Standing outside of the raucous civic center, one felt their stomach drop overhearing, and witnessing first hand, just how dark and vile the words and expressions were between protesters and supporters of “The Donald.”
“Are you part of The Klan?” or “How can you support someone who is a racist and a rapist?” someone from behind the barriers would cry out, only to be either flipped off or given a thumbs up by someone trying to get into the venue, shouting back “How can you not love your country?” or “If you don’t like America, pack up and leave.”
I watched these horrific exchanges, all the while thinking, “This is exactly what ‘they’ want.” Divide and conquer. Pull the strings of society apart and become the puppet master. Democrat or Republican, this remains the objective. And for Trump, he didn’t come to Asheville to gain votes or influence his chances in North Carolina. He came here to stir the pot and, in the process (or by-product), get the attention and media coverage he craves.
And yet, in that moment, I was also not focusing on the biggest theme of what I was witnessing — “nothing is the same, everything is the same.” Just like every “new and hip” generation didn’t invent sex, drugs, or youthful chaos, it also didn’t invent racial tensions, economic crisis, or terrorism.
For every protester and supporter, I wondered if they knew their history. Did they know that terrorism — on an even grander scale — was way more prominent in our country 40 years ago than today? Did they know who the Weather Underground was and how they bombed the Pentagon and Capitol Building in the 1970s? What about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who routinely hijacked commercial airliners? What about the economic crisis and racial tensions, not to mention foreign policy and wartime debacles of the 1960s onward? Those societal issues are part of the same political landscape that has resided in our country — our culture, our subconscious — for the better part of half a century.
Take into consideration 1968. What if, in this day and age of 24-hour news and social media, something like the violence at 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago happened this year in Philadelphia? What if a presidential candidate, like say Bernie Sanders, was assassinated at a rally like Bobby Kennedy was on that fateful night in California some 48 years ago? How would we as Americans, as well as the media and the world, react?
So, when someone says “Make America Great Again,” I say, “Well, it’s never been ‘great,’ but we’re getting better.” Everything we’re squabbling about today are the same things we yelled at each other about during every presidential election since the end of World War II and the ushering in of the Atomic Age and the Cold War, when the awesome power of man reared its ugly political head.
Stepping into the U.S. Cellular Center, the screaming from the protesters faded into the background only to be replaced by the howling of a rollicking crowd of people looking for some answers. Amid the thousands that partook in the rally, Trump’s speech was pretty much what one would expect. Cheers when he mentioned his love for veterans and police officers, boos when he (often) used a buzzword like “Obamacare” or “Hillary.” He doubled down on “The Wall,” once again assuring the crowd that “[Mexico] will pay for it.”
And throughout the speech, I kept wondering when he was actually going to get to the issues at hand. OK, you won the nomination — now what? With most of the speech bashing Hillary Clinton, when would something tangible, like perhaps an outlined foreign policy or plan for the economy, be mentioned? It was a pandering speech, one that was only emphasized by the “warm up act,” which was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who resembled more of a pit bull sitting at attention next to Trump rather than the same guy who preached “unity and peace” while standing atop the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center.
But, like Trump himself, the crowd was more subdued than what’s been seen in previous rallies. Sure, there was shoving and even a punch thrown, but, for the most part, those in attendance stood and listened, hoping for something, anything of substance that would come from the man at the podium who actually stated, “Take a chance on me — it can’t get any worse.”
Yes, Mr. Trump, it really can’t get any worse. And I’m not talking about the economy or our foreign policy, not about immigration or racial violence. I’m talking about the way the American people have been used as a commodity for profit by political officials and the business elite.
It’s hard to stand there and listen to Trump say he cares about veterans when he was a draft dodger. It’s hard to listen to him vilify Clinton when she and Bill were on the guest list of his third wedding. It’s hard to listen to Giuliani hate on her when she was a former New York State senator, one who was definitely in cahoots with him over the years, attending the same functions and fundraisers. It’s also hard to listen to Clinton point her finger at Wall Street and bankers when they’ve been in her fundraising pockets for decades.
No matter who wins the presidential election, both Trump and Clinton come out the victors. They’re playing with house money and they’ll only continue to get richer and have more political influence as the years go along. The real losers this election season are, well, all of us, seeing as we’re seemingly angrier with our neighbor than at our politicians or those behind the scenes running the show.
“Hey, it’s goin’ no place / Hey, don’t give me that face / I know why, I know why…”
— Dinosaur Jr. “I Live For That Look”