MOUNT PLEASANT, SOUTH CAROLINA – The joke’s over.
It’s time for the late-night monologues to end, for the Saturday Night Live bookings to stop, for the anchors on CNN to quit wisecracking their way through the evening rundown.
It’s not funny and it’s never been funny.
Tonight, the Donald Trump campaign jumped into the territory of full-throated fascism with two feet. Tonight, Donald Trump transformed from novelty footnote to one of the most dangerous men in American history.
If his campaign ends without a body count, we should all consider ourselves unbelievably lucky.
The line into Trump’s speech aboard the USS Yorktown, harbored in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, right outside of Charleston, is abuzz with white people buying the campaign’s signature hat, a cheap red number reading MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN that was first adopted when Trump needed something to keep his eccentric head of hair from fluttering out of place in front of the camera. Between purchases, they talk about “ethnic people,” “blacks,” and other groups they find both unseemly and ungrateful.
As expected, conversation eventually switches to San Bernardino and the recent attacks by an apparently radicalized couple with arguable ties to ISIS. Some argue we should bomb them and others advocate reducing the Middle East to a glass parking lot.
“I just like that he’s not going to bullshit you,” the owner of the glass parking lot solution says. “If you ask me, it’s this political correct bullshit that’s got us in all this trouble.”
Within seconds he tells his new friend in line, along with anybody else within an earshot, how Reagan was such a badass that when he was elected in 1981 the Iranians automatically released their American hostages out of fear. What he neglects to mention is that the Reagan campaign negotiated with the Iranians before the election to ensure the Iranians wouldn’t release their prisoners beforehand and help incumbent Jimmy Carter.
I know this, and would usually speak up, but the scene is so fraught with tension and anger that any attempt would’ve been an invitation for trouble. The rhetoric only grows uglier as the sun sets over the ship.
“I like that he’s doing this on an aircraft carrier,” says a woman who just moments earlier took great joy in baiting a desperate vendor into thinking she was going to buy a T-shirt before sending him on his way. “It seems right because he’s so…strong.”
Everyone has it backward and they’ve had it backward all along. The pundits have wrung their hands over the poll numbers, wondering what it’s going to take for Trump to finally lose his momentum. What was going to be the thing that made him unpalatable and what was going to be the final straw that broke the campaign’s back?
After all, how was it that he was capable of dragging so many people to his extreme point of view?
The truth of it is that Trump hasn’t drug anybody anywhere. And he doesn’t have impressive poll numbers because he’s somehow or another convinced anybody of anything.
Trump is, as of this moment, the heartbeat of an America with which you and I are not a part of but very much accustomed. His is not a proactive candidacy but a pure, unadulterated, reaction to what a slice of the American public wants. This is a group that lives their lives steeped in unbelievable anger. They are either poor or less rich than they think they should be, they are middle-class or upper middle-class, and they are, almost to a person, white. They are angry and all they want in the fucking world is to blame somebody.
Trump isn’t the cause, he’s the disease personified.
He is repeating to this group of people, in a voice they’ve been dying for, the very thing they’ve always known but they’ve wanted to hear. And it doesn’t matter what gets in their way, whether it’s the Constitution they claim to love so much or groups of people they wish to deny basic decency and basic rights.
He has found the pulse of these ignorant, livid people and is playing it like a virtuoso strumming an instrument.
“We put out a statement today,” Trump says, shuffling through his papers. “It’s impossible to watch this gross incompetence that I watched last night. And we put out a statement a little while ago and these people (the media) went crazy… Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on!”
The crowd around me explodes. They’ve been cheering every custom-made applause line all night. They’ve called President Obama a coward, a criminal, and, this is the dirtiest of words tonight, a Muslim. Anything that the outside world could see as racist or vile they’ve eaten up and shouted back “Amen!” and “Preach!” When protestors interrupt the speech, and at least five of them do, a crowd of men surrounds them, shoves their fingers in their faces, and cries “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until security carries them away. The look in their eyes tells me we’re only days away from one of these scenes getting out of hand.
“We have no choice. We have no choice. We have no choice.”
Some would argue that capitalism is a system of competition while others maintain it’s less a matter of innovation and one-upmanship and more about latent opportunism. Trump’s success as a businessman and mogul are debatable, but what isn’t is his uncanny ability to seize an opportunity. The man has a talent at serving his greed and lust for influence by leveraging circumstances to his whim.
It’s crass, but true, that Trump saw the tragedy in San Bernardino, and Paris before it, as a chance to further his brand. Did he enter the race to further an anti-Islamic agenda? No, it began as a call to arms against illegal immigration, but the focus of the time has changed and with it the zeitgeist of the White and the Angry. Now it’s time to remind the Right Wing women of the country that they too could be raped, that the Right-Wing men could be killed or replaced, much as they already have been, in their own minds, by the forces of Political Correctness.
It is political theater and to see it up close and personal is staggering. I’ve seen some incredible scenes in my history of politics, but none has matched the vitriol and hatred I saw tonight. Those around me were burning with a rage I’ve never witnessed before. They were ready to fight, to destroy, to dismember if only Trump gave me them the permission.
“Treat her gently,” he says as a Black Lives Matter protestor is being led out. He jokes that they always criticize him when he takes pity on the protestors. That it makes him look “weak.”
He says, “Treat her gently,” and you have to wonder what happens if and when he ever decides to take the gloves off.
The protestors are on one side of the street, the Trump supporters on the other. Between them the Mount Pleasant police department, looking like they’d rather be anywhere else in the world. While the college-aged protestors call Trump a racist, the assembled wave their yard signs and call them “faggots,” “queers,” and implore them to kill themselves. As the showdown escalates, one of the supporters steps toward the group and challenges them to a fight. “I’ll whip all your asses,” he screams to the delight of the crowd.
For a response, the protestors chant “Black lives matter! Black lives matters!” The Trump crowd responds: “All lives matter!” The instigator finds the five or so people not chanting and gets in their face. Inches away from my face, he yells, “Do you hear what they’re saying, man? Black lives matter? Are you gonna let them get away with that?”
I walk away to get a different angle and another thirty-something man comes with me a few steps before pointing at a commemorative turret gun near the protest. “I sure wish that thing was working right about now.”
There are groups itching to cross the street. Five college kids wanting to “crack some fucking skulls.” I hear a couple more talk about going back to their cars to get their guns.
When the police finally call the protest off, they march the kids down the road and away from the property. On either side, numbering in the dozens, are hordes of Trump supporters waiting on something to make a move or for the police to give up their escort, whichever comes first. Down the ways, somebody rolls down their window and throws trash at them. Ten minutes later and they are gone, the cars are gone, and the only thing left is the lingering fear that this thing, this vile, wretched thing, is only just beginning.
Cover photo: Donald Trump Caricature by DonkeyHotey
Photos and video by author