The Great Safe Space
You really couldn’t have asked for a better venue. Nine-thousand or so of us packed in to a giant airplane hangar at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport, standing on the floor of a huge cube full of empty space with one side open to the wide world beyond. Everyone kept glancing at that open side, turning their heads towards it if they saw someone else turn towards it too, eager to catch the very first glimpse of the President’s arrival.
When he did arrive they helpfully blasted the theme music from the movie “Air Force One” on loop as the actual Air Force One slowly rolled into view of the hangar, the tremendous aircraft framed beautifully by the walls of the venue itself. The hangar erupted with very white noise as everyone saluted the President with urgently outstretched cameraphones. He waved and lingered at the top of the aircraft stairs before descending towards us and crossing the threshold of the hangar, image made flesh. Trump, who plays a president on TV, was right there in front of me, waving at the crowd and visibly as happy as someone like him can be. Tieless and unbuttoned, radiating relaxed home-field charm, he was an honestly engaging spectacle. For a half-second there I found that I almost kind of liked him.
As Trump took the stage and the moment we were all waiting for arrived, the woman in front of me fell asleep — again. She was dozing off for probably the twelfth time on the back of Victor, a man I’d hung out with at the last local rally in December, and as Trump addressed the crowd Victor seemed just as detached from her as she was from the raging excitement surrounding us.
Victor had texted me the day before to ask me if I were coming, and then to let me know that “The hole system is rigged and we all know the riggers and the last 8 years this country’s been run by niggers”. I just replied to let him know that I would be there.
If I’m being honest, I’d hoped to show up and get some video of him saying obscene things, but at the rally itself he demurred. He had a woman with him and that seemed to soften him. He was in caretaker mode since she was quote “high as shit” on “methadone, and that fake weed stuff. You ever smoked that stuff?”. I’d met up with the two of them at the front of the line, where he’d been since that morning — when I got there the woman in question, in a lucid interlude, was smoking cigarettes upwind of old people in wheelchairs, telling them to do anatomically-challenging things to themselves when they asked her to please knock it off.
She faded in and out the entire time that I was with them. The first time I saw her pass out Victor assured me that it was all fun and fine by whipping out his phone and showing me video he’d taken of her last night, her mouth open and eyes rolling back into her head for well over thirty filmed seconds before she came to enough to weakly slap the camera away.
My heart sank. Sensing my deflation Victor suggested that we could take turns yelling “HILLARY SUPPORTER! THIS GUY’S A HILLARY SUPPORTER!!” at each other and see which of us would be the first to get our ass kicked, but I declined. “Aw c’mon, it’s just like when you’d yell THIS GUY’S GAY! THIS GUY’S A FAGGOT RIGHT HERE” at people in high school. You never did that?” I hadn’t done that, and was about to suggest that such a thing might be bad to do in general when Victor hastened to add that he didn’t have a real problem with little faggots since he and I were hanging out right now, yeah? He wasn’t homophobic, nor was he racist. Well, maybe he was a little racist, he admitted. It wasn’t black or brown people that he opposed, but black and brown culture — thuggishness, in his words. If you had a normal name and wore a tie and did what your boss told you then you were okay in his book. As long as you agree that preserving Western Civilization is the most important thing we can do then you had nothing to fear.
The absolute best of Western Civilization was on full display in the line outside. Victor had gotten a place in line at 9:45am, right at the front, and he was nice enough to let me join him there when I arrived many hours later. By that time the line stretched for miles, thousands-long. Everyone was decked out in thrift-store Americana or custom-made Trump shirts, many of them gleefully obscene. ‘TRUMP THAT BITCH’, ‘FINALLY, A PRESIDENT WITH BALLS’(a woman’s shirt), and ‘BETTER TO GRAB A PUSSY THAN BE ONE’ were some of the messages people saw fit to convey.
Rally attendees seemed to mostly be there with their families, middle-aged and unhealthy-looking white people with their decrepit parents and apathetic children. At the front with Victor and his torpid maiden well over half of the people couldn’t move without assistance, and when the doors opened up to let us into the hangar it took us quite a while to shuffle inside. Holding up his staggering woman as we walked Victor asked me “have I ever made you want to cry? at least once?” I told him no, and that I’d let him know if that day ever arrived.
The first time I went to a Trump rally, most of a year ago, I felt crushed by the novel horror of it all. The second time, after his election victory, I felt disoriented by the unexpected direction that history had taken. This time, though, I mostly felt bored.
After Trump’s whiz-bang entrance and Meliana’s opening prayer the President took to the microphone to put on a greatest-hits show, one that I’d already seen several times before. Meliana stood at the foot of the stage looking up until a proactive secret service guy found her a chair. I found a running rebuttal going on in my head as he talked this time. I did my earnest best to tune in to any new information, to see if there really was a whole world of truth I was missing out on due to my media bias, but I didn’t find anything at all. Rally attendees had the same darkly jubilant vibe they’ve always seemed to have. A month of incompetence and failure didn’t seem to have the slightest effect on them.
There was one new thing, actually — a protester disrupted the event itself, somewhere in the middle of the crowd behind me. I didn’t see what actually happened, all I could make out was a quarter of the crowd turning towards circling in and chanting “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP” as the secret service all perked up and looked pleased having been thrown an easy pitch. Trump himself didn’t acknowledge the disruption at all, which was a first for me to see. During the campaign I’d seen him pause his speech and direct the entire crowd’s attention to the protester as they were torn from the arena, but this time the crowd’s attention was divided by the event. Perhaps we’ll see more of this in the rallies to come.
Trump did have a little stunt where he read a single-page double-spaced text in huge font to the crowd, claiming it to be the statute that permits him to banish anyone from the country he wants. He contrasted its simplicity with the arrogant complexity of the liberal judges that had seen fit to block him. He said it was knowable even by people who failed in high school — at this much of the crowd whooped and cheered, people around me clapping each other on the back and laughing knowingly. He threw the page away contemptuously and let it drop to the floor. Anyone who thought they knew better than him, than us, was nothing but a preening little know-it-all.
He also brought a man up on stage from the crowd, a tweaky guy in a black shirt and cargo shorts with black shoes and white socks. The secret service furiously patted the guy down while Trump said “go on, let him up here. I’m not afraid of him”, inflating his appearance on the backs of the people who are required by law to protect him. From the rally he’d be going down to his country club estate, “The Southern White House” in his words, where people who’d bought their way in could now hang out in his makeshift situation room. The very voters who had jeered at Obama for golfing sometimes now cheered at spending taxpayer dollars on expensive security for Trump’s many palaces.
Beyond those events the content of the speech was stale, Trump’s main enemy now being the media rather than an opposing candidate, for now. The speech was all about what was going to happen, beautiful promises to be fulfilled, soon soon soon. They were going to Make America Great Again, Sometime. There was the singular genius of that phrase, ‘Again’ — whatever was wrong with your life was due to you having something precious that was taken away from you and that Trump and Trump alone could rightfully restore. Just trust him.
He wrapped up with some clearly scripted lines and headed back for the plane. The crowd surged after him, brandishing their phones — I thanked Victor, earnestly, for helping me get as close as I did, and I turned away. I walked against the flow of the crowd, bumping into some alt-right guys on my way out. One had a GOD EMPEROR TRUMP shirt on with a poorly cropped graphic, the other was holding a hand-drawn Pepe that as he explained was colored in by his children and apparently he had ambitions for the President to grace it with his signature.
The cubical hangar had turned into a gigantic TV, with the captive audience on the inside. They pressed against the fences as Trump walked away, wanting to prolong the Trump show for as long as they could. I didn’t think they really had to worry — from now and for as long as Trump’s alive the only thing we’ll really get are his reruns. The sooner everyone figures that out, the sooner we’ll finally be able to unite in pulling the plug.