“The guys with the biggest mouths are always the most fragile.”
–Donald Trump, at a rally in New Orleans, March 4th 2016
Leaving the airplane hangar, thousands of Trump 2016 signs sandwiched under the arms of red, white, and blue t-shirts and American flag windbreakers, I find myself unlucky enough to be walking behind a trio of white, middle-aged men back to the distant parking lot.
Tonight, Mr. Trump, the Republican Party’s likely, if not desirable, candidate for president, reminded us that he “paid for this event myself.” This meant that he could essentially say or do whatever he wanted, at one time even uttering the phrase “Abraham Lincoln was a serious fucking president—and George Washington was pretty good too.”
This meant that he could make as little sense as he wanted for as long as he could maintain supporters’ interest, moving slickly from a pronouncement of his latest poll numbers (49%!), to how he would never have negotiated for the release of hostages (though at the previous night’s FOX News-mediated debate, he claimed that negotiation was a necessary part of business, and by implication, politics.), to what a loser Mitt Romney was and continues to be, to how it must be a “record” that he’s been on the cover of TIME four times in the past three months (fact checkers, anyone?) to how he will, somehow, inexplicably, make America great again.
“Get the protestors out!” was his rallying cry. Which would be disturbing enough coming from the mouth of someone running for president of the democratic republic of the United States, where we purportedly believe in the right to assemble and verbally express whatever we wish, even if the night hadn’t devolved further, when Black Lives Matter activists spoke up, and this is how his supporters responded:
“All lives matter!”
“Don’t you get it? Racial supremacy doesn’t work!”
“He’s such a good businessman.”
A trio of white boys. Not the men who I was so unlucky to walk behind at the end of the rally, but another set of juveniles whose particular marker of youth barred them from entering a polling place. Under most circumstances, the ability to rally young people to participate in the democratic process is laudable. But here…
An attractive, college-aged couple, the girl white and the boy black, settled behind me in the crowd. The girl tapped me on the shoulder, cupping her hands around my ear. “I saw the look on your face and knew you were on our side.”
Around us, people screamed “Who dat! Who dat say dey gonna beat dat Trump?,” a bastardization of a local chant normally sung at Saints games. I reached out and touched the boy’s shoulder.
Into the cup around my ear, the girl continued, “On the back of my shirt it says ‘Make Donald Drumpf Again,’ and I was going to take off my jacket. But when I saw how they treated the protesters…” and then trailed off, shaking her head.
In Trump’s universe, there are only winners and losers. Mitt is a loser. Little Marco is a loser. Lyin’ Ted is a loser. Obama is a loser. Hillary is a loser. But he’s a winner, and he let us know, over and over again.
“I’ve been on the cover of TIME four times in three months—that’s gotta be some kind of record!”
Earlier in the night, I noticed a man wearing a Creed t-shirt standing outside the hangar. I tried to discern for irony before realizing that I had met his friend Rob at a neighborhood bar a few months ago. It was okay. They were here for the same reason. We were on the same side.
Now, Rob and I found one another’s eyes across the room. Rob is black, like the boy behind me.
A few days before the rally, I had asked my friend Priya if she wanted to come with me. She declined. “It’s not a safe place.”
I am white enough and could therefore attend the rally without experiencing Priya’s particular type of fear, the fear of the young man behind me, the fear of my friend across the room, looking at me and biting his lip. What would happen if they discovered him? If they knew that his Vote Republican t-shirt was just a disguise? But he couldn’t hide his blackness, and therefore I was safer, in this hangar where black and white is how the world was viewed. Trump’s universe is one of winners and losers. If you aren’t a winner, god help you.
Walking back to the car, I fell in line behind the three middle-aged white men. As it turns out, these were the men who confronted the Black Lives Matter protesters, who yelled in their young faces.
“She’s been indoctrinated. Martin Luther King is not this great person. You know that dude was a communist.”
“He was a womanizer.”
“Judge a person by their character, not by the color of their skin. You know what they want to say? Not ‘All Lives Matter’ but ‘One Race Matters.’”
“Blacks kill more blacks, so how can anybody take the message of Black Lives Matters seriously when they don’t care about their own lives?”
“You’re preaching to the choir there.”
These men could say whatever they wanted. Here, they were safe.
Watch footage from the rally below: