You can hear a Donald Trump rally before you can see it. Less than a mile east from Connecticut’s capital, turning onto Columbus Blvd. toward the Connecticut Convention Center, police directed vehicles around the bustling road and ushered pedestrian traffic into the mob crowding the curb. Protesters swarmed in from all directions, waving poorly hand-written signs preaching things like peace, love, and voting for humanity. They blocked access to most of the sidewalk in front of the convention center, but their ranks were broken by the burst of Trump supporters forcing their way through the crowd with dispatch.
Trump supporters headed toward the rapidly growing line, if they didn’t stop first to consider purchasing a Trump pin, hat, or t-shirt from a vendor shouting Trump slogans like the hotdog guy at a baseball game. He read from one side of a shirt, “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica!” then the other, “Trump that bitch!” After recording the scene on their phones and whipping around toward their friends in laughter, the protesters rushed behind the barrier and the supporters continued on toward the line wrapping around the block. Trump was scheduled to perform in just a few hours and the rally felt much like opening day at Fenway Park.
The line shuffled slowly toward the convention center entrance and the supporters had nothing to do but kill the next three hours before Trump arrived. In the line, they talked of things like the economy going “downhill,” foreign policy being “really important,” and other generalizations. The anti-Hillary t-shirts rested on the chests of several supporters in bold blue font on top of a plain white backdrop. Moms wore them, dads wore them, teenagers wore them, and even small children wore them. Obscenities a frail young boy knew nothing about, but recognized the hilarity and flashed a large smile stained red by juice in the face of a true American pastime—the United States presidential election.
Once inside, police and security guards lacquered the walls. They waved wands, checked bags, and scanned tickets. At the door to the rally floor, supporters picked up their complimentary signs: “The silent majority stands with Trump,” “TRUMP, make America great again,” and at the bottom in tiny letters, as if a disclaimer, “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” Supporters held the signs awkwardly in their arms while fishing for change at the food kiosks and balancing cups of soda, bags of chips, and fussing children after arguing over the inflated prices of Doritos and Coke.
Inside the convention center the music was deafening. With every step toward the stage the music became even louder. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” The Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” shook the air with incessant noise, like the ‘60s and ‘70s rock and roll version of coercive persuasion, but for the masses. The crowd bobbed slightly to the music while pressing each other against the stage. The room wasn’t full, yet, but the supporters were tightly packed, for every free inch meant an inch closer to Trump. For the hours leading up to Trump’s arrival, the crowd remained dormant at the thumping of the music. A troubled sigh came from the crowd after the fifth or sixth time “Uptown Girl” made its way back through the speakers. Mothers hushed their children, husbands quibbled with wives, and young men checked their Snapchat stories and boasted to each other when a girl in a bikini appeared.
Cracks over the speaker and a break in the music ignited a light uproar and heavy stirring from the crowd. The PA began and everything came to a halt. “While Donald Trump supports the First Amendment as much as he does the second—” At this, savage cheers began. The announcer was informing the crowd of how to handle a protester who happened into the rally and began expressing their freedom of speech at a “private party” open to the public, but paid for by Trump himself. If there was a protest, the supporters were instructed to surround and wield their signs above the head of the protester and shout “TRUMP!” again and again until security can save the protester from the barrage.
The announcer continued, “Please do not touch or harm the protester. This is a peaceful rally.” An old woman extended her hand onto the shoulder of a stranger to support herself during a fit of laughter. A mother looked at her son astonished at the thought. Her son whistled an earth-shattering whistle he had learned just for this occasion. The Snapchat boys high-fived each other, jumping at the top. And a man in a purple blazer and haircut reminiscent of Lieutenant Dan booed ferociously. “Peaceful.” It was as if the word was a bomb that set off maniacal antipathy. And the show hadn’t even begun yet.
The moment right before Trump walked out onto the stage the music became impossibly louder than before. Several people jumped at the noise. The song was “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited. It was the same song that played at every youth sporting event straight through to the professionals. It incited clapping and screaming and sign waving and jumping and pushing and shoving and the most eardrum-bursting whistle anyone has ever heard. The public announcer, in the most perfect Michael Buffer fashion, called Donald J. Trump onto the stage. The crowd went wild.
It was as if Justin Bieber walked out onto the dance floor at prom. And like any good entertainer, Trump fueled the commotion with kerosene. “Who loves Hartford, Connecticut? Everybody!” But there was little time for pleasantries. Trump would be there for just under thirty minutes and it was imperative that he got right into his spiel. The room was still abuzz over being recognized in their own state, when Trump promised to bring back an economy and jobs to Connecticut from Mexico. “You heard it here first,” he said, with his hands flailing. Then he mentioned the wall, and the room swelled. Cheers rumbled the floor, “BUILD THE WALL!” chants drowned Trump’s voice, his hands rested on the podium now, supporter signs flew through the air, and it wasn’t long until the first protester emerged.
The passion of the rally could not compare to the rage reserved for Trump protesters. It seemed to be what everyone was waiting for. It was the spectacle that quenched the bloodthirsty; this rally was the flood. Signs went up within striking distance, towering over the protester and ready to collapse like a teetering wall. The little boy replaced his whistle with a casual “Kick him so he can’t have babies!” His mother laughed between chants of “TRUMP!” The entire rally was ambushed by hatred and the protester was swallowed by it. The only person who seemed to have enjoyed the spectacle more than the Trump supporters was Trump himself. As the protester was dragged away by security he sneered, “There is nothing more fun than a Trump rally, right?”
The rest of the rally continued this way. Trump would dabble in banalities and generalizations before inciting the crowd once again with buzz words and a little help from more protesters. The young boy continued to whistle and chant and cheer despite being separated from the ability to vote by a decade. The lulls between excitation became uncomfortable and those who had been there hours earlier wore their fatigue. Backs began contorting looking for any position of relief and feet were shaken out. Trump was there for less than half an hour and he could not have finished soon enough. So, his final speech was a happy welcome for more than one reason. Not only would “America become great again,” but soon enough America would be allowed to stretch their legs again.
Trump walked off the stage and disappeared from sight to acknowledge the crowd with handshakes. There wasn’t any room to move forward to meet him, but much of the crowd found a way. Like Walmart on Black Friday, supporters sprinted to catch a glimpse, or maybe even a selfie with Trump, bumping carelessly into the helpless. Trump was leaving and he had to be captured by cell phone flashes and Snapchat stories. But those that did make it out of the rally were forced to leave through the only exit not blocked off by security and police. Thousands of supporters were corralled into a single bottleneck outside of the Connecticut Convention Center and they were forced headlong into the belly of the beast, a Trump protest.
The mezzanine immediately outside of the convention center was overflowing with supporters. They were exiting the rally faster than the police could divert them down the stairs toward Columbus Blvd., where a firing line of protesters was waiting for them. At first, the supporters were undeterred. “Give me a T!” a young man in a blue blazer screamed from the mezzanine, while pointing to a “T” on his Trump flyer. The crowd marching forward responded with, “T!” He tried to combat the noise of the protesters, whose chants began to blend into the increasing worried gossip of supporters slowly making their way down the steps and into the fight. The man in the blazer desperately continued to spell out “Trump,” and asked “Who is going to make America great again?” instead of, “What does that spell?” The crowd responded appropriately, but with depleted energy. It was all they could do to stave off the anxiety of waiting to reach the bottom of the stairs.
The explosive sounds of the protest thundered over the heads of the supporters. One last tired chant of “U.S.A!” from the steps ended as quickly as it began and was consumed by the outcry for “No more racists!” A drum drove the beat from the core of the protest. Rainbow flags flew wildly in the air. Handmade signs pled for black lives and demanded that no human being is illegal. Supporters and protesters met once again on the curb of Columbus Blvd., but this time in a flurry of animosity. The protesters were relentless, driving some supporters back up the steps and others to suffer the assault. Their signs, forming a vast wall, boasted peace, but their words, “CT hates Trump,” “God hates Trump,” and “Fuck Donald Trump!” ripped through the crowd.
Islands of micro protests sprouted behind the line and went toe-to-toe with the Trump supporters lucky enough to break through. They stood in semi-circles and traded insults like a schoolyard tiff. Young protesters and supporters voting for the first time in their lives seemed hypnotized by the energy of the mob and tapped into its vein. Supporters jumped about as if at a garage band concert, losing their shirts and blowing an air horn. Protesters shouted into megaphones and danced to a chorus of spite. Someone ignited a Trump sign and waved it about with the laminate oozing to the ground. Protesters roared at the flames, as if to make them grow.
Police slowly began to push back the mob toward the road. Everyone gravitated dangerously close together and emotions were spurting as protesters bumped supporters and supporters bumped protesters. They became indistinguishable with their signs lowered at their waists and their chants reduced to incoherent commotion. A young black girl started to cry when an older white man argued inches from her face. Her friends quickly came to her rescue by pointing fingers in the face of the man, who claimed innocence and begged he did nothing wrong. Hypocrisy was rampant and lines quickly blurred as everyone fought for fighting’s sake.
A young girl with long brown hair protruding from under a red cap with “TRUMP” stitched on the back stood next to her parents and brother at the fringe of the mob. She was wide eyed at the spectacle before her and looked stunted by fear. Until she drew an inhale that released the full force her eleven-some years could allow. She shouted over all the protesters and all the supporters, without megaphone or air horn; she shouted without signs or chants; she shouted without fire or flags; she shouted the most distinct and flagrant message above all else; she shouted with unfettered hate, “Send them to the devil!” then turned with her family and left to go home.