(The following was originally published on February 10th, 2016, and has been slightly edited for grammar and structure)
Back during the last election cycle, the great year of 2012 when I was still with my ex and had some semblance of innocence, I told everyone I knew that I would not be voting because the two options for president were so unfathomably bad that neither deserved the time of day. I look back at this moment and laugh.
The news about the Trump rally finds me through Snapchat; a friend has posted a story about him coming to town. My first instinct is to just stay home. I’ve already skipped my only class for the day and a free burrito voucher from Chipotle failed to get me out of the house, so to leave now for a Trump rally would be doing a grave disservice to Chipotle. Though I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, in the same sense that an atheist is curious about going to one of those cult-like revival masses where they swoon millennials with acoustic versions of traditional Bible hymns.
My first stop is at the Kangaroo for cigarettes and a Four Loko, followed by a quick detour to McDonald’s for a large Coke that I pour out in the parking lot and refill with malt liquor. My rationale is straightforward: if for some reason I don’t make it out of the rally alive, I at least want my autopsy to show that I’d been drinking beforehand. To die sober at a Trump Rally is akin to a Spartan coming back without his shield. I need some kind of buffer, lest I be unmercifully judged by my peers at the funeral.
Though billed as “Trump Comes to Clemson,” the event is actually in Pendleton, at the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena, a fitting gathering for Trump supporters if there ever was one. The cops have barricaded all but the main entrance, and the line for parking stretches for well over a mile and back out onto Highway 76. At a glance, it would appear that in the glorious Upstate of South Carolina, Mr. Trump has quite the pull.
The entrance road to the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena is littered with Trump supporters (or profiteers) peddling various Trump goods. A black man in a surplus jacket approaches my car and asks if I want to buy a Trump T-shirt, and I promptly brush him off. “Come on man,” he says, “Can I at least get some council?”
“What does that even mean?” I ask him.
“It means can I get a cigarette?”
“Yeah dog, I got you.”
Another man approaches my car with a handful of those signature “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hats, and even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, the temptation is too great. $20 bucks later I am the proud owner of a hat that I will never again wear in my life. As my car inches forward in the line it occurs to me that I just donated money to the Trump campaign, but I justify the purchase by telling myself that I need to look the part if I’m actually going to attend a rally. Also, I have not eaten all day and the Four Loko I’ve been draining out of the McDonald’s cup is starting to take its toll.
I roll into the grass outside of the arena and wait in the car for a bit while I smoke one last cigarette. Some Clemson students pull in behind me and hop out of their Explorer to start shotgunning beers, an act that fills me with hope until one of them retrieves a large “TRUMP 2016” poster and starts waving it around like a madman. Clemson might have pockets of progressive holdouts, but at the end of the day this is still an agricultural school in the dead heat of the Bible Belt.
One of the positives about living here is that South Carolina is not a swing state. During the last cycle I was living in North Carolina, where the electoral votes were up for grabs. I had been leaning towards ol’ Mitt during that election [Author’s note: Whoops!], and though he eventually took the state I still felt some distant inkling that I had abandoned my American duty by not voting. I stood by my guns though. “Obama and Romney are both shit,” I boldly declared to all my friends [Author’s note: Libertarianism was much more fashionable in 2012]. “Instead of voting I am going to stay home and watch porn and play video games.” Coincidentally, that is also what I was doing before I found out that Trump was having a rally in my town.
I get inside the arena with 20 minutes to spare before the Donald is set to make his appearance. Hardly the sort of setting for a political rally, the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena looks more like the sort of venue for a rodeo or a monster truck jam. The ground floor is dirt and there is no central heating in the building, the latter being especially problematic given the below freezing temperatures outside. There are two large John Deere tractors propped up behind the VIP seating and a massive American flag adorns the foreground of the stage were Trump is set to speak. Perhaps most striking, however, is that the arena seating never manages to fill up even with less than five minutes left until the show starts.
The music is also particularly strange. Upon arrival, some long-winded opera version of the Star-Spangled Banner greets me. When that finishes, the speakers switch to “Hey Jude,” which almost has a sort of defeatist tone to it, as if Trump wishes to let his supporters know that everything will be okay even though the nomination is slipping further and further out of his reach. The selection of the quintessentially British Beatles as a music choice is also surprising in and of itself. I would have expected Trump to play something more American.
The next two songs are Tiny Dancer and Rocket Man by Elton John. Again, the music choice is surprising, as I would think that Trump would lean towards an artist less outwardly homosexual than Elton John, but the crowd seems to love it. Even the most fervent conservatives must admit that sinners make the best music.
The crowd is virtually 100% white, so no surprises there. Down in the front row of the VIP section, a man with a golden sombrero is dancing in front of the stage. A few Trump Loyalists move to apprehend him, at which point he rips open his jacket to reveal a bold “TRUMP 2016” shirt, much to the crowds delight. There is a strange lack of chatter in here; most of the people in the stands are glued to their phones, desperate to catch the Donald as he makes his grand entrance on the stage. A mean wearing a San Diego Chargers jacket sits a few rows in front of me, and I wonder if he was as upset about the NFL fixing the Super Bowl for the Broncos as I was.
Back down at the front row of the VIP section, a very excited Trump Mom has paraded her little 5-year-old kid out to the stage for photo ops. The kid has on a blue Under Armour sweatshirt and the same red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat that I just bought. The kid has no idea what the office of the presidency entails, let alone any insight into issues like abortion, healthcare, guns, the Middle East, and free trade. What he does know, however, is that Trump is the man for the job.
Trump is late. The rally was supposed to start at 7PM and it is already 7:04. Some people are singing the Clemson fight song, others are chanting “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP!” A group of girls with ashes still on their foreheads walk past me. Someone in the VIP pit holds up a sign of Trump with a Clemson hat photoshopped on his head and the crowd erupts. More chanting. The man next to me is talking about the head of the “CIA in South Carolina” being in attendance. “That’s how you know Trump is for real,” he tells his buddy.
The Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, takes the stage and the crowd goes wild. “THESE ARE DANGEROUS TIMES!” he bellows into the mic. “WE ARE THREATENED BY TERRORISM, BY A LACK OF JOBS, BY IMMIGRANTS AND CHINA.” The crowd loves it. “WE NEED A LEADER WITH A CLEAR VISION FOR AMERICA, A LEADER WE CAN TRUST, A LEADER OUR ENEMIES WILL FEAR.” The crowd is spiraling out of control. “A LEADER WHO WILL BRING BACK THE AMERICAN DREAM!” The crowd is at critical mass. “AND NOW FOR A MAN WHO NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION…”
“Revolution” by the Beatles starts playing. Personally, I would have gone with something by Rage Against the Machine. Trump is on the stage.
“IT’S COLD!” he says. “THIS PLACE IS PITIFUL!” The crowd loves it. For what it’s worth, the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena is actually pitiful; dirty, frigid, with the faint smell of manure wafting through the stands.
“MAN, I LOVED WATCHING CLEMSON PLAY IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. AT LEAST IT WAS A GOOD GAME. WAY BETTER THAN THE SUPER BOWL.” I now agree with the Donald on three things.
He immediately starts rumbling about his big win in New Hampshire. “THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF LOSING,” he says. “THEY ARE TIRED OF STUPIDITY. THEY ARE TIRED OF INCOMPETENCE.” The man on my right starts crying. Trump continues, dropping a line about how the media likes to paint him and his supporters as angry. “WE AREN’T ANGRY THOUGH,” he declares. “BUT WE ARE ANGRY AT WASHINGTON, AT THE POLITICIANS AND THE MEDIA.” So, they are angry. I think but I’m not sure.
A hot girl wearing a DZ shirt in front of me keeps cheering and clapping. I wish I had a trust fund.
“POLITICIANS WILL SAY ANYTHING FOR A VOTE!” The crowd can’t get enough. I’d say it was like watching a Nazi rally on Nat Geo, by the reality is that it’s the same for anyone running for president. History is littered with good public speakers. Hitler and Jesus both shared the gift of gab.
Trump is on a roll. Iowa was great. Christie and Fiorina both dropped out today because “SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE DON’T RUN FOR OFFICE,” unless that person is Trump apparently. His main target though is Jeb. “I CAN’T BE BOUGHT LIKE JEB,” he boasts. “NO MORE BUSH PRESIDENTS!” The crowd agrees. Granted, Jeb is all but finished and hardly relevant at this point, but I’m not sure the average South Carolina voter realizes there are other Republican candidates.
“I’M SELF FUNDED. I DON’T NEED A PAC! I’M NOT PART OF THE POLITICAL MACHINE!” If there is one refreshing thing about Trump, he just nailed it. His lack of corporate donors makes him, along with Sanders, the true candidates of the people. Granted him and Sanders both represent the extreme ends of the American political spectrum, but maybe that is what people look for at this point?
“I MAKE MONEY. I LOVE MONEY. I’M GREEDY, BUT NOW I WANT TO BE GREEDY FOR THE UNITED STATES!” His writers are truly celestial beings. Their savior has arrived. Again, not so different from the rhetoric of his antithesis Sanders. Cut from the same mold these two are, the natural conclusion for millions of disillusioned Americans who have been convinced by their television sets that the government is the root of all their woes.
Goldman Sachs put out a report last week that we might need to evaluate the function of capitalism as bear market corporate margins continue to shit all over 200 years of economic theory that claim they should be doing the opposite. Years of quantitative easing have flushed the banks with cash that they are unable to use because of regulations imposed after the subprime crisis. The result has been a status-quo economy incapable of growth unless that growth is on the income statement of the corporations who survived 2008. Now we have Trump and Sanders. Go figure.
“CHINA IS DRAINING US! JAPAN, VIETNAM, ASIA IS KILLING US. AMERICA IS TURNING INTO A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY!” Fear is your, fear is your, fear is your only God.
“MEXICO IS KILLING US!” This is what I came for, waiting like a kid for his parents to wake up on Christmas morning. “WE NEED TO BUILD A WALL!” The crowd is delirious with joy. Trump recounts a story about how the Mexican president declared they would never build a wall for him, and they certainly wouldn’t be paying for it. “WELL I HEARD THAT AND I SAID THAT WALL JUST GOT 10 FEET HIGHER!” The crowd is in a full-on frenzy now, like a school of sharks closing in on a dying whale. Blood is in the water, and they can smell it.
The genius of the Trump campaign is rooted in its simplicity. His talking points are so basic, so watered down that even a five-year old would find themselves overwhelmed to the point of voting. Americans have a morbid addiction to the threat of death, be it from terrorism or drugs, police brutality or an awkward white kid with a gun. Americans love to be told that their lives are constantly in danger, that someone or something is out to get them, to knock them off the top spot. I can only assume this line of thinking exists because it lends twisted credence to the idea of American Exceptionalism. Trump knows this all too well, and he is here to protect you.
According to Trump, we need a wall because of the “DANGER COMING ACROSS… ENOUGH CRIMINAL ILLEGAL ALIENS TO FILL YANKEE STADIUM 4 TIMES.” I’m reminded of a Lindsay Graham commercial from a few years ago: “There are people out there that hate America. There are people out there that want to kill you. They want to kill you and they want to kill your family.” Fear is your, fear is your, fear is your only God.
Trump says he was against Iraq, but that Iran is the real problem anyway. AIPAC doesn’t discriminate I guess. “JEB BUSH WANTED TO GO TO IRAQ,” he says, which is weird because Jeb Bush definitely wasn’t in a position to vote on the war back when that was a thing. Asia has better airports. Jeb Bush is weak. Trump loves vets. Trump is more militaristic than anyone else in the room. The crowd likes that. The crowd really likes that. Trump wants to rebuild the military, though he doesn’t explain what that entails, exactly.
Though the rally has all the makings of a traditional cult meeting, one should take note of the subtle yet important difference between politics and religion, or rather politicians and preachers. The politician promises to keep you safe here on Earth. The preacher promises to keep you safe if the politician fails.
One of my friends keeps harping on me for being “too shallow,” but in the same breath she says I need to get on Tinder and start exploring my options. Of course, Tinder is the social media equivalent of window shopping for sex, the romantic endgame for a species who has decided that our collective social anxiety has made traditional courtship too difficult. If we go extinct within the next hundred years, I expect alien archaeologists to reach the conclusion that it was a combination of Donald Trump and Tinder that finished us off.
Trump is rambling again. “THE UNITED STATES DOESN’T WIN ANYMORE. PFIZER IS GOING TO IRELAND BECAUSE TAXES HERE ARE TOO HIGH. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST TAXES IN THE WORLD.” He starts talking about Brad. Brad is apparently a South Carolina businessman who hasn’t moved his company overseas because he loves America. Brad stands up and the crowd gives him a standing ovation, even though nobody knows what exactly Brad does or anything else about him for that matter.
Jeb is something called a “SHEBBLER. BUSH IS A SHEBBLER.” I am not sure what that means. I am also not sure why Trump keeps attacking Jeb. He has yet to mention Ted Cruz or Rubio a single time tonight. Maybe the Trump campaign knows something we don’t. Maybe Jeb isn’t as dead as all the Facebook memes suggest.
“JEB SPENT BILLIONS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE TO COME IN FOURTH, FIFTH… I DON’T EVEN KNOW. I SPENT LIKE $3 MILLION AND I WON ANYWAY. JEB SUCKS, HE IS A BIG NERD AND A LOSER AND HE NEVER GET LAID. JEB BUSH IS A VIRGIN LOSER.” Etc. I embellished a little there but you get the idea. Trump is very clearly pissing his pants at the thought of a last-minute Jeb Bush surge here in SC.
“PUTIN LIKES ME. PUTIN SAID I’M THE BEST OUT OF THE GROUP.” Here is an angle I was not expecting. “WITH ME, WE COULD BE FRIENDS WITH RUSSIA.” The crowd is not so enthusiastic about this one. If there is one thing they agree with Obama on, it’s that Russia is the Eternal Enemy. Side note, remember when Obama mocked Romney for claiming that Russia was our greatest geopolitical threat? Those were the days. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama, but if I knew him personally I’d give his as much shit for that as I do my friend who claimed the Bengals were gonna get to the Super Bowl.
Speaking of, now that the offseason is in full swing I have nothing to fixate on but my ex. Well, her and politics. You have to think the NFL was dying for Peyton to win; the story is just too good, Peyton going out the same way Elway did with the Broncos almost 20 years ago. Between the constant domestic abuse scandals, concussion drama, and general cloudiness regarding the long-term future of football, they needed a feel-good story to finish out the season. It also came with the added bonus of Goodell getting to revel in the fact that Brady was denied another ring by his greatest rival. Cam never stood a chance.
That is a scary thought. I’d rather believe that 9/11 was an inside job than that the NFL fixes games. Who gives a shit if Bush knocked down the towers in order to catalyze some sort of endless for-profit Middle East conflict that laid the groundwork for an Orwellian surveillance network imposed on the American people? But football, if football isn’t real then we have serious problems.
“DRUGS ARE COMING FROM MEXICO! WE NEED A WALL!” Trump is a builder and the crowd loves it. Personally, I find the lack of free-trade cocaine to be problematic. Building a wall would only further drive up cocaine prices, which in turn would increase demand and price for its closest substitute, Diet Coke AKA Adderall. And they said studying economics was useless. Finance majors can go to hell.
“BIG BEAUTIFUL WALLS. I WILL FIX THIS BROKEN COUNTRY. I WILL END POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. I WILL BRING BACK ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ TO DEPARTMENT STORES!” This elicits his biggest response yet. The crowd really loves Christmas, and I guess department stores. A few rows down someone shouts, “MERRY CHRISTMAS DONALD!”
Now he’s on to the Democratic opposition. “HILLARY!” he hisses into the mic and the crowd erupts with boos. “AND HOW ABOUT THAT WACKY SOCIALIST GUY WHO WANTS TO GIVE THE COUNTRY AWAY?” More boos. “95% TAXES EVERYONE!” Even more boos. These two are an afterthought though because it’s right back to poor Jeb, who apparently is Trump’s arch nemesis. “JEB LOVES COMMON CORE! JEB LOVES WEAK BORDERS!” Still no mention of Rubio or Cruz. Maybe that is the ticket right there? Rubio/Cruz 2016, and Trump is just laying the groundwork.
Something about Obamacare. I’m losing interest fast. Trump is going to repeal it, but it doesn’t matter because by his calculations Obamacare is going to fail in 2017 anyway. Healthcare will be cheaper under him, though no mention of how. Make America Great Again. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I’m still wearing the hat.
He’s back on China. Trump says that little Chinese children are trained at a young age to do anti-American things and all I can think of is that clueless little kid in the blue Under Armour sweater and the Trump hat taking photos with people before the rally started. Iranian sailors. More cheering. It’s all blurring together at this point. Trump says his supporters are the smartest and unsurprisingly the crowd loves it. The atmosphere is electric, pulsating, savage.
Trump is going to make us proud to be American again. The crowd cheers and it’s time for questions. “I HATE QUESTIONS!” says Trump. “BUT I LIKE YOU GUYS AND I KNOW YOU WON’T ASK DUMB QUESTIONS SO I’LL TAKE A FEW.” He is really greasing the wheels here. No one has ever said this many nice things about me in such a short time span.
I debate jumping down into the VIP area to ask Trump a question but he quickly declares that he will only be taking questions from people who brought a copy of ‘The Art of the Deal’ with them. A dozen people in the VIP area immediately hold up copies of the book, and my initial thought is “What a clever way to only take questions from your plants.”
The first contestant simply asks the Donald to sign his copy of the book, a request which Trump happily obliges. The second contestant asks Trump how he will beat Hillary when he has to earn his votes, unlike Clinton, who simply buys hers. “I ALREADY HAVE!” he roars. “SHE WON’T EVEN GET THE NOMINATION!” The third contestant, who is apparently a war veteran (Trump loves war veterans), asks him what his plans are for Medicare. “WELL I SEE A LOT OF GRAY HAIR OUT HERE!” laughs Trump. “DON’T WORRY, MEDICARE WORKS AND I’M GOING TO MAKE IT BETTER THAN EVER!” Rule number one, play to your constituents. He can’t take any more questions though, and after one final Trump chant and a declaration of love for South Carolina he disappears off the stage, presumably onto Greenville where he might actually fill a stadium.
I stop at the bathroom on the way out and the dude peeing next to me spits a load of dip into the urinal before muttering about how “[Trump] sure showed all those fucking stupid people.” I shrug and light up a cigarette.
As I make my way back out towards my lime-green Ford Fiesta, I can’t help but feel like I just stepped out of some kind of alternate reality, a draconian vision of the future. The odds-makers at Five-Thirty-Eight have Trump at virtually impossible chances, and though he enjoys a slim lead in the polls, it seems unlikely that his strategy of constant vitriol is sustainable over the long-run. But even if with his seemingly inevitable demise this cycle, I can’t shake the sensation that we haven’t seen the last of his firebrand style, whether it reappears in a third Trump campaign or via one of his acolytes. It is not a pleasant sensation, more of a latent fear, the realization that the neoliberal vision of a globalized world might not be compatible with huge swaths of the population huddled beneath the corporate umbrella. If politicians like Trump are the answer, we could be in trouble.
Happy thoughts as I start up the car, sobered up by whatever it was I just witnessed. At least there’s no way he wins. [Author’s note: FUCK]