Making Rallies Great Again
Despite COVID, huge crowds flock to Trump rallies. British bestselling author Douglas Murray decodes the magic of Trump the campaigner.
Among those who have never been to a Trump rally, there is often an expectation of what such events are like. This includes – though is not limited to – an assumption that such events are hate-filled: packed with bigoted, nasty people waiting for a bigoted, nasty speech. Based on my recent experience at the President’s rally in Pensacola, Florida, such claims are a gross disservice not just to his crowds, but to political writing.
The crowd begins to assemble hours before the event, with any member of the public able to sign up. Because of the China Virus ™ the rallies are held outside. But the crowds are no smaller than before. As they begin to gather, they snake through the security lines at the airport where Air Force One will land some hours later, bringing the star attraction. Along the way there are stalls of canny merchants selling hats, T-shirts and other Trump memorabilia. Two young women sing their Trump song (titled “Keep America Great”) on a loop to a generally admiring crowd.
Then there are the warm-up speeches. These come from, among others, the state governor, the Congressional representative, and a pastor who prays for the re-election of Donald J. Trump. Before and after these, the speakers blare out a range of popular songs. “My Way” and the theme song from “Titanic” might be said to have over-much relevance. But the one that gets the crowd going wild is “YMCA” by The Village People. The moment “young man” blares out everybody is up and dancing like young gays at a disco. It is high camp, whether all the crowd realizes it or not.
Eventually, as the evening draws in and the floodlights come up, the music cannot completely cover the sound of an airplane landing. The main event has arrived. As the most famous head of hair in the world becomes visible, the crowd goes wild. Everyone is up on their feet and cheering. Any Trump watcher, including the majority of the American media, will have heard most of what he has said before. But that is the same with any politician on the campaign trail. The crowds turn out for Trump for a number of reasons. One – perhaps the least often remarked upon – is that Trump is genuinely entertaining. Even the most sour-faced hack cannot help breaking a smile. The crowd is full of eager people eager for him to do well. But they also know – and he knows what they want – that they are partly here to experience the thrill of the most powerful man in the world saying rude things about other people.
Before Trump, American politics was distinguished by a gentlemanly, overly courteous style in public, with vicious knifings carried out offstage. Trump broke these rules, as he did so many others, and clearly enjoys reeling off his nickname insults of others. “Crying Chuck” [Schumer], “Crooked Hillary,” and – most popular of all – “Sleepy Joe.” These have the feel of a shock reliant performer reeling off his greatest hits. But Trump is best – and you feel he’s enjoying himself most – when he goes off script.
In the segment about Corona – the “China Virus” – he starts to talk about his favorite subject (himself) and the fact that he had the virus and thus knows all about it. You may dislike him for this, but referring to those crazy days in which the entire planet focussed on the president’s diagnosis, karma, hospitalization, joy-ride, balcony unveiling, and more, the president suddenly says, “What the hell was that all about?” as if he is as amused and baffled by the whole circus surrounding him as anyone else. The crowd loves it. As it does when he refers to the number of doctors he had after his diagnosis. “When you’re president, you have a lot of doctors,” he says. “You’re laying down, you’ve got doctors all over the place. Their hands are on every part of your body. I don’t like it.”
But it’s not all comedy. The biggest cheers are saved for his main campaign promises. The return of a booming economy, the reopening rather than locking down of the county, plus the standard GOP promises of a defense of law-enforcement and hard-working families, a rejection of those who would take away their right to bear arms, and the establishment of “patriotic education” rather than the self-hating, “white-privilege” training which has flooded across the culture during Trump’s time in office.
After an hour of sticking mostly to his script, the president finishes his list of main promises and leaves a roaring, cheering crowd. Then the opening beats of “YMCA” are back up, and the crowd dances and whoops. The most powerful man on earth joins in, pumping his arms back and forth a little, doing a mini floss-dance with his hands, and even braving a slight wiggle of his legs and hips. It is the perfect culmination which only closes when he heads back towards the steps of Air Force One. The evening is like the crowd itself, wholesome, camp, darkening, knowing, cynical, sweet, sincere, and joyful. It is a lot of things. But not what the critics say. Not that at all.
British historian and journalist Douglas Murray, 41, is the best-selling author of “The Strange Death of Europe”, in which he unmasked the multicultural consensus on global mass migration, and recently of “The Madness of Crowds”, examining the rise of left wing mob justice in the age of social media.