Technically I am on Spring Break, which is why I am sitting in the rundown parking lot of one Carolina Roofing and Remodeling, smoking cigarettes and chugging a foul concoction of lemon-lime Gatorade mixed with Gentleman Jack. My car speakers pulse with violent energy as I try to mentally prepare myself for the Lovecraftian horror of the next three or so hours. After four long years, I have returned to a Trump rally.
Dark grey clouds loom over the horizon as dozens of pushy entrepreneurs drag shopping carts loaded with Trump-branded flags and t-shirts up and down adjacent streets. Cars rumble past with “Blue Lives Matter” bumper stickers and huge Marine Corps decals. A bearded man staggers along the sidewalk with a giant cardboard sign that screams “EPSTEIN DIDN’T KILL HIMSELF.” Among the rest of the pedestrian traffic, there is an abundance of cargo shorts and mud-stained jeans.
I have a long walk ahead of me – almost a mile to the Bojangles Coliseum, where the rally is taking place. All of the surrounding parking lots are overflowing, with cars and trucks parked awkwardly into whatever corner or cranny they could fit into. There are police everywhere, but they appear largely disinterested in the overly-enthusiastic crowds swarming the area.
Lowly times, these are. Why is Trump even here? Ask Again Later… I guess Charlotte is as good a place to be as any on this darkest of nights, the eve of Super Tuesday. His presence only adds to the palpable dread lingering in the air.
Elsewhere, Zombie Joe Biden rises from the dead, granted second life by unholy magicks. First it was Buttigieg, then Klobuchar, and now word is that Beto fucking O’Rourke has come out of exile to endorse the old bastard. In doing so, the odds for tomorrow have dramatically shifted; Biden, long assumed dead, may very well now split even with Sanders. As far as political power moves go, the DNC has just made a flex for the record books.
Fools. Adept practitioners of the Dark Arts know better than to meddle so recklessly in matters of the Dead. In resurrecting Biden’s doomed campaign, the DNC hath upset the Natural Order of Things, and now a twofold debt must be paid to the Elder Gods in exchange for this blasphemous alteration. The murder of Bernie Sanders will only serve as collateral, and they will come to collect the final installment in November.
Sorry, I checked out for a moment. Forget about Trump, what the fuck am I doing here? Other than smoking a pack of Newports that an Uber driver gave me the other week. I was distraught; something about a girl. I’ve stopped keeping track.
Like Zombie Biden, they find ways to stay alive. Earlier today, while listening to my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify, I noticed a vaguely familiar name among the artists. A text message confirmed my suspicions – the musician was none other than the boyfriend of my most recent ex. His song was only okay, and I did not add it to any of my playlists.
What are the odds? Pretty good, apparently. The Lord works in Mysterious Ways.
Another gulp of my nasty drink. At least I’m making good time – Donnie isn’t set to take the stage for two more hours, and if history is any indication, he will be at least twenty minutes late.
I am rambling, and I blame it on this foul drink. I don’t even like alcohol anymore. I am a gym guy now, and going to this stupid rally has robbed me of a precious lifting day. Unfortunately, sober attendance was simply not an option. The last time I saw Trump live, a single Four Loko was enough to power me through with my sanity largely intact. That said, the stakes are significantly higher this time around, and I fear that the six or seven shots of bourbon in this Gatorade bottle will not be enough.
Those really were simpler times. Four years ago, the latent horror of a Trump rally was numbed by the comforting notion that there was no way this fucking lunatic would ever become President. Hillary was just too… electable.
What were the odds? Pretty good, apparently. The Lord hath abandoned us, assuming he ever really cared at all.
Fuck. I make a pitstop at a corner 7-11, where a large line has formed outside a single unisex bathroom. A cop is eating a hotdog, and a woman with a patriotic Christmas tree strapped to her head gestures wildly in front of me.
“We’re not gonna make it,” she cries, her red and white ornaments jiggling as she shakes her head. “People have been camped out there for days.”
“Just shows you how popular the man is,” says her husband, whose MAGA hat seems tame compared to his wife’s festive headgear. “What happened to the tickets?”
“First come, first serve,” says the wife.
Well, shit. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might not get inside. My only real concerns were sobering up, and the possibility of being outed and subsequently beaten to death by an angry mob. Crafty Republican bastards and their phony reserved seating – I should have known better than to trust them. Oh well, one thing at a time. There are certainly worse things than being denied entry to a Trump rally, like, I dunno, being at a Trump rally.
A few blocks further up, the white dome of the Bojangles Coliseum looms like a hostile alien mothership on a mission to vaporize the White House. An enormous crowd of red hats and American flags slowly filters through a winding queue out front, waiting to be frisked by a small army of SWAT commandos with body armor and machine guns. My odds of getting inside are plummeting like Bernie’s odds of winning NC tomorrow.
I shuffle into the line, feeling a bit depressed at this turn of events. There are at least a thousand people out here, maybe more, all anxious to get a glimpse of their hero. Apparently, Trump is popular in NC. Who knew?
The mob is spectacularly dressed. The American Flag is stitched onto everything: capes, bell-bottom jeans, pairs of Converse sneakers, overalls, Christmas sweaters, bandanas, and camo hats. Red is the dominant theme, and everyone has got a little blood on them. Well, everyone but me. My green work polo is practically radioactive. I might as well have walked up to the event with a huge sign that says “LIBTARD” next to an arrow pointing down at me.
I pass a guy wearing a t-shirt that says “Virginity Rocks!” One day I hope to have his level of confidence. A group of shirtless bros has some word painted on their chests, but I can only make out an “O” and an “A.” I jump the line in front of them, and a girl in their posse immediately chastises me for it.
“Bro,” she says.
I shrug, tell her that fortune favors the bold, then jump the line again to get away from her. Whatever, they are Republicans. They turn out in droves to vote for cheaters.
The issue is that I am not the only one utilizing the Mitch McConnell playbook – other people have started skipping too, and the crowd is growing visibly restless. Without warning, the queue dissolves entirely. Panic sets in – people are shoving, hopping over yellow tape and metal barricades, desperately trying to get to the front of the mob. There is only a single checkpoint still letting people through, and the flow has slowed to a trickle. I get close – maybe 50 or 100 people back – but alas, I am too late. The doors have shut, and the Donald is out of reach.
Defeated, I light a cigarette and ponder my next move. The smoke clears a small bubble around me, granting me invisible protection from the mob. Someone yells that we should build a wall. Maybe he is right.
I debate going home, but that would make for a shoddy story, huh? Instead, I decide to mingle with the crowd and watch the rally on the big Jumbotron they’ve got set up out front of the mothership. It’s not ideal, but then none of this is really ideal, is it? Plus, at least I can smoke outside. Not that I am really a smoker anymore, but certain occasions call for nicotine. Also, I am still not convinced that I am going to make it out of here alive. This might be my last stand. You got a cigarette?
There are a disturbing number of children in attendance, all of them decked out head-to-toe in Trump gear. Many of them look to be in middle school or even younger. I can’t imagine any of them have the slightest fucking clue what is going on, although given that their parents are Trump people, that might be hereditary. Still, I can’t imagine being dragged to a political rally at ten or twelve years old.
The only thing I knew about politics when I was that age was Al Gore demanding a recount and that Bill Clinton did not sleep with that woman. I was interested back then, but only because I had some innate sense that politics were something to make fun of. Any understanding I sought was not because I cared about political matters, but rather purely in the pursuit of crafting better jokes.
Such was my mentality for years. Obama, Romney, who cares? Clinton would be more of the same. Yawn, boring. Who knew we had it so good?
I was piss drunk when they called the election, and I cried when it happened. I don’t know why. I wasn’t really invested in the debacle. When the polling station in Clemson turned me away, I just shrugged. It didn’t matter anyway. Like everyone else, I just assumed Clinton was going to win, and any considerations of a Trump presidency were fleeting at best.
There was a brief moment, during a trip to L.A the weekend before the election, where I seriously considered the possibility. “Would it really be that shocking?” I asked my friend as our plane took off. “Just look at all the shit on the internet. There are more of these crazies out there than I think we realize.” Lowly times.
Why am I doing this? The clouds have cleared and a crescent moon is hanging overhead. “Eye of the Tiger” is blasting over the loudspeakers, and there is garbage all over the ground. I am definitely too sober for this. A man moves through the crowd, trying to sell a stack of Trump ski hats, but he is apprehended by a round fellow in a “RALLY VOLUNTEER” t-shirt and promptly eighty-sixed. Another man selling souvenir event passes is allowed to roam free.
“Only one dollar!” he shouts. “You can’t use them to get inside, but your friends and family won’t know that!”
Twenty minutes to go, and already the crowd is starting to thin. A few very smart people have brought lawn chairs and coolers full of beer. I have no cell reception, which is depressing. If you don’t send a Snapchat, were you really there?
It is cold. I must be out of my fucking mind, standing here smoking a goddamn Newport, loitering outside a max-capacity Trump rally being held inside a UFO. A woman in front of me has a “FUCK YOUR FEELINGS” button. Little does she know that I gave up feelings for Lent. “We are the Champions” is playing now, and a “FOUR MORE YEARS” chant starts briefly before sputtering into the darkness. Somebody is grilling on charcoal, and two dudes directly behind me are speaking in a foreign language.
I pause, trying to listen in. My heart tells me they are speaking Russian, but my brain dismisses the notion as too good to be true. That would be truly miraculous, and no one would ever believe me.
After several moments, I give up. “Hey… What language is that?”
“Guess,” laughs one of them, a darker skinned man in a tan leather jacket.
“I dunno, something Slavic?”
“Not even close,” says his much whiter friend.
“Turkish?” Not what I expected. “And you guys like Trump?”
“Yeah man,” says tan leather jacket. A pause. “Do you?”
“Not really.” Whatever, I’ve lived a good life.
“Then why are you here?”
I shrug, gesturing out towards the crowd. “For the experience, I guess.”
They both look at me funny, then immediately walk to the other side of the parking lot. Whatever, they are probably Erdogan people, so I don’t want to be friends with them anyway. We support the Kurds in this family.
Fuck, it is cold. Prolonged exposure is starting to wear me down, and I am not necessarily referring to the weather. This will be a true test of endurance. Christ, what am I doing? Running away from Super Tuesday, maybe. We had it in the bag – only a few more hours and victory would finally be ours. Something nice was going to happen, but then as the famous sexual predator Louis CK once said, “Why the fuck would anything nice ever happen?”
I wonder which one of those greasy chucklefucks – Beto, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar – they promised VP to? My guess is Pete, whose slimy demeanor has always reminded me of a Young Joe. Then again, who knows? The Vice President to Joe Biden will potentially be the most powerful VP in history, surpassing even that of the Mighty Dick, if only by virtue of the fact that Biden is so clearly deteriorated that he was already a walking corpse being held together with duct tape and Krazy glue before the DNC decided to defy God and Nature to revive his dead campaign. Foul magicks indeed. Bernie never stood a chance.
Whatever. This was always going to happen. That blathering bag Chris Matthews outed them weeks ago when he declared that Sanders winning Nevada was like the Nazi conquest of France. Combine that doozy of a statement with his suggestion that another four years of Trump might be better for Democrats than a Sanders presidency, and the fucked up picture really starts to come into focus.
Matthews and the other shills on MSNBC (and CNN, and WaPo, and the NYT, and blah blah blah) are just doing their job to support the fascist oligarchy that has made them all fabulously wealthy. Trump, Clinton, Biden, McConnell, Obama, they are all on the same goddamn team. They all have the same corporate logos on their softball jerseys.
I have these flashbacks to 2012, when I told people I couldn’t be bothered with voting because Obama and Romney represented the same political party. That was me just making excuses, but fuck me if I wasn’t dead on the money. The only difference between Republicans and Democrats in Washington is that some of them pretend to care about the Bible, while others pretend to care about social issues and identity politics. The only thing any of them actually care about is appeasing their corporate donors and the class of wealthy shareholders who collect politicians like Pokemon. Lindsay Graham, I choose you!
In this metaphor, Bernie like is Mew – elusive, powerful, possibly not real. A Pokemon that does not take corporate money, and instead creates legislation solely in the interests of regular people. Uncatchable, at least for the Big Money who want to use him for evil. He could have been ours though, no glitching required.
I glance at the ground and notice Trump’s face staring back up at me from a business card. The words “FREE GIFT FOR YOU” are written beneath him in red. I pick up the card and flip it over. On the reverse side, there is a QR code that you can scan to receive a free “Legendary Trump Coin.” I try to scan the code, but alas, I have no cell reception.
The guy selling fake event passes has upped the price from $1 to $5, and a group of potential buyers has formed around him. There is a Hot Girl standing a few feet away from me – with her boyfriend – and one of the very few people I have seen not wearing any Trump shit. She turns and smiles at me, and I wonder if she is only at this event because of the MAGA-hat wearing dude with his arm over her shoulder. I feel hopeful, but then another “4 More Years” chant starts and she immediately joins in.
Ten minutes after seven, Trump arrives to raucous applause, slowly walking towards the podium as “God Bless the USA” winds down. The theme – plastered on signs all over the building – is “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Not quite the ringer that “Make America Great Again” was, but that was always going to be an awkward slogan to use for reelection.
After an extended offering of his trademark smirk, Trump launches into a predictable, if not somewhat uninspired speech: Charlotte is a great city filled with thousands of hardworking American patriots. America First. The radical socialists will be defeated, and by an even bigger margin than before.
My fingers are freezing as I try to keep pace on my phone, and I quickly resort to blowing hot air on them to maintain enough feeling to keep typing.
“You know what Eric and Laura named their daughter, right? Ca-ro-li-naaaaa.” The crowd goes ballistic. Trump is rattling off the usual list of vague superlatives. This is the best time, incredible time, the USA is stronger than ever before. Then he gets to an actual superlative: the huge, 1200 point swing that the DOW made today. “The largest day one increase in the stock market, ever!” The crowd can’t believe their luck. The economy is booming. Just look at my 401k.
Ah yes, the 401k. Have you ever stopped to consider the intense, cyclical fuckery of the 401k? Retirement accounts are overwhelmingly how average Americans engage in the stock market. The average American does not have a portfolio paying off dividends that they can live off of. They are not trading in amounts large enough to generate massive profits. No, the average American has a shitty little 401k or Roth account or some other retirement product that they sink money into, praying that one day it will grow large enough that they can finally retire and visit Paris.
Retirement products are not inherently bad things. Planning for the future is not a bad thing. But the necessity out of which they are born is a truly abhorrent thing. Have you ever thought about why you need to invest heavily in your 401k if you ever want to retire? Why can’t people just save up money on their own? Stuff money under the mattress? Sure, the 401k generates returns, but it suffers from serious liquidity issues when compared to money under the mattress. It also forces average Americans to align their interests with that of Corporate America, at least if they ever want to retire.
The reason you need a 401k to retire is because wages are stagnant compared to the cost of living. Housing is expensive. Education is expensive. Medical care is expensive. Vacations, cars, and computers are expensive. You want kids? Double, triple the amounts you were already paying. It is impossible for the average American to both save for a comfortable retirement and live a fulfilling life, at least not without sinking money into a 401k or some other product that generates market-based returns. We simply are not paid enough, not relative to the value we create, and certainly not compared to the absurd wealth of the ultra-rich, the people signing our paychecks.
Herein lies the trap. You desperately want to retire one day, and you need a 401k because you are poor and cannot afford to retire otherwise. You are poor because you are not paid enough. You are not paid enough because the money in this country is overwhelmingly allocated to the top 1%, and supported by corrupt policies like corporate welfare and tax cuts. Policies like corporate welfare and tax cuts make the ultra-rich even richer, but also inflate share prices. Inflated share prices mainly boost the wealth of the majority shareholders (read: the ultra-rich), but also help grow retirement accounts like your 401k. You have a 401k because you desperately want to retire one day…
The economics touted by both the GOP and the Corporate Left support this fucked up feedback loop, which tricks regular Americans into getting excited over shitty policies that overwhelmingly favor corporations and the ultra-rich. But what else can you do? You want to retire one day, don’t you?
I am going off on a tangent here, and I apologize. All of this is a fine topic for another essay, and you can be rest assured that you have not heard the last of me and my war on the 401k.
“Look at all that press!” shouts Trump, pointing offscreen. The crowd erupts into a chorus of boos. Trump is on the attack now: Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie, Mini Mike, and Pocohauntus. “They’re crazy, they’re killing each other! They are trying to steal the nomination from Bernie, and they are going to succeed. Not like us. Never has the GOP been so unified!”
He is right on both accounts. The Democrats are in serious trouble. More and more people have started to realize that the Joe Biden’s of the world do not actually care about them. Unlike the GOP, which has always been transparently evil, the neoliberals running the DNC had a good run of convincing voters that they were different. But Bernie Sanders, after years of raging against the machine, has finally exposed the true horrible nature of the DNC, and brought these grim revelations to the wider public.
AOC is underselling things when she talks about how insane it is that she and Joe Biden technically belong to the same political party. Forget about political parties, or even wider notions of political ideology. AOC and Joe Biden are not even in the same political universe.
Trump is hammering the hell out of Biden. “Sleepy Joe, you know he is running for Senate! He is gearing up for Super Thursday!” Biden’s geriatric mind is the gift that keeps on giving. His strange ramblings and verbal missteps are getting worse, and I shudder to think of the field day that Trump is going to have if Biden has one of his trademark fuckups during a presidential debate. It will be painful to watch.
“Incomes are soaring and poverty is plummeting!” Neither are true, but who cares? As far as this crowd is concerned, Trump can speak anything into truth. The awesome power of the U.S military has been rebuilt – another promise made, another promise kept, according to Trump. He is riding the high of his recent truce with the Taliban, which has already begun to unravel. It doesn’t matter. “I am putting an end to the neverending wars! We will take care of our amazing troops, whose extraordinary valor and ultimate sacrifice have secured our freedom!”
Your tax dollars at work. “Radical Islamic Terror can get the hell out!” The crowd breaks into a “U-S-A!” chant. I have lost all feeling in my fingers and I am dead on the inside. Politics will do that to you.
Trump is on to the nefarious coronavirus. “We are taking the most aggressive action in history!” he bellows. I wonder if flying those sick people back to California is included in that claim? Fortunately, Trump has been having “tons of really great conversations with the pharmaceutical companies.” The crowd cheers, but with noticeably less enthusiasm. Big Pharma is so notoriously evil that not even Trump can reliably hype them up.
“We will have a vaccine soon! Everything we have done so far has been 100% right!” Only “fringe globalists” were upset at him closing the borders. The crowd is getting back into it. Trump flips from the coronavirus to the regular flu. “20,000 to 70,000 people die each year from the regular flu. I didn’t know that. Nobody knows that!” Not to worry – Trump has instructed the pharmaceutical companies to start making better regular flu vaccines. We are in safe hands.
“We have the most advanced health system on Earth! American healthcare is the best in the world!” I feel sick. I wonder how many of the people in this crowd are underinsured? How many of them could eat a surprise $5000 medical bill without significant financial stress? How many of them are currently putting off some much needed surgery or procedure because the “most advanced health system on Earth” has failed them?
No, not another tangent. I can get away with bitching about the underlying evils of the 401k, but healthcare is another story. We’d be here all night.
Unlike the other rallies I’ve been to, Trump does not follow any sort of cohesive narrative structure. Instead he jumps between unrelated topics, seemingly at random. Job creation and the “Great American Comeback” rapidly transitions to the killing of terrorists like Al Baghdadi and Solemeni, which in turn flips to the extreme left and their “vile hoaxes and delusional witch hunts.” All of this happens in the span of about three minutes.
Trump is going to protect the Second Amendment. “Did you see Sleepy Joe claim that 150 million people died from gun violence?” laughs Trump. “Can you imagine if I said something like that? The press would never let me live it down!”
New topic: Mini Mike. “Can you believe that guy? Worst debate performance in history! Mini Mike is a mess!” The envy in his voice is palpable. I despise Bloomberg, but at least his enormous wealth is visibly triggering to the Donald, who is only capable of understanding comparisons made in dollar amounts. “FOX is interviewing Mini Mike tonight, although I don’t know why. Maybe they are trying to be more PC.”
Next up: Crazy Bernie. “The Dems are rigging it against Crazy Bernie, and that is gonna make him even crazier.” Trump admits that Bernie crowds have “more enthusiasm” than the other candidates. “You know, I called him a long time ago,” says Trump, trailing off and not explaining any further.
“They made a deal to support Sleepy Joe! Boot Edge Edge and all of them! I wonder what they promised them! You might even call it a… Quid pro pro!” The crowd erupts. “Impeach them!” shouts Trump. “They should all be impeached!”
Trump laments that he came up with the Pocohauntus nickname way too early. “She is gonna lose Massachusetts to Bernie!” He rattles off a list of states that he plans on winning in November: Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina. “Bigger, better than 2016!”
Warren, he says, wants to eliminate all borders. Bloomberg is coming for your guns. “Sleepy Joe doesn’t know what he’s doing or what he is running for! They are going to put him in a home, and other people will run the country!”
Suddenly, Lindsay Graham is on the stage. “Trump is the best President since Ronald Reagan!” he says in that awful southern drawl of his. “Thank you mister President for killing terrorists and sticking by Justice Kavanaugh!”
I must be out of my fucking mind. Trump is rattling off a list of names, congresspeople I think. I cannot type fast enough in the cold to get them all down. Or maybe he is just making them up as he goes along, just like the rest of his presidency. We might never know.
Diamond and Silk are with him – the pair of BBW podcasters notorious for their unwavering love of all things Trump. A woman standing near me starts aggressively pumping her fist as the pair are introduced on stage.
“We bout’ to win another election,” says Diamond.
“And we got a message for Mini Mike,” says Silk. “You gotta be this tall to ride.” She raises her hand up to Trump’s forehead.
“The media is playing the race card,” says Diamond. “But we are playing the Trump card.” Queue wild applause.
Trump is back and bragging about his big, girthy crowds. “We like to troll! We do a little trolling.” I am not sure what he is talking about. I am not sure what is going on, honestly. Trump loves his son Eric, even though a lot of people do not like their sons. Poor, unloved Trump Junior, always letting Daddy down. I feel his pain. My own mother recently accused me of plotting to murder her in a revolution. Lowly times, and the cold is not helping.
Thom Tillis is on the stage, and the crowd is tepid. Tillis is wildly unpopular, even among NC’s illustrious Republican population. Maybe because he spells his name like a hipster. So cold. Trump says we need to vote for Tillis. Six more years! Not as catchy as four. Poor Thom. If only his parents had not been such huge Radiohead fans.
“Bernie Sanders is so liberal,” yells Thom Tillis. “America will never be socialist!” I am hungry, cold, and sober. My willpower is rapidly depleting, and I’m not the only one. The crowd is thinning; no doubt attrition from the cold. Tillis says we are gonna get the free stuff that Americans truly deserve: Free Markets, Free Speech, Free Religion, and the Freedom to Own Fucktons of Guns. Hell yeah brother.
I embellished a little there, but whatever. I’m checked out. The train has left the station. What a strange and horrible place this is. Lowly times, these are, and more are sure to come. As I head back across a maze of crowd control barriers, discarded flyers, empty Bojangle’s boxes, and crushed soda cans, Trump’s voice booms ominously behind me, echoing out into the cold dark.
“No President has done more for blacks!” I slip my headphones on to tune out the noise. Bad things lurk in the long shadow of the future. Keep moving, stay alert. We are fucked.