The fairground charges five bucks to enter. Cars and trucks as far as the eye can see ––one other RV. Whoever’s running this place is making off with some coin today. About 10,000 people in attendance give or take. 3,000 vehicles. Have yet to find myself at a Democratic event where they’re charging for parking. Good business practices or bleeding the sucker for every penny? You decide.
The West Wing theme song blares out over the speaker system. Still standing by The Beast, a couple of football fields away from the main event, and I can hear the music loud and clear. Out of nowhere, off in the distance, a chopper appears. The music plays, the crowd yells, and the chopper approaches. Closer now. Nearing. The descent takes time. A rich man showing off his favorite toy? A roar from the crowd. The chopper tucks behind the far side of the bleachers and disappears. I make my way towards center stage, cutting in and out of cars of all different shapes and sizes, makes and models. The music ends, and chants of “USA, USA” fill the void.
With Mr. Trump’s grand, presidential entrance now over, the crowd, and a lonely microphone, must wait.
The amphitheater is charging ten bucks per vehicle to park. Easily twice as many vehicles in Tampa compared to Naples. Even further walk this time. The Beast is parked on the outskirts of the grassy lot. I’d like to avoid the unavoidable cluster fuck of a traffic jam after the event. It’s reminiscent of the gridlock after any college or professional sporting event –– people hedging, waiting, and jockeying for position. If one of the Clinton events from a few weeks back was a high school pep rally, tonight, in the amphitheater, is definitely college football against their most-hated rival.
Walking through the lot towards general admission, there are people with microphones pitching their case against Mrs. Clinton, people holding signs for local proposals, “No on Prop. 1” – an anti-solar initiative down here that’s been presented to the people as if it’s pro-solar – and row after row after row of booths with buttons, t-shirts, and hats. “Get your, ‘Hillary sucks but not like Monica’ shirts folks.” “Make America great again, hats, one for 20, two for 30.” “Basket of deplorables, get ‘em here.”
The booths cover both sides of the walkway in the lead up to the event. The women in front of me laugh together at the “Trump that bitch” T-shirt. One of them says that she’s knows it’s awful, but admits that it’s still genuinely funny. Her friends agree. A woman walks by wearing jailhouse stripes and a mask of Mrs. Clinton. She stops and poses for photos with folks on their way to the event –– faces are contorted, thumbs are thrown up, smiles widen. The people treat her like a minor celebrity. “She should be in jail,” one of the women in front of me says, “She’s a crook.”
I find my seat in the back of the amphitheater. The seats are almost packed in. There’s a solid crowd on the lawn in the back. Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 people. Chants of “USA, USA” and “Lock her up, lock her up” steadily fill the air before the first speaker steps on the stage.
“Let’s spend the night together,” by The Rolling Stones plays over the sound system –this is one of four Rolling Stones songs that play at Mr. Trump’s rallies – the man, apparently, digs on Mick and Keef. The majority of the crowd stands on the tarmac, sits in the bleachers, and those who arrived late, yours truly included, stand inside an airplane hangar. 8,000 people in total give or take. Not as many booths selling t-shirts, here as in Tampa, but enough to note. Security moves swiftly. The Beast is once again parked in an easily maneuverable region of grass.
A man behind me tells his friend that there are more people at this event than the last one he attended. “Wow,” his friend says, “I mean, you look around here, and everybody’s got lawn signs for Trump, there’s no way he’s gonna lose Florida.” “Yeah,” the man says in agreement, “Trump’s awesome.”
Born on the Bayou by CCR takes a run on the speakers, followed by what sounds like the aria from Shawshank Redemption — the marriage of Figaro. The guys behind me comment on how many people are here, once again, “Gotta be at least 10,000,” one of them says. “Yeah,” says the other, “On a workday.”
The event was supposed to start at three o’clock. I take note of the time. 3:25pm. Folks are chattering, some bounce around with a slight demeanor of impatience, there’s a bit of laughter every now and again, but, overall, it resembles the feeling before a concert, save booze and pot. People are waiting for the event to begin. The south east portion of the airport is still operational, and each time a plan corrects its heading to land, people rise up on their tip-toes and pop their heads around like little jack-in-the-boxes to get a better view, seeing if this jet or that jet is the one carrying Mr. Trump.
A stair-car sits idly, almost stoically on the runway, and behind it nothing but blue skies and a smattering of clouds. The podium and microphone wait in an inanimate act of solidarity with the set of stairs. It’s a hot day in Sanford, easily 90 out, and secret service is still letting people into the hangar. It’s getting warmer inside. The Backstreet Boys, “Backstreet’s Back Again” plays over the speakers. Grown men and women of all ages sing along to the Backstreet Boys. Apparently, this song is timeless. There is a man in front of me wearing a t-shirt that has two AR-15s on the back and the words, “Make America Safe again, 2016” in bold print. There’s a Vietnam Veteran with one leg in a wheelchair to my left. An old man breathing through an oxygen tank rests against the wall to my right. I scrawl in my notebook: rough-looking crowd.
It’s 3:45 now. A majority of the crowd has been waiting for over an hour. The theme from The West Wing blares over the speakers. A jet lands. Another toy? People stand on their tiptoes once more. An odd song plays — a combination of the horn section from the original Superman movies crossed with Indiana Jones. The jet has a giant “T” on it’s tail, and as it maneuvers around the tarmac, obscured in vision by a series of other planes that are used as a natural barricade against wayward, potentially ill-intentioned vehicles, it resembles a shark-fin plodding through water. It takes five minutes for Mr. Trump’s toy jet to find its parking space.
Meanwhile, the stairs, the microphone, and the audience wait for the show to begin.
THREE DAY GUEST LIST
Rudy Giuliani steps to the microphone and stumbles through one of the funniest, strangest introductions to date on the campaign trail. He sounds like he has a mouth full of cotton, and he almost speaks in non-sequiturs. I manage to catch two bits of Giuliani’s speech. “Don’t trust the media,” he says, speaking about poll numbers, “They’re wrong.” And, “He will be a great president. Donald J. Trump.”
Rudy Giuliani is one of the reasons why I’ve been drinking so much. Thankfully, his introduction lasts about two minutes. If it had gone on any longer, I may have made a run at secret service just to end it all a bit quicker.
A woman named Debbie tells the audience in Tampa that she will happily be added to the basket (of deplorables), because it’s filled with people who care about national security, veterans, lowering taxes, etc. I look over to my left, and four out of eight people are playing on their phones.
A board certified family physician named Dr. Castillo takes the stage in Tampa, and he describes why he is “adamantly” opposed to Obamacare. “It’s a terrible law that was passed on lies and deception,” he says. “We were promised that premiums would decrease by 25%, but in most cases they doubled… It’s more appropriate,” he says, wait for it, wait for it, “To call it the not-so-affordable care act.” Zing! And the crowd goes wild.
The Attorney General of Florida, Pam Bondi, who has some questionable ties to Mr. Trump, takes the stage and opens with, “Make America great again!” She says that she believes in job creation, and for eight years the jobs have been leaving, and then she says, “Eight years is enough.” She believes in stopping ISIS, and for eight years ISIS has been winning, “Eight Years is enough.” She believes in the constitution, and for the past eight years the constitution has been trampled on and, you guessed it, “Eight years is enough.” Guess what she also believes in? She believes in reducing the national debt, securing our borders, fighting for veterans, and the supreme court, and she also believes that Donald Trump and Mike Pence will, “Make America great again.” A question flashes through my mind: who doesn’t want to reduce the debt or support veterans or uphold the constitution?
A slick-looking, bald bastard leads off with, “Who hates the liberal media?” Then he mentions the Democratic Party’s culpability in slavery and Jim Crowe, and after a point in time in which my brain actually experiences a mandatory reset, all of a sudden we’re talking about how, “23 million black children have been aborted,” and, “Donald Trump will defund Planned Parenthood.” The man speaks with the cadence of a pastor. The crowd responds with enthusiasm of a revival.
At one point, the MC of the evening in Tampa steps on stage and says, “People voting for Trump are the most patriotic people in America. When is the last time you heard a crowd spontaneously break out into chants of ‘USA, USA’ at a Democratic rally?” The crowd cheers wildly for itself. I ask myself if this is a good metric for measuring patriotism, and I come to the conclusion that it is, most definitely, not. A statement such as this is, however, one of the dumbest things I have ever heard, and at international or Olympic sporting events I can understand the chant as a sign of patriotism, but at a political rally for one of the two presidential candidates it is nothing more than that self-congratulating, circle-jerk bullshit, in which one political party (and I won’t name who for fear of offending anybody), believes that they are more patriotic than the other political party because of their ability to chant their country’s name –– never mind things like educating yourself, forming your own opinions, and questioning your government.
Football coach Bobby Bowden takes the stage. The crowd applauds louder than they have for anybody this evening, fitting really. “Y’all always were nuts,” coach Bowden says. He speaks of how his wife, daughters, and three of his granddaughters are all voting for Trump. Cheers from the women in the audience ring out. No need mentioning all that stuff about sexual assault in this crowd, folks, this is the guy, and when you like your guy, who cares what the biased, liberal, rigged media have to say about your guy. Hell, even Bobby Bowden’s granddaughters are voting for Trump! Just more proof that women love the guy.
BROKEN, CORRUPT & RIGGED
Finally, finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the man of the 25th hour, the media-vacuum himself, the ornate orange, the hair from up there, the man who has the utmost respect for women, the penthouse pussy grabber, the ‘sign-em then sue-em’ sultan of Atlantic City, the self-promoting pomposity of real-estate, the slinger of steaks, the conman of college, the looming lard of weird debate performances, the decorator who is one cape short of Liberace, yes, love him or hate him, folks, you’ve been buying tickets to the show all year long, the one, the only, Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Trump’s entrances are largely presidential in nature, but they still hold this funny dynamic of rich man showing off fancy toys to supporters who could never afford them. The music plays, the chopper circles, and the airplane lands. His audience watches and cheers, genuinely excited. After witnessing a few of these grandiose statements of arrival, it seems easy to understand why many of his supporters believe that he is ahead, believe Mr. Trump and his surrogates when they say that the polls are lying, believe the echo chamber of targeted social media and right-wing news sources, because his entrances alone make it look as if he’s already won the presidency. The supporters in attendance at these rallies are being presented with an image that they so fervently desire, before he even takes the stage, one that is largely presidential.
And there is a large belief that he is winning.
Among the myriad topics covered at Trump rallies, ever-present is the low hum of distrust, corruption, and crookedness. Do not trust the polls. Do not trust the media. Do not trust anything my opponent says. The system is rigged. The government is corrupt. It’s all a set up. We’re winning. Trust me. Something we’ve never seen before.
“My opponent is the embodiment of government corruption.” “I tell you what, we’re doing well in the polls. I think we’re doing better with women than we are with men.” “I’m sort of the ultimate insider, and if we win on November 8th, we’re going to fix our rigged, broken, corrupt system.” “The best evidence that the system is rigged is that Hillary Clinton was even allowed to run for President of the United States.” “This is a movement like you have never seen before… the broken and corrupt media’s never seen it before either.” “The new poll, by Investors Daily, has us up two points…the most accurate poll in the last three elections.” “Our system is broken, this is once in a lifetime, and this is our last chance. This is it.” [Pointing at media] “These people are among the most dishonest people in America.” The crowd turns towards the media bullpen and begins to sneer and yell at the press. Which is a strange thing to witness –– the crowd physically turns away from the stage and focuses on a small group of people with cameras and notepads, to yell at them for, well, doing their jobs?
“We have to investigate the investigation, folks.” “The system is rigged.” “She got the questions in advance from Donna Brazil… she’s crooked Hillary, folks.” [On the media] “[They have] Contempt of people who don’t uphold the liberal agenda.” “She lied, she lies more than any other human being.” “Our movement is being talked about all over the world because it’s a movement of common sense, and it’s a movement of making America great again.” “If we win on November 8th, we are going to drain the swamp.” “Change has to come from outside the system… the last time we have a chance, in four years, it’s over.” “Fact checkers are crooked as hell… what a group of dishonest scum.” “She [Mrs. Clinton] got the questions to a debate, and she didn’t turn herself in… The criminal conduct of Hillary Clinton threatens the foundation of our democracy.”
These phrases were the ones most repeated at each event and throughout the three consecutive days in which we saw Mr. Trump speak. They were sometimes spoken within an appropriate context, as in, the subject that Mr. Trump was already addressing was some type of perceived corruption or rigging, but more often than not, these were injected in the middle of something else entirely. War in the Middle East goes straight into tangent about the crooked media. An increase in local policing changes direction with a line about ending government corruption. Trump begins to address price hikes on premiums under the Affordable Care Act, and then, out of nowhere, starts talking about, “Newly public emails, Wikileaks,” and goes into a bit about President Obama’s knowledge of Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.
These speeches aren’t exactly rambling affairs, although it would likely be easier to classify them as such. No, more than anything they seem to be just semi-disorganized and almost sing-song-y.
In a conversational manner, albeit one-sided, Mr. Trump attacks Mrs. Clinton, the current administration, the system in general, and the media. Throughout these jabs and barbs, while loosely discussing his agenda, Mr. Trump may, at any point go off on a tangent about how the corruption of news media in a bit about infrastructure, or the “national debt doubling since 2008” slides right into a question for the audience, “Who is going to pay for the wall?” and the crowd chants, “Mexico, Mexico,” and then Mr. Trump finishes with, “100%. They don’t know it yet, but they will.”
And this is where the sing-song-y aspect of the performance comes into play. Mention making America great again, and the crowd respond with chants of, “USA, USA.” Talk about emails or the debates or, really, mention Mrs. Clinton’s name, and you get chants of, “Lock her up, lock her up.” It’s like a Catholic Church service or the well-versed song and dance of a college football crowd. Ridding the system of corruption? “Drain the swamp,” echoes throughout the venue of the day, and on the stage, smiling behind his microphone, clearly pleased at the moment, and waiting for the audience to quit chanting, stands Mr. Trump.
Renegotiate NAFTA / Label China a currency manipulator / Enforce small violations of trade / Energy / Restore the rule of law and order / Repeal every executive order under the Obama administration / Appoint great Supreme Court justices / Suspend immigration from regions of Islamic terrorism / Repeal and replace Obamacare / New infrastructure / End government corruption / Rebuild our military / Tax cuts / Transform the tax system / Defend religious liberty / Renegotiate Iran deal / Syria / The economy / Jobs / Fix the inner cities / Get the murder rate down, nationwide /
“With a victory in November, everything will change.”
None of the issues or new policy initiatives are addressed too deeply, rather, a mention of the topic, and then the promise that we, me, I will get us a better deal. This is a problem, and we’re going to change it. I promise. This is going to happen. We’re winning, just look at this crowd, how can we not be winning when we’re drawing crowds like these? So when I win, we’re going to change everything. It’s all broken and corrupt, the media’s biased and dishonest, and the only ones here that really know what’s going on are you and I. Don’t listen to the polls, the polls are lying. Don’t listen to the newscasters or the accusers. They’re lying too. Don’t listen to anybody that doesn’t share your worldview, because they’re wrong. Trust me, we know; we’re the only ones that know what’s really going on. It’s all a conspiracy. They don’t want us to win. The establishment doesn’t want us to win, and once I get in there, to Washington, we’re going to drain the swamp, because it only takes one person to do that, and I am that person.
Remember, nobody has ever seen a movement like this before. And this, folks, is our last chance, before we, as a country, are doomed.
But for those of us with functioning long-term memories, we saw a movement like this in 2008. When change was promised. When hope was on the ballot. When the culture of Washington was going to change, because the man was different. The sides of the aisle would find the center, work together, and get things done. But, in the end, the culture of Washington, as lasting and recalcitrant as any reinforced ore, proved, once again, to be a bit tougher than assumed.
The idea that one individual can walk into the highest office in our land and change everything, change the system, from the top down, these days, is the stuff of legends and myths.
And if we look at Mr. Trump’s transition team, comprised chairman Chris Christie, Rich Bagger (Christie’s ex-chief of staff, with ties to the pharmaceutical industry), William Palatucci (another ex-Christie guy, who was a campaign adviser for both H.W. and W.), William Hagerty (economic adviser to H.W.), Jamie Burke (worked as a white house liaison for W. and advised Romney), and the list goes on. Mr. Trump promises change, but he’s hired the same players who’ve been in the game their entire lives, holding steadfast to the same principles and ideologies of the past, ensuring that, as always, it will be business as usual.
DELEGITIMIZE IT ALL
The message is transformed. Revised. Added on to. My opponent should not even be able to run for office, because she is a criminal. Sound familiar? President Obama should not even have been able to run for office, because he’s not an American citizen (re: black). He’s not a legitimate president. She’s not a legitimate candidate. The media is biased, crooked, and broken. Everything they tell you is a pack of lies. They’re dishonest. They’re corrupt. The system is rigged folks. Let me tell you, if we don’t win in November, it’s because the election is rigged. It’s all broken and corrupt.
Of course, our government has its problems, and they are vast. The system within which we operate lacks the vision it once had –– let’s call it capitalism with a lack of morals, sketchy ethics, and a failing memory. The two-party system has created gridlock. Corporations are people. Lobbyists and special interests run amok. Our prison system is booming, and the police are militarized. The military machine marches on and on –– the discussion of peace in the Middle East has been omitted from every discussion. The television news media is trapped in a ratings battle, gelded by advertisers, and lacks unique, trustworthy voices. In all, these charges that Mr. Trump has levied are not wholly incorrect, the system is largely fucked, and the odds are stacked heavily against the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised, but Mr. Trump is definitely wrong in two distinct ways.
One, the system is not rigged against Mr. Trump, but, rather, the system is rigged against the people. Two, the existing culture within Washington cannot be upended from the top-down. Even if his intentions are to “drain the swamp” so to speak, it seems unlikely that a Trump presidency would be capable of anything more than operating within the system that already exists –– a return to the policies of yesteryear, possibly, in the direction of Republican ideology and Keynesian and Friedman economics, sure, but a complete overhaul? Not likely (remember the names in his transition team, or have you already forgotten?).
In the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders built his platform on a similar message –– the current system puts corporations, institutions, and the one percent first, and the people second. One of the many differences between Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump was, however, that Mr. Sanders stated his desire to replace certain mechanisms within the system (e.g., universal single-payer health care and higher education for all). In short, Mr. Sanders had ideas that existed outside of our current system. Whether or not they would have been possible to implement is an entirely separate issue and, with eight days to go in the general election, currently does not matter.
Mr. Trump says that the system is corrupt, Washington is rotten, the elections rigged, the people screwed, the media biased, the leadership inept, and he presents himself as the savior of politics, the one and only person who can solve all of our issues at this last, absolute last moment before the collapse. But, he offers no new ideas for our democracy, for how Washington is run, our economic theories, or our geopolitical approach, in fact, every idea that Mr. Trump offers up exists loudly but nonetheless placidly within the confines of the current system of both conservative thought and governance.
And on the Democratic side of things, Mrs. Clinton has proposed an agenda of governance that operates largely within the current system, and her belief seems to be that the system need not be upended but rather amended. The course is set, and it just needs adjusting.
Neither party is champions of true change.
But, remember, if Mr. Trump loses, the whole system, everything, all of it, is all rigged. Against. Just. Him.
BACK AT THE HANGAR
The narrative is a convenient one for Mr. Trump’s supporters –– maybe ‘believers’ is a more appropriate term. This is the movement, and anybody that tells you otherwise is lying. I am not like other politicians, and anything negative you hear about me is slanted and biased. I am competent and benevolent, honest and forthright. We, those of us here today, are in the know, and they, they have had the wool pulled plainly over their eyes.
I am the answer to all of your problems.
And from the back of the crowd, sardined between hundreds of people, sweat beading across my forehead from the heat of midday Florida sun, I look out at the runway, away from the stage, at the stair car that rests empty, parked plainly in front of Mr. Trump’s private jet, and I wonder what it would look like if the people in attendance decided, one day, to climb up those stairs against all odds, of their own volition, and bring about change from the ground up, instead of waiting an extra hour for the one they’ve anointed to descend.
Regardless of whether or not Mr. Trump wins, the damage has already been done. A slice of America will have been emboldened by hatred, frenzied by fear, and preyed upon because the idea has been further seeded that one of the fundamental aspects of our democracy, their right to vote, no longer matters –– and when even the illusion of choice disappears, who’s to say what will happen? But if he does lose, shortly after the election, Mr. Trump will be seated in a plush leather chair, 30,000 feet above terra firma, sipping champagne out of a gold coupe, in his own reality, reminiscing about that one time he ran for president, while hoards of his supporters wander, disillusioned once more, scrambling, gathering at tarmacs all over the country, perhaps, staring at sets of empty stairs that lead to nothing, waiting for a new voice to land.
And in the wake of Mr. Trump’s Jet-stream, will rest the fragmented shards of the Republican party and pieces of our democracy’s spirit, like a toy, bent and broken, lying abandoned on the floor, left behind by a child who once again found something more interesting to play with.