Bellingham is lucky that it will never have a Trump rally.
I’ve been spending time in Kansas City, Missouri (spoiler alert: Donald Trump appears to have squeaked past Ted Cruz to win the Missouri caucus). Aside from the part about it being in Missouri, I like Kansas City. For one thing, the Mayor, Sly James, has the best name of any politician in the country.
I bought tickets to a play last Saturday night. The day before the play, the theater called to say that there would be a Big 12 men’s basketball tournament game right across the street, and we should be prepared for traffic. OK, that’s life in the big city.
What they didn’t tell us – perhaps because they didn’t know until Saturday morning, when I read about it in the paper – was that Donald Trump would be holding a rally a block away from the theater and kitty-corner from the Big 12 game. That was a whole different kettle of fish.
The Trump rally started before the play. The local Fox News station provided a live feed. Chicago on my mind, I watched part of it, just to make sure that we could, indeed, get to the play that night.
The Donald didn’t really say much in the part of the feed that I watched. He was mostly on the prowl for protestors. “Is there a protestor? Is there another one? Anybody out there? OK, I guess not.” Then somebody in the back of the room would dutifully raise a sign or make a noise, allowing Trump to yell “Get him out of here!” When Trump perfunctorily said “Send him back to his mama,” the crowd roared and two 8- or 9-year old boys in front of the camera jumped up and down and punched each other. They had been waiting for that applause line.
I only heard two substantive statements. Trump said that journalists are terrible people, just the biggest liars. And he said something along the lines of “What are they protesting about? We all want a strong defense, good jobs. We all want the same things, so why protest.” That was not an applause line. “Let’s all get along” sank like a lead balloon.
I was glad to turn off the feed to go to the play. Our planned route was blocked by police cars, so we parked a few blocks north and ran the gauntlet, on the theater/anti-Trump side of the street.
The only other middle-aged white people that I saw were wearing golf shirts and visor caps with the logo of their preferred Big 12 teams. They looked perplexed. At least I knew what to expect.
Here’s what they, and we, saw:
--The only professionally-made signs that I saw were held by some very young women. The signs said “Ask me about Bernie Sanders.” I couldn’t see that anybody was asking them.
-- Some of the other, handmade, signs were crude. One referred to the size of Mr. Trump’s manhood. Of course, to be fair, the Republican candidates (and especially Mr. Trump) put that issue into play.
-- Three bedraggled-looking young people asked where there was a publicly available restroom. I suspected at the time, and the timing confirmed it as I read about the rally afterwards, that they had been pepper-sprayed.
--The protestors were young, mostly non-white, and pretty ramped up. Except for a woman in a head scarf, standing silently with a sign saying “We make America great.” A young man walked up and gave her a fist bump, saying “I like that.”
There were a lot of people on the pro-Trump side of the street as well, but I couldn’t really see them.
We made it into the theater, which was only half full – despite the fact that the play had been almost sold out when I bought tickets. I heard a lot of people say that friends couldn’t get there. By the time the play was over, the streets were empty.
What does all of this tell us?
The coming election is going to test ends versus means, effective action versus self expression. There’s an argument that the protest wasn’t effective, in that Trump won the caucus. The protestors within the rally provided Trump with an opportunity to turn the rally into a “call and response” event – “are there any protestors?” “Trump is a racist!” “GET HIM OUT OF HERE!” – which Trump clearly sought.
What did the Big 12 fans, or the theater patrons who could not get to the play, think? Judging from the Kansas City paper, which may not be a good basis of judgment but it’s what I’ve got, the reaction has not been adverse to the protestors. There’s skepticism about the decision to plump the rally into the center of the “Power and Light” District of downtown (which means beer, bars, more bars, more beer, and basketball) at the same time as a Big 12 game.
There’s also skepticism about the police response. The police, on horseback, used pepper spray a couple of times, and that’s not Kansas City Nice, a phrase that commonly refers to city residents’ tendency to avoid overt confrontation. After all, the whole city turned out for the Kansas City Royals’ World Series celebration with no major problems. On the other hand, it was a pretty big crowd, and one woman hit a police horse in the face (captured in a photograph). That was a bad idea.The City Council will be holding a hearing on the police response.
I think that the takeaway was pretty neatly summed up by this New Yorker article, which states: “To many members of minority groups, the sight of Trump and Trumpism atop a national ticket would represent a grievous insult to their dignity, and a potential threat to their well-being; to many moderates, liberals, and leftists of all backgrounds, it would represent a moral outrage. The anti-Trump forces won’t stand back and let him parade around the country unopposed. They will exercise their democratic right to protest against him and what he represents, and some of them will be disruptive. Which, doubtless, will provoke more anger from Trump and his supporters.”
We can sit on the sidelines and condemn these tactics and say that they are ineffective, but the anger and fear – and the desire to express opposing views -- aren’t going to go away. How do we avoid a downward spiral of violence? How can protest be channeled into effective action? I have read no clear prescription for this. The New Yorker article describes the situation but has no solution.
It would help if Trump’s fellow Republicans would refuse to endorse him because of his calls for violence against protestors, even if they can’t bring themselves to condemn his horrible statements about Mexicans, the religion of Islam, and the use of torture.
And the Trump protestors could do worse than to follow Mayor Sly James’ Twitter advice: “Hey folks, I know that there are concerns re: Trump. Please avoid situations that incite violence. Be careful and be Kansas Citians.”