Imagine yourself in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas. The city still has random brick roads, and the Tarrant County Courthouse’s pink Texas granite structure peers down the central streets, as though keeping a watchful eye over the city. Before I knew it I was surrounded by angry Hispanics, angry Trump supporters, and a Texas state representative yelling angry epithets towards all Republicans.
I parked my truck ad headed toward the convention center where Donald Trump was to hold a rally for 8,000 supporters and announce his newest endorsement from Gov. Chris Christie. Vehicles drove around the convention center waving Mexican flags out of every window. One large SUV had painted on the windows, “Free El Chapo,” and street vendors selling Trump swag easily outnumbered Starbucks ten to one. I’ve been involved with politics for a long time, and this didn’t have the feel of a political rally. It felt like being at a fair. When I finally found the entrance to the convention center, there was a line of people wrapping around the building and down the street. Once the people had spent God knows how long waiting in line to get to the entrance, they were greeted with angry protesters, street vendors, a mariachi band, and countless members of the press.
At one point I was speaking with a reporter who was covering the event for a news agency in New Zealand. Around this time a Trump supporter yelled for the protesters to “go back to [their] country.” Her outburst was met with a chorus of responses, including when young lady who started rushing in the Trump supporter’s direction, all proclaiming “I was born here in America” followed by some form of name-calling. At that point I turned to the reporter, grinned, and told him, “you know the ironic thing? Between those Trump supporters and these protestors, I’m probably the only person who was actually born in another country.”
The entire situation was like a reenactment of the comments section of a blog. People sought to one-up each other when it came to the most offensive thing they could say. It wasn’t about exchanging ideas, it wasn’t about winning arguments, it wasn’t even about getting the last word. Both sides were solely trying to make the other side as angry as possible, at any cost. This wasn’t limited to “low information” voters either. Texas State Representative Ramon Romero was shouting, “GOP stands for Gringos y Otros Pendejos!” This was an elected official standing outside of a convention center calling his own constituents pejoratives that translates roughly to “whites” or “Americans” “and other assholes” according to one source, or as Texas Tribune explains, “’Pendejos’ is general purpose profanity used to refer to people who are objectionable, useless or both.”
All of this was going on, and I hadn’t even entered the actually rally. When I did go inside I spoke with a number of people who helped me better understand some important points about the Trump phenomena:
First of all, many Donald Trump supporters are good people. One lady saw that I was standing behind where the cameras were, and offered to let me stand behind her because she could see the podium, and since I was a good foot and a half taller (I’m 6’3”) I would be able to see over her head as well. There’s almost that eerie feeling that a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation, as though a switch could be flipped and the minute anyone found out you were not a Trump supporter you can expect a pretty bad reaction. Nevertheless, everyone was amiable and excited because they were among friends. There seems to be a need to be with people who agree, or Trump supporters will immediately consider themselves victims and become defensive, which brings me to my next point.
Donald Trump supporters seem to feel like they are the victims of things outside of their control, or just victims in general. This gives them something to fight against as the underdog. People inside the convention railed against foreigners and their influence in government and business, against the establishment (whatever that even means these days), against their local officials, and against everyone they believed was giving them a raw deal.
I witnessed this on a personal level during a county Republican debate watching party a few days before. There was a sole Trump supporter, and he sat at our table and everyone spoke to one another without issue. However, as the debate went on and people all cheered their respective candidate, he leaned over and said he was going to go get another beer and stand somewhere else. For the rest of the night he ostracized himself from the majority of the people there, and stood in the back and applauded for Trump alone, but he seemed to like it that way.
My number one take away from the Trump rally was that the Donald Trump moment brings out the worst in everyone. The problem lies in the fact that the level of discourse degenerates, while the intensity rises. This does not only affect Trump supporters; it affects the very people denouncing Trump supporters for their supposed “angry ignorance.” I am guilty of this, I must admit. You see, Trump doesn’t just promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico, he has successfully built a wall between passion/emotion and reason for anyone who wants to get involved in any form of discourse with Trumpism (or its proponents). There is a magic to Trump’s sophistry because by successfully making people emotional on all sides, no one side can win an argument. That’s why you can have a woman yelling at other American citizens to “go back to their country” just because they are Hispanic, and why you can have an elected official calling his own constituents pejoratives in front of media because they are white.
In better understanding these things I had hoped to figure out a good way to deal with Trumpism, but I can’t prescribe any cures. The final point is why everyone has been wrong about Trump’s support, and how to turn it back. “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.” Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Full disclosure: The author is an active volunteer and member of the Texans For Rubio campaign