As the bus pulled in, you wouldn’t have even known there was a Trump rally. Cars on the main street of Everett were sparse enough for us to weave past and into town. There were no signs and no advertising for the event, all the work in that department had been done by the local news which announced Trump’s arrival far in advance. Decorating the town to draw in a crowd would have been redundant. The first real world evidence of existence was when the bus driver kicked us all off early.
“If you’re going to that political thing, get off at the next stop because I’m not going to Broadway and Wall, after this I’m heading straight to Everett Station.” Inconvenient, especially since I needed to get there early for the best chance of getting in. My tickets were on my phone and I hadn’t brought a backup battery so any assistance from Google maps had to be kept to a minimum. I can only imagine how I looked to other pedestrians, frantically jogging past them in full dress. As my feet pounded pavement at a brisk pace I wondered whether I might regret including narrow shoes in my outfit.
If anybody else was heading there too, I couldn’t tell. Nobody I saw on the way was wearing one of Trump’s signature red hats. Car traffic was a bit slow, I remember looking over and wondering if some people stuck in traffic towards the center of town were envious that I was making faster progress than they were. When Google maps finally told me I was just a street away from the event center you still couldn’t tell anything was going on there. I wasn’t even sure I was at the right place until I saw a police barricade manned by a motorcycle cop.
It wasn’t necessary, but I asked him if I was in the right place. He nodded. Past him people were streaming in, media presence was highly visible. As I turned a corner onto Brooklyn Brothers pizza you had a dizzying crowd of young activists sporting rainbow flags and proud conservatives walking the street. They were talking, arguing, being interviewed, patronizing the local restaurants, marching with protest signs that have slogans like “you can’t comb over racism”, and getting in line.
The line was enormous. Going around the block, and then the next block, back up the sidewalk of the street opposite and around another block, and just kept going. In total there were six blocks or so of line. It was the longest line I have ever witnessed in person, let alone stood in. A preacher with a megaphone was standing next to it going up and down to shout about the eternal damnation awaiting for those who don’t repent their sins. You would think they’re preaching to the choir here but who knows. The lady next to me and an old couple grumbled about how rude and intrusive he was being, both taking the time to disclaim that “they’re a Christian, but..”. I joined in on the ribbing and we laughed at each others political zingers.
I don’t really think of myself in terms of being a liberal or conservative, but for this event I’d decided to try and let myself get into the egregore of things and feel some of what the crowd who is willing to stand in a six block line for Trump is feeling. I wanted to experience Trump, not stand awkwardly some feet from him and feel out of place. I also wanted to blend in, since sticking out would be unpleasant (and possibly dangerous). All of this is to say that the actions I describe myself engaging in do not necessarily represent my political views.
Things seemed demographically diverse, no single stereotype could characterize the crowd standing in line besides that they definitely seemed like a standard sampling of Washington’s population. (Though obviously on the conservative side.) I didn’t get the impression that this was a place for cranky old white men to shout about ‘these kids today’ with their blacks and women. The crowd had plenty of women in it. A merchant hawking “Hot Chicks For Trump” buttons sold his last just a handful of feet from me. At the democratic convention I was told you can play “where’s waldo” to spot a black person in a crowd of Republicans. Waldo was in fact standing right in front of me.
People hawking Trump swag carted by with hats, scarves, shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, regular stickers, posters, signs, the works. Common slogans included “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016”, “Hillary Sucks, but not like Monica.”, “Hilary’s Lies Matter”. I’d done some research on what to expect before going and was told that Trump’s merch sellers are poor Latinos so I was a bit sensitive to who the sellers were. A black man, some white people, I didn’t get the impression of manufactured privilege for the crowd’s sake. The elderly gentleman next to me had his wife run after a vendor to purchase a Trump hat, however she bought it in the wrong color (red) so he gifted it to me. I decided I’m already going to a Trump rally so I may as well wear it. It looked a bit ridiculous on me given that I was wearing my nice clothes.1
I arrived semi-early at 3:30 or so, the line moved like molasses even after the doors opened at 4:00. People drove by us with signs bearing anti-Trump slogans like “Get Hate Out Of My State”. A lady drove by and stopped to ask us what everybody was in line for, I shouted that the line was for a Trump rally. She nodded and drove off. A young man behind me shouted after her that she was a cuck.
A car blaring loud hiphop music drove by us and the passenger riding shotgun peaked their head out the window to shout “We’re here to fuck shit!”. The next conversational zinger was about how that was the black lives matter protest. These interactions summed up the atmosphere fairly well. To a certain extent both sides were right about each other. The protesters really were kind of belligerent and overzealous, the crowd really was a bit racist.
Once the line started moving again we were chatting like crazy in our excitement to get to the arena, everybody seemed wired. Meanwhile the line behind us was just getting longer and longer, we started speculating on whether we would be let in or not, and how far behind us in line you needed to be before they’d turn you away. The line became so long that they started doubling people up on the same stretch of sidewalk. We even began to sketch out how you would fermi estimate the number of people in line versus the arena’s ten thousand person capacity, but quickly abandoned the subject for lack of willingness to exert the effort. A man at a table hawked shirts at us with slogans like “I don’t call 911, run!” with a picture of Donald Trump holding a rifle in foreground of the whitehouse. The lady behind me asked what the slogan meant and I explained that particular portion of the gun debate to her.2
Once we got close enough to the arena, we could see the protesters. On a street corner I confronted a small crowd that marched next to me. They held signs depicting Donald Trump with a toothbrush mustache and a slogan like “Donald Trump stands for bigotry” (this is not exactly what they said, I can’t remember the exact words). To chants of “what do you do when hate takes over your state” or something similar I shouted back “STAND AROUND LIKE AN IDIOT!”, mocking them. Moments later it dawned on me that I was the one standing in line not them.
Turning the corner the full extent of the protest crowd became clear. It was massive, holding white and black or yellow and black signs with a wide variety of slogans. These I have on video so I can quote them directly: “Everett Stands United Against Trump”, “No Anti-Semites In The White House”, “Bigots Should Be Stripped Of Power”, “No Hate In The White House”, “Filipino Lives Matter, who will make the lumpia?”, “Say NOPE to the DOPE” where the “O” has been replaced with Donald Trump’s face. As we stepped toward this crowd (which threw at least one death threat at me) a dedicated volunteer stood stood there to remind us ‘not to feed the trolls’.3
Getting inside the arena things calmed down considerably, they didn’t bother to check whether I had a ticket. (I did.) Officers I was told were with the TSA had me empty my pockets and walk through a metal detector. I walked over to concessions and ordered an overpriced fish and chips with soda ($15). If I was doing it again I would have had someone keep my place in line while I buy a pizza from Brooklyn Brothers across the street and eat it with them while we wait.
All told, I spent two hours and thirty minutes standing in line. Finding a seat in the bleachers wasn’t difficult when I approached it from the side, trying to find one front on from where Trump would be speaking was difficult. I took the opportunity between the line and the rally to eat and snap some photographs. I finished my meal and threw the greasy remains in the garbage. Mike Pence got up to the podium for a pre-rally warmup speech, and then ceded the microphone to various enthusiastic Trump supporters who explained why they’re voting for him. A Chinese immigrant talked in vague platitudes about how he wants America to be pristine for his children and their children, for the United States to be that shining city on the hill, and how Trump will be the one to put America back on that course. His words were difficult to make out over his accent but the crowd cheered just the same.
From this vantage point the most striking thing about the night became immediately clear to me. In my imagination, I had pictured Trump’s rally as having a massive larger than life scale, a Roman Colosseum with Trump in the center shouting like a fake-tanned demagogue. Instead the scale was much smaller, everything much closer than I had imagined. The intimacy was startling, the bleachers behind Trump and the mob in front of him mere feet away. A large crowd had as little separation from Trump as security would permit, and it was intoxicating to be so close to somebody with so much of the weight of history on them.
I stepped into the arena with the crowd rather than sit far away up into the bleachers, knowing full well this would probably mean having to stand for another two and a half hours. More supporters were introduced and gave enthusiastic pep talks to the rally. I’ll be completely honest with you, I pretty much entirely ignored these pre-rally warmup speeches in favor of my own thoughts. I spent the time instead talking to an acquaintance from high school who happened to be there, pondering the what-if’s of what I would do if someone opened fire on the crowd, worrying about the battery life on my camera and phone, and wondering what the crowd would do when Trump himself took the stage. A loudspeaker announcement instructed people sitting in other areas of the arena to reseat themselves behind the podium so that they’ll be caught on camera when the media puts footage on TV.
Another announcement came over the loudspeakers that during a Trump rally there will probably be protesters who are hiding in the audience waiting to disrupt things, and that when this happens you’re supposed to chant until law enforcement can remove them from the premises. The announcement also specifically requested that members of the audience not ‘touch or harm’ the protester(s), instead they should chant until law enforcement removes them. Once finished, the rally started and ‘special guests’ took the stage. These special guests were right wing politicians of various stripes who support Donald Trump. In contrast to Trump’s bombastic bizarre linguistic style, these were more traditional speakers who apply standard rhetorical technique. By this point my camera battery had died and I was relying on my phone to be able to get a video of Trump’s entrance.
Trump himself took the stage after about thirty minutes, he was greeted by an uproar of people chanting, applauding, screaming, sign waving, stomping, and everything else a crowd can do to greet someone. The stage was taken at a leisurely pace while he stopped to shake hands with audience members close enough for him to reach. Finally when he reached the podium Trump spent some time repeatedly thanking the audience and waiting for them to stop screaming. He seemed blown away by the reception, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is acting. Trump has an incredible stage presence that isn’t captured well on video, especially since the audio mixing on video generally strips out the sounds of the audience roaring deafeningly over everybody and everything else. A megaphone wouldn’t be enough to let you be heard in that arena. For example, Trump often does a 360 degree turn or shows his profile. On camera this gesture seems odd and quirky, narcissistic. In person it’s obvious that he does this because the crowd can’t get enough of him and trying to talk over it would be counterproductive.4
What Trump talks about at a rally might surprise you. He of course had the usual Hillary bashing, but the majority of the nights ‘speech’ (Trump does not give speeches, he shouts his platform at you) was dedicated to the plight of inner city minorities, and how immigration is removing the ability of inner city minorities to get jobs, how democratic policies are causing crime to soar in the inner cities, etc. While I might have said earlier that the crowd was diverse, it was still predominantly white and hearing Trump go on at length about inner city minorities felt a little odd. And I noticed that these talking points resonated with the audience, but not quite as much as his infamous standbys like “build the wall”.
Gay people were not mentioned. Jewish people were not mentioned. If you listen to the ‘alt-right’ or the media or even the protesters right outside his rally you would get the impression that Trump is Hitler in miniature. A strange orange skinned lizard who riles up crowds with raw populist hate. If you take Trump’s words at face value, he is pro-minority and anti-immigration. A policy position that is clearly too nuanced for the likes of a YouTube peanut gallery or a Facebook wall.
Going into more detail about Trump’s speech isn’t really necessary, the whole thing is on YouTube anyway. A Trump rally is not really about the content of what Trump says. It’s more like a rave where the speech is a necessary precondition, but the attraction is Trump’s persona. One of the things a livestream doesn’t capture well is just how much control Trump has over an audience. He pans his hand over the journalists filming and it boos and hisses at them without further prompting. He stops to accept praise, and then the crowd goes silent when his body language implies he wants to speak. I was a state alternate for Bernie Sanders, so I’ve listened to a lot of politicians speak and I can tell you from experience that stage presence is nothing to take for granted. Most politicians have weak stage presence, but Trump’s is top tier. Comparable to Jeff Merkley and better than Patty Murray (who I’ve seen twice in person).
The stage setup is optimized to help him. It might have just been my imagination, but I don’t remember the smooth consistent lighting of the livestream. The lighting in person was exciting, including spotlights that panned over the back bleachers audience as they cheered for Trump, a podium illuminated in a golden glow, and other subtle details that helped immensely. The intimacy of the audience immediately surrounding him helps them see his body language clearly, making his elocution more powerful.
By contrast Trump’s actual speech was slightly embarrassing from the standpoint of traditional rhetoric, almost a long ramble. Trump does not punctuate when he speaks. That is, when you read something written in text there are stops and meaningful pauses. Trump eschews most of this, trying to punctuate his speeches is messy and painful, downright impossible. If you don’t believe me, try opening the youtube stream for the rally and transcribe Trump’s speech. I couldn’t do it, and I bet you can’t either. Trump speeches can not be accurately captured with traditional punctuation because that’s not how he talks.
Much has been made of Trump’s rhetorical style. It is certainly the most distinctive rhetorical style in recent American politics. According to the usual algorithm for determining such things Donald Trump speaks at a 4th grade reading level5. It’s bombastic, simple, and reminds too many people of a right wing dictator. At one point during his Everett Rally, Trump lamented that Hillary Clinton had used an expensive chemical solution ‘with bleach’ to make sure nobody could ever read the emails on her servers. What she actually used is bleachbit a popular (and free) open source software solution for disk cleanup.6 After this wanton destruction I’m sure the secretary wiped it up with a cloth.
Even more enigmatic than his rhetorical appeal is the wide gap between Trump’s stated policies and the policies some of his more enthusiastic supporters and opponents think he has. For example, did you know Donald Trump supports free healthcare? Or that he’s arguably the most pro-LGBT Republican candidate in recent history if not ever?7 You might, do you think the people holding those signs outside his rally know it? And let’s not forget supporters. Andrew Anglin, who runs the Neo Nazi news website The Daily Stormer seems to think that Trump will be the white nationalist messiah:
“Jews, Blacks and lesbians will be leaving America if Trump gets elected – and he’s happy about it.
This alone is enough reason to put your entire heart and soul into supporting this man.”
Wow. I certainly didn’t get that out of Trump’s speeches. Trump is heavily supported by Evangelicals even though he’s a highly secular candidate. The Republican Platform authors have some pretty radical disagreements with Trump on LGBT issues, you know the platform Trump is ostensibly supposed to be supporting. Trump has been very good at courting the likes of Alex Jones, a right wing conspiracy nut who runs InfoWars, a news site for other right wing conspiracy nuts. My hypothesis is that Trump’s wacky persona helps him convince these people who are prone to self delusion that he could do anything, including implement their particular crankish policies. (Which the Donald secretly supports of course.)
Trump is also the fully endorsed candidate of 4chan’s /pol/, a collective of dissident racists, conspiracy nuts, cranks and haters. This demographic is usually lumped together under the banner of ‘alt-right’, and if headlines are anything to go by people don’t get it. Andrew Anglin himself has a guide on his website right now just for visitors who are there to learn what all this alt-right business is. Andrew paints it as essentially rebranded white nationalism, the belief that the White race is being exterminated by a mass immigration of barbarians from the 3rd world, orchestrated of course by Jews like me.8
I think the most interesting feature of Andrew’s explanation is that it’s wrong. That’s not what the alt-right is about, I mean sort of. That’s a lot of it, but not all of it. In my opinion the alt-right is best illustrated by two op eds on this years Republican National Convention by two very different authors. The first is from a New Statesman editor chronicling a party thrown by Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional gay right wing pundit who is seen as a leading figure of the alt-right. Here she describes a den of dizzying alt-right wing personality figures like “legalize rape” Roosh V. The other is by Oscar Reichenbach, who I honestly know nothing about besides he’s the author of this piece and some kind of alt-right blogger. He describes the convention as a gathering of every kind of right wing dissident on every subject of politics.
So I’ll ask you, what do you think these people have in common? What does the man who wants to legalize rape have in common with the gay anti safe-space agitator have in common with the man who wants to see America crown a king, besides that they plausibly all disagree with each other? Nothing at all of course. The only thing they have in common is their mutual tolerance of each others company. It might sound banal, but this is an explicit alt-right principle called “No Enemies To The Right” the point of which is to let these dissidents all cooperate long enough to actually fight their opponents on the left instead of each other. The fundamental innovation of the alt-right is to remove the gatekeeping that usually keeps cranks out. And this appears to be a semi-permanent innovation in right wing politics rather than a transitory electoral phenomena. It’s quite possible Trump’s convention has defined the next decade of conservative politics in the same way that the Tea Party Republicans defined the last.
Will he win in November? Who knows. But I suspect we’ll be feeling the reverberations of his presidential run for years regardless.
The basic reasoning behind this decision was that it might help keep Neo-Nazis from beating me up and give protesters the impression I’m too important to hurt. That and I try to look nice at any political event I go to. ↩
Nobody I showed the early drafts of this to so far seemed to get this, so I’ll explain here as well: A common talking point in the American gun debate is that guns for self defense are redundant since you can call 911. The usual retort is that when the criminal is across the room from you 911 is just fifteen minutes away. (It should also be noted that police do not have an obligation to protect you.) “I don’t call 911, run!” is a taunt to prospective criminals and overly sensitive ‘liberals’ that the wearer isn’t going to call the police if you burgle their house, they’ll just kill you. ↩
His words, not mine. ↩
One shouldn’t ignore the possibility that his stage persona is being enhanced by having paid actors in the audience that know what to do ahead of time to get the desired results. ↩
Of course, this algorithm relies heavily on punctuation and where you choose to punctuate. Which as mentioned before is not something easy to do with Trump speeches. ↩
In fairness, Trump is 70 years old so I guess I can give him a pass on not quite understanding that something named ‘bleachbit’ has nothing to do with actual bleach. ↩
‘Recent history’ being a qualifier I add only because I’m not familiar enough with history to be able to make the statement with complete certainty for all time. ↩
Sorry to burst your bubble Andrew, but I’m not exactly into mass 3rd world immigration either. ↩