An Australian Went to a Trump Rally and Here’s What Happened
The news is consistently teeming with articles about Trump’s most recent laughably outlandish statement, his latest public gaffe, some stupid thing he said taken out of context, some stupid thing he said left in context, some fresh meme where he looks like a piece of raw chicken… the list goes on. As an Australian who has recently moved to the US, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the Great Chicken Breast in action at one of his infamous rallies. Is ‘Murica really as ‘Murica as it looks on TV?
I donned my safest, least culturally diverse outfit and made my way to the Phoenix Convention Centre. Stepping out of the cab, I was hit with a genuine adrenaline rush – the atmosphere and hype were indescribable. There were police and there were protestors; there were Trump supporters wearing guns on their hips and Trump haters wearing guns on their hips; there were official stallholders selling Trump merch and unofficial vendors doing the same. There was an unacceptably high number of people wearing denim cutoff vests. I made my way into the venue, where I was met with a full body security scan. My tiny purse was scrutinised and I was checked for weapons.
As I walked into the main room, I was greeted with a crowd that was chanting “BUILD A WALL, BUILD A WALL, BUILD A WALL”.
I made my way to the stage where Trump would be speaking, currently occupied by a speaker who told us she was a “LEGAL immigrant” – the crowd applauded. She was giving a graphic personal account of how her son was murdered by an “ILLEGAL immigrant” – the crowd booed. Several other speakers followed, relaying similarly descriptive and emotive narratives about murdered family members, and how with Trump’s immigration policies, these could have been avoided.
“I truly believe that Donald Trump is going to protect me and my family, and your family,” one speaker told us sincerely. The crowd made the appropriate happy and sad noises at the appropriate junctions throughout each speech.
I pushed closer to the front.
The stage was now graced by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – “America’s Toughest Sheriff”. Arpaio has been accused of abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws and election law violations, amongst other crimes. He constructed Tent City – a jail made up of tents in the desert – so that inmates, largely illegal immigrants, would suffer extreme heat. In May 2009, a woman died of heat exposure after Arpaio’s sheriff’s department locked her in a cage for four hours in the sun.
The crowd cheered wildly.
“WE LOVE YOU SHERIFF JOE!” shouted a man standing near me. An Asian woman standing beside me waved her “Make America Great Again” banner like her life depended on it.
“Doesn’t she know that all the drugs and illegal immigration are coming from Mexico?” asked Arpaio, referring to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“HILLARY’S ON DRUGS!” someone in the crowd shouted. People around me laughed like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.
“If Hillary wins, Bill’s gonna be running the government anyway,” Arpaio added.
I suppose if racial profiling is your forte, why not throw in some sexism too?
At each following mention of Hillary, the crowd booed madly. Every now and then a chant of “LOCK HER UP, LOCK HER UP, LOCK HER UP!” would break out. An older gentleman in the middle of the crowd waved a life-sized, decapitated Hillary-head-mask on a stick. Its eyes and fangs (yes, fangs) were coloured in red, and ‘EVIL’ was scrawled across its forehead.
At this point Arpaio moved to the subject of The Wall.
“You take away their foreign aid – you take that money and build a wall,” he said.
“I don’t really care who pays for it – just get it built!”
We then heard from State Treasurer of Arizona Jeff DeWit, Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and Trump’s vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, who had the honour of introducing Trump himself.
As the man of the minute made his way onto the stage, God Bless the USA blared over the speakers and the crowd screamed. Small children waved banners, old couples waved banners and people from a pretty large variety of ethnic backgrounds waved banners.
As far as a Trump speech goes, this one wasn’t exceptionally outlandish, although I suppose this may be because we’ve been desensitised to the whole “build a wall” thing at this point – a terrifying realisation, considering the crudeness of this solution to America’s immigration problems. Somewhere between the part when he explained the wall would have “above and below-ground sensors” (does he just make this shit up?) and when he alleged that “illegal immigrants are being treated better than our vets”, the small – but overwhelmingly enthusiastic – woman standing in front of me turned around to glance at me for the third time. I made eye contact.
“Do you support Trump?” she asked, her faintly bloodshot eyes staring into my soul.
“Uh, I’m not even an American,” I responded coolly, making it clear I’d like to leave the conversation at that.
“Where are you from?”
“Why are you here then?” she asked.
“Why are you in our country?”
Incredulous, I told her I’m studying. She asked where and I told her.
She turned back around to face the front. Several more minutes of cheering and booing later, to my dismay, she turned back to look at me.
“You don’t look very happy,” she accused.
Yeah, surprisingly enough I wasn’t cheering and waving a banner like a goddamn lunatic – it was only a matter of time before someone noticed there was something clearly wrong with me.
“I’m not, really,” I replied, genuinely wondering if my next sentence was going to be a safe decision. “I can’t say I support Trump or anything he’s saying.”
“I can tell. Why did you come then? How long have you been in our country for?”
I explained to her I’d been in the States two weeks and that like I said, I was just curious.
“Yeah but if you’ve been here two weeks, then haven’t you already heard what he has to say?”
“Well no, I haven’t really been going to Trump rallies that much since I got here.”
“Yeah but haven’t you seen it on TV?”
I explained to her that I had, and that I don’t stand for a large part of what he has to say, but once again, like I said, I was curious. She then demanded to know who I vote for back home, even though she had no idea whatsoever about Australian politics. When I explained to her that it’s a bit more complex than just picking one of two presidential candidates back home and that I’m fairly disenchanted with both our major parties, she then asked me to explain which independents I like and what each of their policies are. When I told her I’d rather not discuss it with her, she called me “sad”.
She demanded to know why I get to learn about her country, but she doesn’t get to learn about mine. It was pretty tempting to ask her why she didn’t get on a fucking flight to Australia and attend a rally and find out, instead of demanding that a random stranger explain the political system of their home country whilst standing in the middle of a crowd of screaming people.
At this point I was getting fairly tired of the cult-like cheering and booing, the consistent abuse which was being hurled at the media (“FUCK YOU MEDIA, YOU SUCK MEDIA” etc.) and now, this accusational stranger. I saw a few people slipping out the back and people around me turned at them and screamed “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP” – there’s no word to describe it but barbaric. The atmosphere, the tone, the level of animalistic immaturity that was deemed appropriate and even encouraged; it was genuinely appalling. Never in my life have I felt like some human beings are a different species.
I’m not here to blast anyone with my opinion about American politics, of which I have a fairly insubstantial understanding. I’m here to say that no matter what you believe in and no matter who you support, the behavior of people in that room was unacceptable. It’s the sort of primal atmosphere where a new and different social norm is introduced, and a large majority of people appear to cave to this normative pressure, hell, embrace it. It’s the sort of atmosphere that breeds hate, ignorance and lies. It’s the sort of atmosphere I imagine lynch mobs bred from. Why was it acceptable for that man to have a Hillary head on a stick? Why was it appropriate for that woman to demand I explain why I didn’t “look happy” to be there? Shouldn’t anyone be welcome to come hear the speakers’ views, regardless of their current stance? Why was it okay for people to abuse others who chose to leave due to a difference of opinion? Why was it appropriate for that woman to interrogate me on my values because I clearly didn’t share hers?
Regardless of what a political candidate stands for, there should be no circumstance under which this sort of behavior can manifest, let alone be fostered. People were agreeing with anything and everything that anyone said – the atmosphere promoted it. One crowd member would yell a statement and another would cry out in agreement – statements that Trump himself has never said or endorsed. This is a slippery, slippery slope. Choosing a presidential candidate should lie in rational thought, assessment and decision-making – not a religious, fan-like devotion to the candidate’s persona and his dramatic, unsubstantiated declarations.
At the end of the rally, I spoke to a man who believed an assortment of misapprehensions and delusions. He believed Hillary was planning to implement sharia law in the US. He believed that she would be “filling her cabinet with radical Muslims”. He believed that Trump was a “standup person” with “integrity” because he had a friend of a friend who worked for him for eight years who said he was really nice. He believed that Trump had made legitimate progress with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in their talk earlier that day.
Trump never even disclosed what he and Peña Nieto spoke about during his speech – although he admitted in a press conference after the rally that he never even broached the topic of Mexico paying for the wall. Peña Nieto also tweeted that he made it clear to Trump that Mexico would not be paying for the wall. Yet, I’m certain there are people who went home from that rally believing that if they vote for Trump, Mexico will pay to build a wall.
A wall with above and below-ground sensors.