, as the enemy. “Do we defend freedom or do we give in to tyrrany? Do we create jobs, or do we give into mobs?” For a moment I thought of him as a Suess character. A prat in the hat, if you will.
“Beto O’Rourke wants higher taxes! In El Paso he voted for something called a ‘rain tax’ – I don’t even know what that is! But here in Texas, we celebrate when it rains, we don’t tax you for it!’ These seemed like odd words from a Senator in the same Texas in which I just sold two properties completely flooded by Harvey, each at half of the value they would have been before those rains in particular. I wondered if he was in Iowa that week. Then, lots of hate about immigration, walls, and caravans. It sounds like he too had missed Ed Young’s first words of prayer for sowing love, and offering hope to those in despair.
8. For the final act, Trump walked on stage like a leisurely decorated quarterback to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” in perfectly choreographed ambling so that he reached the apex of the stage just as Greenwood belted out the climactic line “there is pride in every American heart, and its time we stand and say…” I imagined a booming cannon of fireworks as he stepped on the final catwalk to the stage. Something told me he imagined them, too.
Trump’s first words to the crowd were “Do we have a great country or what?” as he went on to speculate about the size of the “record-breaking” crowd, and to ask the crowd to wave to cameras so that the alleged crush of people outside who could not get in and were watching on large TVs. I thought about this again later, when I exited the building early to the sound of his voice blasting on bullhorns into streets dotted with little more than the occasional police officer. I thought about it more when I passed a homeless man. I wondered what he made of the President’s promises. I wondered if he was proud to be an American. I wondered what he thought about walls.
9. Hillary Clinton. Yes, President Trump is still ranting about Hillary Clinton. I realized that in many ways this is still just an “I beat Hillary Clinton” victory lap. I imagined a tired old man telling the same war story over, and over again, gradually leaving out important parts, in this case such as Russian interference.
10. Lastly, I took away not only the size of the crowd (though it wasn’t what Trump claimed it to be, it was large, powerful and angry), and I weighed it along with the reports of record high levels of early voting. I took away this. I don’t think the record early votes are blue. I think they are purple. I love Beto and I hope to God Texas proves me wrong, and I hope every single person reading this goes immediately to vote and to say “I told you so.”. But, I left knowing that many of today’s Republicans can accept all of the vitriol, all of the fist shaking, all of the hypocritical prayers, as long as they feel their leaders are addressing the self-created fears of higher taxes, open immigration, powerful women, Mexicans, caravans, and losses of freedom. I wondered how many of those Republicans know what Trump is doing to the national debt, or if they care that he is cozying up to dictators. I wondered if they notice any of the doublespeak or mind.
Sadly, my final takeaway is that this new version of the Republican party works for its leaders, and it isn’t going away any time soon. The party of Ronald Reagan is dead. This new, terrifying bastardization of once great orators and values is neither going away or losing its victorious stance any time soon. This is standard operating procedure now. This is the monster we made.