The sun was hanging high and unimpeded in the early afternoon, five hours before Donald Trump was scheduled to take the stage in Manchester, New Hampshire. I wasn’t sure at what time I needed to leave my house; typically, I like to arrive at these political rallies with an hour to spare, in case anything sensational should develop, but only a fool would expect this event to unfold “typically”, and I could not afford to leave anything to chance. I gave my cat an early dinner, put on my fedora, and pulled onto I-93 with just under five hours to go. That may sound excessive, even to those of you who have some familiarity with these rituals, but you can never be too careful when the Donald is coming to town and setting up shop.
Consider the divinely inspired few who proved their depth of fealty by pitching their tents at the entrance to the SNHU Arena twenty-four hours before showtime. Circumspect though I thought myself to be, I couldn’t imagine there being need for such precaution, and I was tempted to dismiss the rumors as false gossip . . . that is, until I took Exit 5, headed east on Granite State, and was all but swallowed by an agglomeration of pedestrians, hundreds of whom obviously had been walking for more than a mile, all of them making their pilgrimage to the aforementioned Arena. There was a welter of people, perpetually swelling, not to mention the fleet of cars wheezing their way up the hill. Clearly, I’d been overcautious not at all: I’d expected a disaster, but this was apocalyptic.
Once I had some distance from the Arena, I began to search for free, unlimited parking. “You think you’re gonna get away with eight hours of parking at a Trump rally? You might as well wish for a unicorn!” Mock me, if you’d like, but they don’t call this city Manch Vegas for nothing: turn the right corner, drive around the right neighborhood, and you can find what the tourists aren’t meant to see. Once you find it, you know that no one’s going to hassle you about parking in front of that apartment building, and as long as you don’t leave your life savings in the glove compartment, you don’t have anything to worry about. Ah, Manchester’s a great old place, even though I suspect it’s what Trump was alluding to when he described New Hampshire as “a drug-infested den”.
A lot of people gave Trump grief for that comment—not because he disrespected New Hampshire, but because, in the same breath, he lied about having “won” this state, although he was telling the truth if he was referring to the primary, which I believe . . . sorry, I just yawned. Well, he definitely didn’t carry my state in the general election, and I’ve always found that amusing because he visited New Hampshire on the night of November 7th, 2016. He spoke at the SNHU Arena, too, and I was there, tucked away somewhere near the concourses, futilely seeking a decent picture. That was one memorable night: Republican Party all-stars crowding the stage, picket signs, and one guy wearing an orange jumpsuit and a Hillary Clinton mask. I remember standing in line for a half-hour or so, and I expected the same on this occasion, so you can imagine my terror when I neared the Arena and saw a line of people stretching for more than a mile.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m actually understating the size of the crowd. I know for a fact that it covered more than a mile because it was a two-way line covering exactly one half-mile, but only at two o’clock in the afternoon. By five o’clock, the starting point had ruptured across the Valley Cemetery and somehow reattached itself in the middle of Stanton Park. Of course, that was only the official line: a hapless police officer told me that there were at least two “accidental” lines that had popped up on the southeastern side of the Arena but actually didn’t lead anywhere at all. I have no idea what happened to these people, but I imagine that at least some of them were turned away at the doors and told to watch the event outside, where it would be broadcast on an enormous television screen. Where do you think that keep that screen when it isn’t outside?
This is the kind of question that I don’t like to contemplate when I’m alone and sober, and the idea of standing in that line for five hours without a stiff drink in hand was unthinkable, so after I had surveyed the line from the head to the tail, I decided to find some shade and get something cold to sip. I turned around and started walking north on Elm Street, but once I passed the Arena, I found that there was little to really excite me. The protesters had already begun to come together on the sidewalk (though there were plenty on the other side of the street, as well), but without any angry Trumpeters to tango with them, they didn’t have much urgency or even vibrancy. The farther north you moved, the less evidence there was of anything unusual happening in town. You saw a lot of people wearing red hats, of course, but all of them were walking in the opposite direction. Ergo, I decided to turn around and settle in at Murphy’s Taproom, where I could watch the line from the other side of the street.
Murphy’s was doing pretty solid business for three o’clock on a Thursday. I couldn’t find an empty seat at the bar, so I took a table, which is good if you’re looking to gather your thoughts, but terrible if you’re looking to chat with your fellow travelers, maybe catch a couple of juicy quotes. Clearly, it was time to spy on the crowd, but I didn’t see any interesting people. Truth be told, it was kind-of hard to distinguish patrons because everyone, or damned near everyone, was wearing some kind of Trump-centric apparel: red hats, of course, but don’t forget about t-shirts, bandanas, tank tops, even pairs of socks! Undoubtedly, several of them had picked up their merchandise only recently from any of the two-dozen vendors who were walking back and forth, shouting: “Half-off Trump hats, half-off Trump flags! Cash or credit! We got it all!”
Suddenly, I felt like I was sitting in the parking lot at Gillette Stadium, tailgating while the Patriots prepared to confront their weekly opponent. It was all of that apparel, all of it promoting “Trump 2020” or “Keep America Great” or “Donald Fucking Trump”. It reminded me of jerseys, the flood of indistinctive jerseys that comprises the crowd at a football game. There’s something very odd, even unsettling, about entire masses of people wearing effectively identical specialized clothing. I actually had a very bad panic attack about this very problem during my last visit to Gillette: I was overwhelmed by the thousands upon thousands of people wearing Patriots jerseys, and for some reason, I felt really naked. I didn’t have the same panicked feeling at Murphy’s, but I knew that I was going to feel surrounded in a way that I usually don’t at these political rallies, even when I’m certain that I’m the only one who isn’t supporting the candidate in question.
Blame it on the apparel. Or blame it on the second glass of Mermaid Water. I was drinking much more quickly than I’d intended, but I could see the line of people inching along towards the Arena, like some kind of malevolent caterpillar, and still, it was not shrinking. Yet, still it moved. I never would have thought that they would admit people into the Arena more than three hours before the fireworks commenced, but my eyes did not deceive me, and considering that literally everyone in line could have been registering on their cell phones and collecting their tickets, it was certain that a lot of people were going to be turned away. As far as I know, that didn’t happen on the night of the election, but that was when Republican nominee Donald Trump was in town; tonight, President Donald Trump was in town, and it didn’t take a genius—though it did take someone much smarter than I—to anticipate the difference.
At four o’clock, I wrapped up my business at Murphy’s and began the long, humiliating walk to the back of the line, which had stretched even further south on both sides of the loop since I arrived in Manchester two hours ago. As I was walking, one of Trump’s many critics drove by and flipped the patrons the bird. One of those patrons decided to leave the line and confront him, but I am sorry to say that nothing came of their encounter. You can watch the non-event for yourself below, my favorite moment of which is obviously when somebody says: “You’re out-classed and out-intelligenced.”
I’ve been to my fair share of right-wing demonstrations, and every time a leftist protester appears, you can always count on the right-wingers saying something about class, or decency, or how the leftist’s mother must be awfully proud. That counterargument would probably be more resonant if this gathering of Trumpeters didn’t revel in gratuitous crudity and sleaze, which was evident long before the protester arrived. I’ve already mentioned the t-shirts reading “Donald Fucking Trump”, but did I mention the backside, which read: “He’s the President, Bitch”? I’m not going to pretend that I’m offended by such language, but at the same time: if you’re old enough to pay your own rent and fold your own underpants, then you probably shouldn’t be wearing a shirt like that—and in public, no less! To be fair, a few people in line did observe that there are very few opportunities to wear that shirt in public, but that consideration didn’t seem to stop too many people from buying it off of the hawkers on the street.
Those hawkers, who sold everything from “Make America Great Again” hats to bottled water, had a particular interest to the couple before me. The wife of that pair said to her husband: “You know that the media is going to focus on how everyone here is white. And I get it: everyone standing in line is white. But I really wish that more black people would come out and support him.”
To which her husband replied: “Well, look at the people selling merchandise! They’re all black.”
“I know, and that’s good to see and all, but still . . .”
I thought about it for a second, and I realized that this man was right: I don’t think I saw a single white person selling Trump merchandise. I really don’t have anything else to say about it, and I’m not sure how much I ought to say about it, so here’s what the couple’s buddy had to say about it:
“Well, to be honest with ya, how many black people can you really expect to be here? We’re still pretty much the whitest state in the country.”
“Right, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either,” said the husband. “The lowest unemployment in the country, the lowest crime in the country, the lowest poverty in the country. I like to think that New Hampshire sets the example for what black people can do, and you know what? Black people like living here.”
We will abandon this couple, who will not appear in the rest of our story, with one last quote from another friend of theirs. At some point in our procession, a group of people wearing “Italians for Trump” t-shirts appeared. This friend of the couple, a woman, shouted something at them and then reported: “I said, ‘Uncle Guido will love that!’ And they laughed!”
I waited in line for more than ninety minutes, so I heard my fair share of . . . thoughtful commentary on the modern American political culture. One woman behind me was especially interested in me because I’m so young, or because I look so young, at least. There are plenty of young Trumpeters, contrary to popular belief, but they remain valuable as a countercultural symbol precisely because of that popular belief or misconception. Then again, it’s kind-of hard to argue that someone is part of a counterculture when he is supposedly supporting the President of the United States, but at the same time, in the writings of Theodore Roszak…
[Shut up! Back to the action!]
Oh, yeah: there was a woman in line and she thought I was interesting because I’m still young and fertile. She asked for my age, and when I told her I’m twenty-seven, she asked: “Do a lot of your friends give you crap for coming out here and supporting Trump?”
In a rare moment of intelligent perception, I decided not to tell her that I don’t have any friends. “I tend to do most of my socializing at work,” I said, “and we have a good representation of people. A lot of older people, a lot of young, a lot of liberals, a lot of conservatives . . .”
“And the liberals don’t tell you that you’re a horrible person for coming out to this?”
“Nah. I mean, they don’t really understand what I get out of it, but they’re not gonna rip my head off, or nothing.”
She paused. “So, are you a conservative?”
Drat! I’d given myself away. “Eh, I’m a libertarian,” I lied. “Ron Paul was the first politician that I had a lot of respect for,” I said—truthfully, I might add. “I still tend to lean towards that ideology,” I said, somewhat truthfully, but not completely accurately, “so coming here, I figure it’s a good learning experience.” I still have no idea if that last partial statement was accurate or not.
“Well, it’s good that you keep an open mind!”
“No kidding,” said a man to her right. “I mean, the media always says that Trump supporters are the most closed-minded people you could ever meet, but I tell you what: I’d be willing to bet anything at all that the people standing in line right now are the most open-minded people in the entire state.”
Just as he said that, a man appeared on the opposite side of the line, wearing a t-shirt that read: “I Support LGBTQ—Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump, BBQ.” Several of the people nearby, especially the middle-aged women, asked if he’d be willing to pose for a picture.
You don’t need me to explain to you why that t-shirt is derogatory in nature. Note that I didn’t say it was offensive, even though it is: I said that it’s derogatory, that its message is inherently negative, negative and derogatory towards LGBTQ Americans and those who defend their legal and political rights. That negative message precedes, and even takes precedence over, the positive message, the message that is meant to be supportive of liberty, guns, the Bible, etc. Accordingly, that t-shirt can be classified as an example of negative or critical messaging, messaging that is against an ideology or demographic—in this case, LGBTQ Americans—than it is supportive of or in favor of liberty, guns, and so on.
That kind of negative messaging is ubiquitous at any Trump rally. Consider the declaration, “He’s the President, Bitch.” Obviously, that statement is directed towards Trump’s critics, towards those who would prefer to see someone else in the White House—the consequence of which is that it is directed towards Trump’s critics before it is directed towards Trump’s supporters as an indication of camaraderie, or something. Another t-shirt that was prolific at the rally: “I Stand for the Flag, I Kneel for the Cross.” Only a fool would suggest that this shirt was intended as anything other than a direct response to the Colin Kaepernick controversy, one which criticizes Kaepernick’s protests before it affirms the patriotic virtue of standing “for” the flag. And finally, everybody’s favorite: “Trump 2020: The Sequel: Make the Liberals Cry Again.” Apparently, the greatest benefit to re-electing Donald Trump is not the revitalization of the economy, or the construction of the southern wall, or even the promotion of Judeo-Christian values; it is the negative emotional response that will be solicited from liberals in the event of their defeat.
In case I was too subtle in the previous paragraph, the Trumpeters put the cart before the horse: their objective seems to be to hurt the feelings of anonymous liberals, rather than to accomplish that which redounds to the United States. Simply put, their motivation is schadenfreude. Now, I’m not going to pretend that schadenfreude began when Trump entered politics, but it is a particularly illogical emotion for a Trumpeter to place such emphasis upon; after all, shouldn’t his focus be on Trump’s victory and on his alleged presidential accomplishments, not on “the liberals’” failure and defeat? When the Red Sox defeat the Yankees, what do Bostonians prefer: that the Red Sox won or that the Yankees lost? Undoubtedly, the former; yet, for Trumpeters it is the other way around. This is what Nietzsche referred to as the politics of ressentiment, and, incidentally, one reason why he was uninterested in politics. It is also what one of my associates refers to as “the finger in the eye”.
Call it what you will, but the sadism of the Trumpeters reveals one thing above all else: their own incurable unhappiness. There is an unmistakable absence of joy at these Trump rallies, a puzzling dearth of positive inspiration. There is no dance to the demonstration, no fun to the festivities. It’s clear that these people cannot find any earnest pleasure in their supposed political achievements; they can assure themselves of their own satisfaction only by reminding themselves, time and time again, that other people are unhappy with them—but what kind of hollow gratification is that? Not only is it as unbecoming as it can possibly be; it is also entirely unsustainable. What happens if the liberals decide to stop watching the news and to stop protesting these rallies? What will remain for Trump to complain about then? I’ve never seen a movement, political or otherwise, so inextricably predicated upon ethereal negativity, on something that is all but imaginary, and on that which is certainly illusory.
Even the arguments that his supporters employ on his behalf are utterly senseless. They speak of his defense of our “standing in the world” and of the “strength of our military”, but if concepts like “standing” and “strength” are important to you . . . if they actually mean anything to you, then you might want to ask yourself what, exactly, constitutes your political principles and priorities. To speak of “standing” is to speak of the fictitious, of the make-believe, and to speak of “strength” is to betray your own ignorance of America’s role as the great international aggressor. I mean, if you really think that these concepts of reverie are of any substance at all, then I don’t really know what I would recommend for you . . . try watching some of Julian Assange’s interviews, I guess.
Unfortunately, that kind of material would probably prove to be too complex and dry for the folks who gathered in the SNHU Arena on this hot August night. They were too busy knocking into one another to grab the red hats that were tossed into the stands, not unlike the shirts that are sometimes shot out of miniature cannons at sporting events. Yet, their jostling for disposable merchandise—hats, produced in China, that read: “Make America Great Again”—is not the most unbecoming of their antics; in the relatively short time that I was in the Arena, I witnessed any number of middle-aged women posing for countless selfies, grown men strutting in star-spangled jumpsuits, and, when Trump finally took to the stage, self-styled bodybuilders jumping up and down like six-year-old girls at Disneyland.
The malignant immaturity of the people in attendance—ten thousand of them, according to various estimates—is hardly preternatural in this country of ours, but it is still deeply embarrassing for an adult to witness. It’s one thing to watch it on TV from the comfortable distance of your own home, but to be among such an inexplicable lack of self-awareness should instill every spectator with a nearly lethal sense of pervasive humiliation. Then again, maybe the age of the people in the crowd, and my subsequent expectation that they know just a little bit better, weighed so heavily upon my mind because the music that blared over the multiple loudspeakers was so terribly outdated: “In the Air Tonight”? “YMCA”? Really? As one associate of mine said, “That’s so Gillette Stadium.”
Speaking of the soundtrack, arguably the most unpleasant moment of the night occurred just as the second airing of “Paradise City” reached its chaotic crescendo: while the crowd was stomping its feet as loudly as it could and screaming at the top of its collective lungs, a middle-aged woman collapsed, expelled a thick stream of fluid from her lips, and was carried off on a stretcher. I felt so awful for her, seeing her struggle as the entire audience made as much noise as it possibly could, but what was I supposed to do—interfere with the paramedics?
Oh, but what am I talking about? Don’t you want to hear about Trump? Yes, he made a speech, and yes, he described New Hampshire as, “The great state that I love”, although he didn’t mention anything about it being a “drug-infested den”. After he mentioned how we have “the greatest state in the history of your state”, he declared that, whether we love him or hate him, still, we “have no choice” but to vote for him. And of course he asked us, “Have we ever seen anything like the water being thrown on New York City cops?” I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it, no, but I have seen actions much more lethal than that, including the public execution via strangulation of one Eric Garner. Yep, Trump appeared and he said some things, but I don’t think you really expect me to get into all of that, do you?
Even if I wanted to write about that stuff, I’m afraid I didn’t stay for very long. Maybe you heard about the protesters being removed from the event. Well, somewhere in the upper deck, a group of people unfurled their pro-Palestinian banners in some kind of hopeless, but nevertheless quite admirable, attempt to educate the masses about the modern-day apartheid that our government sponsors in coordination with the Israeli military. Unfortunately, that act of international terrorism was of little interest to the Trumpeter who proceeded to snatch the banners out of their hands, tear them up, and throw them to the floor. The protesters were escorted out of the building, but the imbecile who destroyed their property was greeted as some kind of hero—even though that man is anything but courageous, considering that he had 9,996 people on his side. He’s actually the most naked coward I have seen in a while, which may be why he found so much support among the audience in question.
I witnessed this scuffle break out before the news cameras did, but by the time Trump made his remarkably hypocritical comment about the protester’s “weight problem”, I decided that it would be a much better use of my time to hurry to the upper decks and to talk to those protesters, to see if they would be interested in sharing their story with me at overwritten.org. Unfortunately, they were long gone by the time I made it up there, and although Trump continued to drone on about his political opponents, I didn’t have any interest in listening to his blabber. I decided that it would be time for me to go home.
Still, I will not end this story without saying one nice thing about the Trumpeters. One of the men in the audience was so overjoyed to see the president that he bounced up and down and into me—twice. I told him not to worry about it, but when his father-in-law appeared with a plate of nachos, he made sure to ask if I wanted any. I told him I appreciated the offer, but I was all set. Nice story, huh?