Come for the Show, Stay for the Toupee — How I was Genuinely Moved at a Donald Trump Event

On January 26th, Drake played host to a nationally televised Democratic forum, live from Sheslow Auditorium. It was the third time all 3 major Democratic candidates were on campus, and this was only one instance among an increasingly diverse mix of political events we have witnessed within the Bulldog Community. Truly, one could name almost any candidate in the 2016 Presidential election, and chances are that the given contender has made at least one stop to our notable University. For Drake students, caucus time means that simply stepping out of your dorm room may involve being interviewed with Chuck Todd from Meet the Press, run into Ben and Jerry (as in Chunky Monkey ice cream), or be featured in Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show on the E! Network.

Of course, with this comes a unique excitement. The fact that Drake students have an up-close view of the world stage, and that the world has its eyes on Drake, seems to fill us with a sense of importance and realization that we possess a commanding voice in the direction and future of our country. As a school who works vigorously to promote responsible global citizenship, many of us embrace these opportunities as a way to become more informed and engaged Americans.

So when the opportunity arose to see Donald Trump on campus for his “alternative debate”, I was under the mindset of, “Why the heck not??”

On Thursday January 28th, Des Moines was once again at the center of the political world. As the GOP Fox News Debate commenced at the nearby downtown convention center, I found myself lined up on a cold, dark, sidewalk for 2 1/2 hours waiting to see Trump. I must say, it was curiously fun. I have always thought that there is a certain type of comradely that develops among attendees at events like these, regardless of political beliefs, and this was no exception. The fact that we can turn to each other and say, “Hey, you’re crazy enough to endure this too!” always makes for a good conversation starter.

For what it’s worth, supporting Donald Trump is not popular among my demographic. If I were to come out as a Trump supporter, there is no doubt that my morals, justifications, and intelligence would be questioned by even my closest friends. Suffice to say, I do not support Trump. This is not just because it would be “uncool” to do so. I believe that Donald J. Trump has a seriously misguided mentality as to what constitutes American values. I believe that most of his so-called plans to “Make America Great Again” are hasty, irrational, and driven by a selfish strategy to gain power and influence in whatever way possible, often at the expense of those Americans who find themselves not being of the white, wealthy, and Christian variety. When I imagine a Trump presidency, I can only picture an administration driven by fear and desperation, not hope and determination.

To be completely honest, I wanted to attend the Trump event for the spectacle. I was certainly under the impression that if I attended, Trump would say something entirely moronic, protests would happen, and my friends and I could all laugh about it later, appreciating the fact that our liberal, 20 something year old views of the world would surely protect us from ever thinking the way a Trump supporter would.

Well, as it turns out, I was wrong. As I am constantly reminded, I certainly do not know everything, and I definitely do not always know what to expect.

When I finally got through security and was admitted into Sheslow, I was surprised to see that our historic auditorium had been scaled back to its original identity. Gone were the ornate backdrops and glamorous lighting brought in by CBS and CNN, which had recently made the theatre unrecognizable as a collegiate building. Tonight, just 6 American flags adorned the stage, serving as a simple backdrop to Trumps “Make America Great Again” podium, which stood front and center.

As I sat in the balcony, it was abundantly clear that being a Drake student put me in the minority for this event. Sheslow is an intimate venue, as can be seen by viewers of past debates, and only holds about 700 people total. The entire bottom floor was filled primarily with veterans. Earlier, veterans were consistently pulled from the crowd outside, taken to the front of the line, and given priority seating close to the stage. After a while, I lost count of how many elderly men were wheeled past me through the frozen grass, usually wearing hats representing their time of service, and often accompanied by a wide range of Trump apparel. The fact that I was able to make it in at all was very much by chance, as thousands of hopefuls had to be turned away from the crowd outside.

As I previously stated, Drake has been a stop for countless politicians, journalists, and various celebrities in the past few months. While this has been sufficiently cool, what happened Thursday night was downright inspiring. Hundreds of men and women poured into Sheslow, who, despite differences in age, nationality, or disability, all had one thing in common. They loved America enough to sacrifice themselves. To see them all together created a passionate energy within the room. Needless to say, I felt humbled to be among them, and suddenly found myself in question of what my 20 something year old views of the world could really hold to these established American heroes. A fellow student turned to me and commented that the vibe could perhaps best be described as “simply loving.”

I surely thought this feeling would disappear when Trump took the stage. I was correct, for the most part. Trump opened by making his usual jabs at other politicians and the media, claiming that his campaign being mistreated by Fox News was somehow related to how our country is being mistreated by other nations, and how important it is to stand up for yourself when such situations arise. It seemed a little odd to me, but the crowd certainly vocalized their agreement.

For the remainder of the event, there was surprisingly less focus on Trump or his platforms. Recognition of the six million dollars raised by Trumps veteran charity were made, one million of which was donated by Trump himself. The rest of the time was primarily devoted to veteran speakers, who were able to share their concerns, hardships, and sacrifice. For most of the people in attendance, it was a way to come together in what they have all lost, and what they have overcome. For me, it served as a reminder that the freedoms I enjoy did not come without loss. Regardless of what you may have to say about Trump, it is undebatable that the veterans in that room possessed a genuine love for their country, and a true faith in their candidate to make things right. Quite honestly, it was at a level that I have not yet witnessed at any other political rally or event this caucus season.

So yes, I admit that I was legitimately moved by a Donald Trump event. Does this mean that I now support him? No, it does not. To put it plainly, I don’t like him. More importantly, I think he would be a danger to the progress of our country.

The argument that thinking this event was a success means that I am simply falling for a media ploy in attempt to humanize Trump is a valid one. In fact, I would not be completely opposed to agreeing with that argument. But the fact remains that Trump’s deeply rooted veteran support means something, and it was on display Thursday night. The fact that thousands of people were willing to line themselves up in the cold for hours, hoping only to get a glimpse of him, means something as well.

One of the veteran speakers proclaimed that saying “Thank You” is a validation for the receiving party that all the actions they took, however much of a struggle, were worth it. Because of this, I will try to be more mindful of thanking veterans for their courageous service. I will not, however, thank the Trump Campaign for this event. But I do appreciate what they did. Because of the Trump Campaign I was able to spend my evening not getting fired up to “Make America Great Again”, but be with a group of heroines who Made America Great. It was truly and honor to be there.

As I left the theater, I overheard a fellow student say “He’s really not as awful as I thought”.