by Tara Gulwell
I attended a Trump rally in Baton Rouge on December 9th, the main purpose of which was to campaign for the Republican candidate for the Louisiana Senate, John Kennedy. Having lived here through election day and becoming involved in American politics on such a personal level, I went there to try and gain an understanding. An understanding that could help to explain the reasoning behind voting for the most despicable demagogue of my lifetime.
My first surprise of the day was the size of the venue, it was a small air hanger on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, making for an intimate setting for the President-elect. My two friends and I stood out from the start. But after a while I was starting to feel pretty comfortable. I even had a few conversations with folks. Women standing near me were chatty and welcoming, they had been to a few of these rallies before. People passing by sometimes stopped to say hello and ask me how I was. I was starting to think ‘hey, maybe the media really is over-exaggerating these things.’
‘I was starting to think ‘hey, maybe the media really is over-exaggerating these things.’
Then I started to feel more tense as time went by. Trump is notoriously late for rallies, but two hours had passed and still no sign of him. There’s nowhere to sit, so everyone’s just standing around as the anticipation grows. The sea of lone white dudes (seriously, there were less than twenty black people there), is starting to get excitable and I’m starting to get anxious.
Then the rally starts. John Kennedy comes bumbling onto stage, blah blah vote for me tomorrow, no one really cares what’s saying. He only speaks for a few minutes. The star of the show comes on stage. This is where I tell you to fasten your seatbelts.
Within a few minutes of the show beginning, with no prompting from Trump himself, the crowd starts chanting “BUILD THAT WALL!”. The audience completely transforms from a loose collection of friendly southerners to a full-scale angry mob. A sign is thrust into the air high and proud, it reads “DEPLORABLE LIVES MATTER”.
The jig was up. I was really in a room of Trump supporters. I wasn’t a protestor, I’m not a person of colour, and I was still deciding what song I’d like to be played at my funeral (‘Tear the Fascist Down’ by Woody Guthrie would be a good choice perhaps.) But alas! It gets worse. I’m short as hell, so I tried weaving through the crowd to find a good spot. As Hillary Clinton’s name gets mentioned, I overhear “kill her” said near me.
The jig was up. I was really in a room of Trump supporters.
The crescendo of hatred however came in the form of words that no one believed would be said at a rally of a President-elect in 2016 America, “heil hitler.” In a separate part of the rally, a Nazi salute went up. 2016. America. A Nazi salute.
What Trump was saying became less and less consequential. As is his trademark, his speech consisted of no policy discussion and no real political dialectic. He really is just a big orange standing up there shouting out nothing. It was the crowd that was terrifying. By the end of their circle jerk of anger, I realised there was no understanding to be reached.
The whole experience was sick and disgusting. It was built upon white masculinity in which the only emotion you can access is anger and the only method to express yourself is violence. In this dystopian vision of America Trump is offering, folks feel like he understands the sense of loss they feel they’re going through. Discussions about racism and inequality have once again entered mainstream discourse and the security of whiteness and maleness is being challenged. This is white America’s reaction.
Trump’s win was not based on political ideology or economics. It was based on whiteness feeling threatened. These folks just want to smash shit up and reclaim their superiority.
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