Sunday, August 23, 2015

Make America Great Again - Dubuque, Iowa- August 25, 2015 at 6 PM

I decided to attend the "Make America Great Again'" rally held on August 25, 2015 at 6 PM.  The place, the Grand River City Center at 500 Bell Street in Dubuque, Iowa. I figured there was little chance that Mr. Trump would be coming to my neighborhood anytime in the near future. So, I hurried to make arrangements to see, in person, what all the fuss was about.

Did you know there was a Dubuque Regional Airport? Neither did I. But, on the morning of August 24, at 7:19 AM I boarded a plane bound for Chicago. From there, I would switch planes and land, shortly before noon eight miles southwest of Dubuque.

I had, like most others, believed that Mr. Trump's  politically incorrect mouth and complete lack of willingness to adhere to any political norms, would lead him to be the first contestant on the Republican stage to be fired. But it turned out that these were exactly the conditions that elevated his candidacy.

I wonder how many times the name Donald Trump has been spoken, or written, since June 16, 2015, the day he announced his intention to become the 45th President of the United States. Before I embarked on my trip, I went back to analyze the June 16th speech I had previously heard, at least in part, but had dismissed as Donald being Donald. I now listened with more interest and less cynicism. The opening remarks of Ivanka listed her father's uncompromising striving for excellence, his ability to make the hard deals and his record of bailing out stalled or failed government building projects. She portrayed a proven winner, one who could boast unparalleled achievements in several fields.

So this was the picture that would be painted, of an America in decline and in grave danger of losing its swagger, in need of urgent rescue. And who better to do another rebuilding project than the man for whom swagger was clearly not in short supply.

Mr. Trump promised a bigger, better and stronger America than ever before. One that would take down ISIS, stare down Putin, reign in China, beat up on those who diminished us and keep out, by that great wall, those who would rape and pillage once they crossed the border. We would be economically revitalized, reborn stronger and better than before.

As I headed to my destination in Dubuque, Iowa I tried to imagine the spirit and fervor that would greet me when I walked into the Grand River City Center. The Center, as announced on its website, is situated along the magnificent Mississippi River and features a grand ballroom ideal for weddings, holiday parties and formal gatherings. The Exhibit Hall could hold up to 2250 patrons, and it was here that Mr. Trump would speak.

I would be invisible. I did not want to introduce my prejudices, or biases regarding Mr. Trump into the conversation. I did not want those who had gathered to be aware of an enemy in their midst. For I understood that the reaction would be, at best to shun me and at worst, well I could only imagine it would not be pleasant.

On the afternoon of August 25, 2015 at 3 PM, I stood on line outside the Exhibit Hall at the Grand River City Center overlooking the magnificent Mississippi River. In order to obtain a ticket for Mr. Trump's performance that evening, I had merely completed an on-line registration, which asked a number of questions soliciting personal information.  At the bottom of the first page of the application, it asked me to check a box indicating if I would caucus for Donald Trump or help him become the President of the United States. I decided that a little white lie might be needed to assure my seat and I thus announced my allegiance to Mr. Trump becoming "45".

By my estimate, there were nearly a thousand people who had appeared earlier than I outside the City Center. This was more than a political rally, this was a happening. So it was not Woodstock, but I could imagine some of those who had gathered might follow Mr. Trump around with the same  obsession as "The Dead" groupies. "Yeah, this is my third rally, how many have you been to?"  I quickly determined that being a fly on the wall was not a realistic possibility. I was going to have to be a full fledged member of this particular clan to be able to withstand the rigors of the Iowa afternoon heat and the questions of those in attendance until the doors opened at 4:30 PM.

There was, seemingly everywhere one looked, signs pledging allegiance to the once and future greatness of the United States. Red, white and blue was the dominant color pattern and my drab color choices made me seem out of step with the festive occasion.

It was Tuesday and business as usual for those in the world, including Dubuque, who were not standing and awaiting the arrival of Mr. Trump. But for those gathered here, there seemed no reality other than what they were about to witness. I have been fortunate enough in my life to attend a Super Bowl and a World Series game. And I had imagined that the allegiance that one feels for one's hometown team achieving the ultimate in a sport to which you have attached yourself, body and soul, could not be nearly matched in any other setting. But, this crowd had the feel of something as significant and important as either of those sporting spectacles. There was an energy that was almost bursting, as talk of  what each one of us was about to witness pulsed through the long line.

They were young and old, mostly white but not entirely. There were some blacks, including a number of black women, who had made the journey to this destination. It seemed remarkable to me that anyone whose interests were so misaligned with a candidate, any candidate, could miss all the warning signs. It was one thing to be passive, to decide that there was no one out there who spoke to you personally and stirred your emotions, but to be an active supporter of Mr. Trump, to spend your time and energy in enthusiastic allegiance to this man, that was something that made me entirely uncomfortable. But, like I said, I was trying to suspend reality as I waited for the doors to open and take us in. I was in their world, not mine, and this was their home into which I was intruding.

I was at a rally for a much younger Barack Obama in 2007 in New Jersey. It was very early in the process and Hillary Clinton was still the choice of most Democrats. I remember then Mayor Cory Booker working the crowd, going up and down the aisles and walking within a few feet of where my son and I sat.  Before Mr. Obama spoke, Caroline Kennedy gave an introduction, extolling the virtues of a new generation of American leader. Her endorsement, on behalf of a family that had dominated the American political conscience for so many years, was incredibly important and stirring. Once Mr. Obama spoke, with all the elegance and grace, all the passion and poise, all the intelligence and insight, I was a believer. This was a person of vision, embodying hope and the future of our country. This was someone who instilled images of our better selves, our best selves and made us want to become engaged again. This was everything that George W. Bush was not.

And eight years later, is this not history standing on its head in a strange and bizarre manner? Is not Mr. Trump the anti-Obama, not polished, not endorsed by the great political family in our country but actually mired in a fight, much like Mr. Obama to distance this country from another Bush? There was no elegance, no grace, no intellectual curiosity, no great insight, there was but Mr. Trump, a bull in a china shop ready to run over anyone and anything that stood in his way. Here was a man who was not young and untested but who at 69 years of age, had proven his mettle in his own venue, time and time again.  Here was a call not to end our prejudices but to recognize and embrace them as reality. Here was not a politician but the anti-politician, not no drama Obama, but all drama Trump. Here was not the consummate mind, but the consummate showman. Or maybe, they were one and the same but we were just not smart enough to realize it.

The doors opened at 4:45. By then, I am told, all but a few hundred of those who would be in attendance were there.  I scurried to my seat and had full view, less than 100 feet away from where Mr. Trump would soon speak. I settled in and was surprised to find myself carried along with the fervor that permeated the room. I wanted to hear what he would say.

Not that I did not know what was to be forthcoming. We have all already discovered that the off the cuff remarks had some standard one liners that had played well in the past weeks. Much like his reality television show, there was a format that was working and it would provide the framework for the remarks of Mr. Trump. I could write fully half his speech at this point, and I could only assume that by the end of September, I might be able to be his full time speechwriter.

I sat quietly as the minutes passed. While fumbling with my phone, checking e-mails and seeming to be busy in my own universe, I was eavesdropping on as many conversations as my ears would allow. What I heard was a remarkable succession of unqualified endorsements for anything and everything about Mr. Trump from his unfiltered comments to his unbridled endorsement of the Trump mystique. I decided to engage my neighbor to my immediate right in conversation.

He was younger than I, maybe no more than 40 years old. He was well dressed, as if he had just come from his office. He was blond,with thinning hair and seemed a non-threatening target.

I introduced myself, using only my first name, and placing my residence much closer to Iowa than was true. I learned that this thinning blond haired neighbor worked less than a mile from the Grand River City Center and had cut short what he was doing to hear Mr. Trump. After a few innocuous comments back and forth, I posed a question to him.

"The other day I was asked what one thing Mr. Trump could say or do that would most affect your support for him. What would your answer be?"

My thinning blond haired neighbor looked at me for several seconds and then answered slowly and emphatically. "If he hugged Obama, kind of like what Christie did."

I nodded my head in solidarity. I thought to myself, "with all the problems in the world, all the issues that have to be addressed, this, THIS, is what would cause my thinning blond haired neighbor the most anguish about Trump."

What was going to make this evening even more intriguing was the recent significant retreat of the stock market, caused we were advised, in large part by the problems that China was encountering in keeping their economy from sliding backward. Several weeks before, Mr. Trump had warned us about China playing us for fools, and when they devalued their currency, he pointed out that this was incontrovertible evidence that they were smarter and more savvy businessmen than we were. Tonight, in addition to the immigrant bashing that played so well, I was certain we would have a new topic to discuss, China. Forget that their problems seemed to indicate that their government was not quite so smart as Mr. Trump would portray, and that the stock market reaction was not due to China outmaneuvering us but rather was based on the fear that they would in fact stop being a business partner. Just putting the words China and stock market decline in the same sentence would be as much as Mr. Trump would need to convince this audience that he was the one and only person capable of understanding and out-negotiating them.

At 6:15 PM the local and state dignitaries filled the stage. One by one they spoke of the greatness of Mr. Trump, echoing the words of Ivanka from June 16 and expanding on the legend. It was all intended to bring the assembled to a frenzy, so that when the man of the moment finally appeared, there would be a coronation. On top of that strange mass of hair would rest a crown, and the king would be bringing truth and comfort to a crowd ready to profess their undying love.

By 8 PM, the preliminaries were over. And then, finally, entering from stage right, as a god more than a man, as the savior who would bring this country back from the depths, who would beat back all foes and who would once more, and forever, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, was the one, the only, Donald Trump.

If Mr. Trump was performing this routine in the Catskills it would be called shtick, with its own quirky idiosyncratic blend of sarcasm, waving arms and calls for confirmation of every non-sensical thought that emerged. "You know what I mean" or "don't you agree" punctuated many of  his punch lines.  He hit all the standards, lambasting and mocking political opponents and perceived enemies. He took evident pride in being able to use the derogatory term "anchor babies" without redress while Mr. Bush was taking an unrelenting beating for the same indelicacy. He ignored the separation of powers between the branches as he promised to bring Ford Motor company to its knees for threatening to build a plant in, of all places on earth, Mexico. The Constitution was clearly only a guideline, not a dictate, in Mr. Trump's vision, and those who he opposed would crumble before him as swiftly as cowering criminals before Superman.

But it was, in most respects, pedantic in the Trump scale of greatness, and, as we have all been reminded constantly, everything that Mr. Trump touches is not just great, but the greatest. And, the crowd, primed for an Oscar winning show, was relatively subdued, with quiet applause and supporting nods being the principal response.

It turns out that the fireworks happened not in this Exhibit Hall, not on this stage, but in the press area where Mr. Trump and a reporter from Univision squared off. Confronted with a somewhat relentless foe, Mr. Trump resorted to his bag of tricks, first trying to ignore his opponent, then having him escorted from the room, and finally sensing he might have overstepped, even for him, allowing the reporter an audience. It was here, only a few feet from where I sat, that the real action occurred. It turned out that I had traveled all this distance, only to miss what I had been hoping to see,  Mr. Trump having to do his rope a dope.

Mr. Trump's is a brand a vitriol and hatred, covered in the American flag, that I cannot countenance. He has invoked a nationalist, isolationist fervor that is unseemly and unsettling. He has taken away the dignity and worth of those who were by accident of birth not born in this country and has portrayed them as mere caricatures, without value or meaning.  His campaign will not be extolling our virtues but encouraging our vices. His is a call to anything but American greatness.

So, on August 25, 2015 when Mr. Trump announced in no uncertain terms that he was the person best qualified to lead our country, when all those in attendance were praising the greatness of a charlatan, I found only an Elmer Gantry masquerading under a big tent, in a side show that had somehow taken center stage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the great pieces. I hope the NY Times picks it up.