Trump Dance Party USA: NOLA
And so I waited for my third presidential stump speech of the 2016 cycle. Deep South Productions staged a sad, unintuitive, amateurish event setting that was prelude to the even more sad and amateurish freak show that was Donald Trump’s Dance Party USA, New Orleans Edition.
The first indication that this would be more chore than event was GoogleMaps refusal to find the event address. This was remedied by removing the unit letter from the address, but that ended up sending me to the Lakefront Airport terminal. Parking for the event was actually another quarter mile down the road, then a side road toward the lake and behind the airport in a shell lot that was clogged at the entrance by Trump Junk hucksters. A half dozen coaches sat idling nearby with eager Trump sheep. At first I assumed these were paid seat fillers, but later found out that the coaches were there to shuttle the sheep to the event. Unfortunately for the three dozen attendees who arrived at the same time I did, nobody bothered to tell us this and we walked all the way around the airport to the hangar entrance.
Upon arrival, I sought out anyone who looked like they might be in charge, eventually resorting to asking a Secret Service agent. (And I may as well get this out of the way now: Every Secret Service agent I spoke with, both uniformed and suited, was the apex of cordiality and helpfulness! To the point I began to wonder if they were paid actors!) I was directed to a young lady with no visible Trump or event badges who directed me to the media check-in table, situated behind the crowd lines and invisible from every angle unless you were standing in front of it.
Catherine, Trump’s media rep eventually appeared and I explained I was with HumidCity, a local blog, and had requested media passes through the Eventbrite website but had not heard from them. Catherine was very apologetic in her explanation that blogs aren’t journalism and that being local, HC was probably not important enough to warrant press creds. The McCain, Sanders and even Jindal camps I covered previously had no such issues. In fact, all three were enthusiastic about small local media even bothering to show up.
I then asked her if I’d at least be able to bring in my Canon DSLR and zoom lens. The EB site had a warning that these would not be allowed for the general public. I even explained that most newer pocket digitals had larger chips and tighter zoom than my ancient, decade old rig. She said I’d need to check with Secret Service about that but it shouldn’t be a problem, except that in that very same sentence also said it probably would be a problem, thus covering all bases and taking no responsibility whatsoever. I asked why it might be a problem and she apologized again, but didn’t know why. The SS agent didn’t know why either, but told me I’d have to find a place to stow it. So I walked back to the parking lot and dumped my gear then slogged back to the checkpoint. In hindsight this was fine with me as the important media photogs surrendered their gear which sat baking in the sun until it was inspected. Also something I’ve never seen happen at a campaign event.
Entry was otherwise relatively easy. The lines moved quickly. Two frat boys in front of me were incredulous that they couldn’t bring in their bagged 40oz beers. After breezing through the metal detectors without a beep, (literally a 1 in 100 experience for me,) I patiently awaited the return of my pocket contents with a half-dozen other sheep. A sullen TSA drone barked at us to move “all the way to the left” of the end of the table. Six of us. Crammed at the end of a folding lunch table. Had we moved any more left, we’d have been on the agent side of the table. Fucking McDonalds cashiers with badges.
Anyway, that was it for entry. Nobody ever checked event tickets. Maybe that was done as you boarded the coaches nobody told us about. Who knows, but we were in. Plastic folding chairs were set up to the rear of the hangar behind and to the side of the press platform. These would be useless once the show started. A wheelchair area was set up to the left of the dais with enough space for about eight to ten wheelchairs. It filled quickly though, and good thing as you’d have to wheel all the way around the press platform, through the chairs and through the standing crowd to get to it.
The dais itself was surrounded by standard steel parade barriers in an awkward, asymmetric loop. It had already collected a full herd of sheep. Above the dais was a giant American flag. Around the hangar a half-dozen pro-quality lights cast barely visible blobs of red white and blue on to the gray hangar walls. Trump rally signs were taped to the walls, completely invisible unless you were on the edges of the crowd and standing in front of them. No bunting. No banners. Overall it looked more like the 360° point of a parade route on Severn than a Presidential rally. Massive speakers blared out quasi-motivational pop songs.
Yeah, about that. The doors opened at 3pm. Trump would take the stage three hours later. the music loop was about ten songs lasting around 35 minutes. Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Can’t Always Get What you Want’ and ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, an aria that I know well but for the life of me can’t remember the name of, Elton John’s ’Tiny Dancer’ and ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’, and a few others that defy remembrance despite having heard them five or six times! Very few seemed to have any thematic connection to the campaign, though cases could be made for the Stones and ‘Funeral For A Friend’.
So I mingled.
Why Trump? No, really, why the fuck Trump? I asked a few folks and the replies were all the same fact-free excuses for reason we’ve heard before. He’s not a politician. He can’t be bought. He’s gonna Make ‘Murricah Great Again. He tells it like it is. It’s the perfect symbiotic ignorance between policy-free candidate and easily entertained, low-thought base. I had already given up trying to cover this as a real stump speech. I conciously switched to Silent Red Carpet Joan Mode and created back-stories for the sheep as I crowd watched. Some of those folks have some really dark secrets. In my mind, at least.
The crowd leaned toward critter. Now, I try very hard not to judge on appearance, but there are times when you can spot those who came down from the hills to greet the new parson out of respect even though they don’t attend the Sunday Meetings. A fresh dab of Fop in their hair, makeup troweled on in an attempt at emulating a Vogue cover they saw once in a bus station in the Eighties, work boots suit-pants and a T-shirt and ball cap… you know the type. At the opposite end from the trailer park were preppies and business-types from central casting, missing only the sweater-draped-around-the-neck. LSU attire was split evenly between the two camps. out of the thousand or so sheep there were perhaps 20 people of color.
There were a few oddballs, too. One girl in a tennis dress. A load in hospital scrubs and an orange tweed sportscoat.Two guys wearing suits with a currency pattern though they didn’t seem to know each other or have noticed they were fashion twins. A few cocktail dresses, because fuck appropriate, it’s 4pm and I’m already drunk. And then there were Those Girls, one dressed like a nondescript cross between Peewee Herman and Andrea Martin and the other dressed in what i can only assume was an homage to Ivana Trump. Or perhaps Anna Nicole Smith. Honestly, these two looked like the only people actually having any fun at the event.
And then there were the lurkers. These folks immediately looked out of place and didn’t mingle at all. Some were people of color, some gutterpunkesque. Hipstery-looking freaks with decidedly un-Republican hair and fashion. I wanted to approach each of them and ask what they were planning that might cause shock and awe among the sheep, but decided it would spook them. I would be loathe to defuse anything that might crack the tedium of the day! Sure enough, I pegged most of those who would later disrupt the festivities.
In the three-hour wait for Trump, we were treated to some flying lessons by a helicopter student. He took off, zoomed out to the lake, circled back, stopped in front to the crowd and rotated left and right as his instructor leaned out and checked his accuracy with a point on the ground. Despite seeing this four or five times, there was always someone in the crowd who “knew” Trump was in the dinky copter, (think smaller than MASH and no stretcher skids,) waiting for more people to show up before landing. Others were pointing out the lone jet on the tarmac as Trump’s, because he owns one, right? And it’s white and blue! That’s the color of his plane! (No, it’s mostly blue. And it’s a 747.) In all, it was a disheartening but expected display of logical thought. Two more hours to go. I considered suicide, but the helicopter blades were too far away.
At quarter to six, a contingent of security appeared near the outside mingling area. I took this as a cue. Nobody else really noticed. Nor did they spot the plane coming in over Lake Ponchartrain as it flipped on the landing lights. Someone noticed me staring in a different direction and asked what I was looking at.
“No, he’s already here.”
Someone else chimed in with, “Can’t be here. He’s a showman. When he comes in he’ll buzz the hangar because he likes to make an entrance and he wants everyone to see the plane!”
Yeah. OK. The only thing I was wrong about was thinking they’d taxi right up to us and he’d disembark waving like Nixon. They pulled the plane behind the next hangar over and took a five- or six-SUV trip the remaining 200 feet to behind the event hangar, out of sight of the waiting crowd. I moved inside with a few others for a glimpse of the evening’s protagonist. Glimpse is accurate. The hangar had filled up though you could have doubled the crowd and still had space left over. Three times more bodies than Jindal, three times fewer than Sanders. The door opened and a few agents and overdressed donors came and went a dozen times. Each time I hit record on the phone. And then it died.
So I pulled the Fuji out. The crowd shouted “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” as instructed by a disembodied and probably pre-recored voice some thirty minutes earlier. Can’t have a spectacle without instructions. A few more false alarms and the crowd quieted. Then somebody started a “Who Dat say they gonna beat that Trump! Who Dat?! Who Dat?!” chant. My heart broke right there. And some of my lunch salad came up but I managed to Cruz it back down.
Finally the groundhog came out of his hole. From my terrible vantage point I thought I’d get less than a second of vid, but he immediately paused and waved to everyone. It would be great footage if the subject were anything of substance. He climbed the stairs to the dais and milked the fanatics for a while, then completely ruined everything by opening his mouth. He stole a baby from the audience. I thought perhaps Carly Fiorina would come out and eat it, but no. Someone in the crowd had glued a Trump Wig on to their child. And it had paid off. A lifetime of trauma and jeering for the price of a child’s soul.
Trump stroked the herd with how great Louisiana is and how much he’s been wanting to come here ever since he started campaigning. I thought he could have come here years ago to finally build that massive hotel we keep hearing about, but what the hell do I know. He wasted no time in telling us a new poll has him at 49%. He insulted Mitt Romney and the media. Then, assuming we had forgotten that the media is responsible for many polls, told us all how wrong they were when he entered the race a year ago but how they’re now not-wrong because he’s at 49%. In the first twenty minutes he said nothing of any substance whatsoever. Just a stream-of-unconcious rambling collection of boasts and jibes mixed with fawning praise for those who came to bask in his glory.
I really don’t know what I expected. Exactly what I got, to be honest. But somewhere in the back of my head I thought there had to be something Trump said in stump speeches that never made the 30-second recaps on the nightly news. Something real. Something policy. Something you could take to the water cooler on Monday and say, “Hey, Trump actually has a good idea about…” Nope. Nothing. What you see on the news is exactly what you get in person. Except you get a fucking hour of it.
Watching him live, I realized exactly who he is. Not the mogul he thinks he is, nor the winner he claims to be. Not the bloviating crusader nor the anti-system foil that either side of the media portray him as. But the true Donald Trump. He’s the drunk at the end of the bar who simply will not shut the fuck up. No matter how many times he’s asked or told, he proffers his opinion on everything that’s wrong or right with the world regardless of anyone’s interest or attention. You can buy him a drink, escort him out, throw him down the stairs or punch his lights out, but in ten minutes he’s back on that barstool telling you why your life’s a fucking mess, despite the fact that he lives in a box behind the WalMart and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. Now imagine that guy with millions of dollars. Yeah. That guy.
So, there I was wishing I’d stayed home and masturbated when Trump called out, “Do we have a protestor? I hope so. Is that a… Oh! Get him outta here!” I followed two previously lethargic cops who had been napping behind the hangar for most of the day, surprised by their newfound rapid locomotion. I couldn’t see any commotion as they waded into the herd, and thought it was all over. I certainly hadn’t heard any rabble being roused. I changed course to the doors, figuring a 50/50 chance that’s where any scofflaws be taken; the other option being behind the dais and through the doors Trump came through for a private beatdown.
Success. About five minutes later they were escorted out. no cuffs, no bruises. Just directed through the doors and to a corner of the building. One was stood facing the wall and I thought the cop was going to frisk and arrest him, but as the second protestor came out they were both pointed in the direction of the Official Protest lined up on the property edge. They walked off as friends of theirs carrying signs squealed in celebratory delight around them. That was it.
I followed them out so I can’t speak to any roughhousing on either side that has been reported. I watched a video of the event showing Black Lives Matter protestors silently raising their fists being booed. Trump himself accused them of punching people, “fists flailing,” but the video clearly shows this was not the case. As they linked arms and were moved out, they began chanting “Black Lives Matter” but this was quickly drowned out by the herd chanting “All Lives Matter.” Yay white people.
But back to the first group. I caught up with Chris who was the first ejectee from the event.
Chris said, “It was… It reminded me of 1939 Nazi Germany with tons of white people there supporting an overt fascist.” I asked if he was tackled, Chris said, “They didn’t tackle me, but they did, one guy grabbed me and pushed me out saying ‘You need to go!’ They could have been nicer…” Chris said he wanted to show the world that not everybody in Louisiana agrees with Trump or his supporters. I’d like to think a younger me would have done the same, but I really don’t know. I was pretty fucking proud of him.
I thought about going back in, but that would entail another TSA pocket dump and from what I could hear, it was more of the same baseless, dog-whistle, buzzword rhetoric that Trump is known for, so I headed off to the protestor area, conveniently located under some trees and unlit parking lot lamps, well out of sight of the entrance behind the big TV trucks. Most of the available light came from police SUV’s placed between the protestors and the hangar.
As I walked around I felt a shoulder tap and turned to face an NOPD officer who said I couldn’t be there with “those signs.” He was referring to the Trump signs under my arm. I explained to him that I collected political ephemera and he told me he didn’t want any fights started. I then explained that I’d roll them up to make them less visible and that I was voting for Bernie anyway, so I certainly wouldn’t be starting anything. To my amazement, the cop said, “Oh, you votin’ for Bernie? You all right!” and that was the end of it! It was bizarre. While it worked to my advantage, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the same thoroughness and diligence that the NOPD uses to solve burglaries and homicides.
The protestors were relatively quiet, considering they were armed with drums, horns and vuvuzelas, only using them in sparse bursts. There were bullhorn speeches at very low volumes, which may have been a directive of the cops. Cars passed by honking horns, some in praise of the protest, others with Trump sheep hanging out the windows screaming everything from snide, false support to certain derogatory language that I’ll never fucking use. Oops.
There were some good protest signs. “Small Mind. Small Hands”, “Immigrants rebuilt New Orleans”, “Elect a leader. Not a moron!”, “Fascism is for NO ONE – Fuck Off Nazi Punks” and my personal favorite: “Donald Trump Likes Nickelback!” I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly something to find out before the General Election! No one wants to wake up on November 9th to find out that the National Anthem has been changed to ‘Photograph’.
I talked to Mason who held two signs. One read “Trump has small hands!” I was surprised how quickly the small hands thing took hold. Bless SocMed! The other read, “Trump is a moron! His supporters aren’t!” I asked him about that. Mason said that Trump supporters are just people like you and me. They’re fed up with the system and they’re lashing out, but they aren’t very discerning of who they’re supporting. They just hear something they can agree with but don’t look too deeply below the surface of where it’s coming from. I was pretty impressed with Mason, too. He was well spoken, able to see things from the other side of the fence, and understanding of those whom he disagreed with. As I made the trek back to the parking lot I thought with kids like Mason and Chris around, this country might be in some good hands in a decade or so.
And then I passed a family buying Trump Junk from a vendor. A six-year old boy was muttering, “Protestors! I hate protestors! They should be arrested!”
And I started to worry about the future again.