Trailing Trump: A Second Showing
(Originally published on April 12, 2016)
Albany, New York —
For the first time in recent political history, a presidential primary matters in the state of New York. With that, we get five new housemates until next Tuesday, April 19.
On Monday, April 11, one of those quirky housemates, a certain Donald J. Trump, decided to stop by the Times Union Center in Albany for a little shindig he was hosting. I say ‘little’ because despite the 23,000 people that the Trump campaign claimed to have corralled for the event, the 17,500-person arena was clearly not filled to capacity. It’s not like facts matter to the supposedly all-knowing orange one but it’s worth pointing out for those who care.
We, The New Paltz Oracle managing editor Nate Sheidlower, sports copy editor Michael Rosen and staff writer Jackson Shrout, left immediately at 5 p.m due to the anticipated long lines. When I went to my first Trump rally in Burlington in early January, my friends and I stood out in the cold for five hours before getting inside. But this rally, especially this late in the primary season, had a far more nuanced and lackluster feeling to it.
The audience, a sheltered upstate crowd in the presence of a pop culture succubus, was riled up but far less combative than the populace I encountered in Vermont. They fawned with adulation over the typical lines; building the Wall, Lyin’ Ted Cruz and the bad trade deals with China, but the energy seemed halfhearted.
The language used by the introductory speakers leading up to Trump’s 7:10 p.m. arrival on the stage would’ve convinced you that Teddy Roosevelt was about to speak. They spoke in mythical language about this independent-minded, tough-as-nails, call-it-as-I-see-it outsider who was going to demonstrably change this country for the better.
And yet behind that Madison Avenue public relations spray-tanned effort is an insecure racist, a petulant novice of both domestic politics and international affairs. It’s worth noting that at the age of 22, Teddy Roosevelt was serving as one of the youngest Assemblymen in state history. Meanwhile, Trump was using daddy’s money to avoid the draft to serve his country in Vietnam.
Among the changes in the three months since Burlington, Trump got a new soundtrack and entrance song: “Get Ready For This.” If you had told someone in 1996 that 20 years later, Donald Trump would run for president and enter arenas while that song played they would have totally believed you. If the man has any consistency, it is in his self-obsessed showmanship.
“Is there anything more fun than a Trump rally?” he asked.
Only here in the pit of frustrated prejudicial white middle class anger camouflaged under a plagiarized campaign slogan, can fully-grown adults magically transform into hordes of schoolchildren. Trump urges adults to essentially tattletale, to blame everyone and everything around them for their despair and promise cookie-cutter solutions to sophisticated geopolitical crises. Additionally, with statements that lamented a rapidly-changing world filled with evolving opinions on race, sexuality and religion among others, it was easy for Trump to employ an arena-wide victim complex. It was a case of, ‘it’s not you, it’s everything else that makes your life difficult.’
We had an over-under of three regarding the number of protests that might occur over the course of the night. There were officially five but there was nothing exemplary in Trump’s responses. His demeanor as a whole seemed to be ratcheted down, for once he appeared to be dwarfed by the size of the room he was in. Perhaps it was a move to be more presidential, to appear more subdued and controlled, but one could just as easily diagnose it as a symptom of boredom and burnout.
Whereas there was a fervent audience-led purge in Burlington, a desire to root out Berners from the small Flynn Performing Arts Center, the arena setting removed the intimate sense of danger. Frequently, in between the outbursts and prolonged periods of congratulatory applause for the GOP frontrunner, people dove into their phones. Most took selfies, alerting their social media of their own poor political decision making. Few seemed interested in Trump’s meandering hour-long talk, some even started leaving midway through.
He hit unusual chords that seemed to perplex even those who thought they had heard it all. There were extended barbs against the Colorado GOP, Saudi Arabia and even Gov. John Kasich. The crowd, ready to feast on the now infamous buzzword-laced strawmen that Trump feeds all of his supporters, had to wait to boo Mexican and Muslims. There was a palpable sense of agitation, almost a longing for variety to the craziness. Trump, ever the malleable performer, did add Gov. Andrew Cuomo to his list of enemies, joining President Barack Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Above the tedious nature of the typically raucous event was the depressing familiarity of it all. Most of these people reminded me of neighbors and acquaintances from home, regular people caught up in a persona rather than a qualified leader. Trump is the quintessential case of mundane, ordinary citizens projecting their ideals onto a celebrity.
There’s just something truly miserable in seeing good people ruined by their primal instincts. Plenty of the people waited in long, drizzly lines for hours to take in an hour of prejudicial spoon-feeding and blatant political carelessness. Has Trump spoken the thoughts of many when he says that our current elected officials have let us down? Yes. Is he the answer in the slightest? No.
When Trump addresses the stereotype of a politician, he always feigns a blue collar humility. “I’m not a politician … I don’t play the game… I’m not bought and sold like these other guys.” However, his track record as a flip-flopping, goes-with-the-wind political lobbyist for both sides underscores his participation in the corruption of Albany, his venue of choice. And yet unfortunately, the collective memory of the American middle and lower class isn’t long enough to remember that.
What stuck with me the most was a brief scene after his introductory speakers left, when the national anthem was being sung. At the south side of the arena, we were under the American flag dangling high and proud in the company of the banners in the rafters. The crowd turned at once to face us, their ‘Make America Great Again’ caps removed, their gaze focused in our direction.
It was surreal, to be reciting the song that symbolizes the pride of a great nation with thousands of members of the red hat brigade looking up at you. Their eyes gleamed with sincere admiration, to many this would probably be the most patriotic moment of their lives. To me, it was just confusing, mostly frustrating.
It’s inspiring to see people participate in democracy, to believe so righteously that a candidate could better the entire country. But this man, this demagogue, this buffoon, is so obviously and tragically not that candidate. Still they believe it wholeheartedly, their attendance confirming that they view Trump with speculative veneration. He is their small town fantasy of grandeur personified, bombastically shouting his zany plans for the future at them. He even inadvertently asked them an existential question:
“How stupid are we?”
Apparently, we’re stupid enough.