On Friday, Donald Trump brought his political road show to the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion in Chicago. The Trumpeteers were enthusiastic and ready. The cult leader was scheduled to appear and offer them blessings. The Trumpeteers waited for hours in line. They would soon be disappointed, saddened, angry and in shock. Trump would lie and say that the police advised him to cancel his rally. The facts seem to suggest otherwise. In reality, “Black Lives Matter!” “Si Se Puede!” “Feel the Bern” and thousands of other people said “No!” to Donald Trump.
Trumpmania would not be allowed to run wild in Chicago. Trump and his zealots would be denied a premature victory lap in President Barack Obama’s adopted hometown.
* * *
I have written many essays on Donald Trump. However, I have never had an opportunity to attend one of his rallies. Friday’s Chicago event was an opportunity to experience what I have described as “Trumpmania” in person.
I waited for several hours in a long, yet orderly line, with thousands of other people who for reasons of curiosity, support or protest wanted to attend Donald Trump’s Chicago rally. It was a political circus. The crowd was more akin to that of a sporting event. The signs and costumes were the only tell that this was a political rally; the American flags and mindless chanting of “USA” would likely be common at both types of events.
The narration for my political rubbernecking was provided by a group of men from the Chicago suburbs or Indiana. They read the signs aloud of the Trump protesters, Bernie Sanders supporters, and the occasional member of the Communist Party. One, the loudest and most vocal of the brood, would make comments about lazy people on welfare, why America needs a wall, and crude jokes about a lesbian who walked by costumed as Donald Trump. “Black Lives Matter” signs were met with comments such as, “Why don’t white lives matter too?”
The narrator did this while he chewed tobacco and spat it near my boots in an act of crude alpha male behavior. The wad-chewing Trumpeteer was also a militant nationalist. He argued with a fellow veteran who supported Bernie Sanders and waved an American flag in protest of Donald Trump. Apparently, the American flag is the exclusive property of Trump supporters and other conservative-authoritarians.
Capitalism crosses the color line. I smiled at the 20-something black men who were selling T-shirts that somehow connected Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Donald Trump and fellatio. I took a picture of the African immigrant who spoke with a Nigerian accent while he sold “Donald Trump ‘16” T-shirts to white Trump supporters. I wondered if he appreciated the irony of making some money off of a political candidate and a public that likely has no use for people like him. There were also some sad and tired-looking white folks selling Donald Trump pins, hats and other regalia. A Trumpeteer asked the worn-down (albeit proud and dignified) man if Trump received a percentage of the sales. I could not hear the response. His body language suggested that the answer was “no.”
There were likely many more protesters outside of the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion than inside.
After two hours in line, I navigated the heavy security, the pat-down by the heavily armed secret service agent, and close scrutiny of my wallet and other property.
There was tension in the air. A political car accident was going to occur; the rumble would soon be on. The only questions remaining were, “Between who?” and “When?”
The Trump supporters, who could be featured as pictures in an encyclopedia entry under “white working class,” were concentrated near the front of the podium. The late-arriving Trumpeteers looked uncomfortable as they sat scattered among black and brown students wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts, holding protest signs, and carrying pro-immigrant and anti-racism flags toward the back of the arena and near the exits.
So it began. Accompanied by a soundtrack pumped into the UIC Pavilion that consisted of the theme song from the recent movie "Joy," Italian opera and Elton John, anti-Trump protesters would stand up. The Trumpeteers would heckle and boo them with chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump!” and “USA! USA!” The police would surround the protesters and escort them out. From Trump’s mosh pit near the stage, to the cheap seats in the rear of the pavilion, young men and women made their grievances known. The police would swarm. The Trumpeteers would boo and cheer. The protesters would counter with, “Let them stay!”
Some of the Trumpeteers were bold. They moved in a group, leaving their “safe space” near the front of the floor, and went to confront the anti-Trump protesters near the rear of the venue. The police intervened again. There was pushing, grabbing and shoving. The event had not yet begun. Cheers would erupt to greet the imminent arrival of Il Duce Trump. The cheers would rise and then quickly dissipate in disappointment.
One of Trump’s spokesmen approached the podium. He announced that Donald Trump had canceled the event because of “security concerns.” The Trump protesters, black, brown and white, began to crowd the floor. They took a victory lap. They chanted, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie”; “Black lives matter!”; and “Si se puede!” The Trumpeteers were shocked. Their hero and champion would not appear to save them. They were left to fend for themselves. The Trumpeteers would have to walk through a gauntlet of people who believe that Donald Trump is a racist, bigot and xenophobe. The Trumpeteers were angry and embarrassed. There were scuffles. A very agitated and arrogant-looking white college-age student grabbed at and pushed a young black woman who was standing near me. Her friends intervened. A scuffle took place. The police began to force people out. There were other moments of roughhousing throughout the UIC Pavilion as the defeated met the victorious.
As I watched the mayhem, I was treated to a verbal epilogue from the Trump supporters sitting behind me. They were pissed and angry. Frustrated whiteness is scary; frustrated and likely a bit drunk whiteness and conservative-authoritarianism is even more so. These three young men grumbled about how the Trump protesters were “animals,” “undesirables,” and didn’t know that “the government is soon going to control all of them if they don’t vote for Trump.” The trio uttered some other vitriol and curses toward the people who were protesting the bigot Donald Trump before they skulked away.
I looked at the group of Trump supporters seated in front of me--a father with his daughter and two sons. The daughter, a child of 7 or 8, looked dejected. Donald Trump, he who is a political Santa Claus for the American right wing, was skipping her house this year. The sons, a young teenager and his even younger brother (the latter wore a U.S. Navy Seabees hat and a "Star Wars" jacket that was patterned with Chewbacca’s fur and bandolier), also looked disappointed. The father was unhappy too. He had spent all that gas money for nothing.
There were fights and protests outside of the UIC Pavilion. To their credit, the Chicago police showed remarkable restraint and professionalism. A large white Trump supporter who looked as if he had once been in the military before his muscle started to turn to flab defiantly held up a Trump sign. He was then surrounded by several dozen blacks and Latinos. Inches apart they exchanged words. A fight began. The Trump supporter would lose his hat. The protesters held it as a trophy. Protected by the police, the Trumpeteer unfurled a black-and-white version of the American flag. This was his statement of mourning for an America he feels is lost.
In every crowd of Republicans there is almost always a black person who is auditioning for a role as “best black friend” and human chaff for the GOP. These professional contrarians are desperate for their five minutes of fame on Fox News; they yearn to be a 21st century version of Stephen in the movie "Django Unchained," for it is very lucrative work if one can get it.
I saw several black conservatives at Trump’s event. One sat near me and cheered wildly at any mention of Il Duce Trump’s name. He seemed very pleased when the Black Lives Matter and other protesters were escorted out by the police. There was a young professional black conservative in training who led one of the most spirited moments of near fisticuffs inside the UIC Pavilion. He was the black chieftain for a group of white college-age Trumpeteers who tried to pick a fight with a group of anti-Trump protesters. The third black conservative was the most enthusiastic and dangerous one. He was outside of the UIC Pavilion. A former Marine, he chased away two high-school-age Black Lives Matter protesters and threatened to teach them a lesson via the thrashing he promised they would receive for being “disrespectful.”
I asked him about what had just transpired. I was also curious as to why he supported Donald Trump.
This well-trained black conservative responded with disinformation talking points from Fox News about a military that is weaker than it was before World War II, how Democrat-controlled cities are horrible and full of death, that Black Lives Matter does not care about “black on black crime,” young people are out of control, and no one respects the police anymore.
It was all just standard 1960s-era hippie-punching.
This black conservative ended with a well-practiced speech on racism, color blindness, and how just being an “American” will cure all the racial “divisions” in the country. He is ready for his Fox News prime-time slot as the go-to black conservative of the day.
I felt bad for his beautiful and kind service dog, a female pitbull, whom he subjected to this chaos. Her tail was tucked between her legs. She was sad and scared.
* * *
In a fitting metaphor for a Republican Party that is facing political and demographic suicide, a multilevel parking garage was the Alamo for Donald Trump’s supporters. From this redoubt, they spat at, threw objects at, and heckled the mostly young, black and brown, left-leaning college students below. The audience responded with a spirited to and fro. The Trumpeteers were trapped and outnumbered. They also could not leave because the anti-Trump protesters were waiting for them at the exits. Surrounded, the Trumpeteers waved their signs, took photos of the crowd, and hid behind police protection.
The Chicago police eventually grew tired of this game. Like in the classic video game "Elevator Action," they ran up and down the various levels of the parking garage looking for Trump’s provocateurs. Small groups of Trump supporters were herded away. The cycle would repeat. After a several-hour standoff, the remaining Trumpeteers managed to drive through the crowd as the police established a corridor for egress. There were faces in the windows of the cars. Almost all of the faces were white, some young, but mostly older. They looked dumbstruck and sad. As they drove away—likely back to the Chicago suburbs or to Indiana—I imagine it never occurred to them (until that day) how Trump’s hateful and bilious language could actually have consequences, and they would be caught in the epicenter of it while their glorious leader was ensconced in luxury somewhere else.
At Friday’s rally in Chicago, the members of the “silent majority” that Trump speaks for were made, at least for a few hours, to realize that other Americans actually have a voice too. Of course, this moment will only encourage their right-wing politics of racial resentment, hatred, nativism and revanchism. The Trumpeteers now have a story to tell of black and brown savagery in the evil “Democratically controlled” Chicago. This distorted version of events will resonate throughout the Fox News right-wing disinformation machine. Those Trumpeteers at his planned Chicago rally will spin tales of being imperiled by “Mau Maus” and “Commies.” In reality, they were never in any real danger. And like Trump’s other events, the fights and scuffles that did take place were mostly instigated by his supporters.
Donald Trump is a wily showman carnival barker student of professional wrestling. As such, he understands that in politics, optics often matter more than substance. Given his support from open and unrepentant white supremacists, I thought it useful to go to several of their websites before attending Trump’s Chicago rally. There, the white supremacists are advancing a theory that Donald Trump was holding rallies in cities like Chicago and St. Louis with the hope that there would be violence and protests. Why? By their logic, images of “out of control” and “criminal” blacks and Hispanics would make “white Americans” who were “on the fence” regarding “the race issue” finally “wake up” and vote for Donald Trump.
Il Duce Trump, the reality TV show star, and proto fascist, is a master of the staged event. Trumpmania may have been derailed on Friday in Chicago. But Trump may very well be able to flip such a moment to his advantage as he uses it to gin up even more fear among his white, authoritarian, right-wing public.
Hippie-punching, racism and “law and order” rhetoric are never out of style in the modern Republican Party.