This is Part 2. Read Part 1 HERE.
The best I ever saw was Ronald Reagan.
I saw “The Gipper” speak half a dozen times. Man, could he work a room. Reagan could talk about anything in front of a microphone, stammer through the speech, lose his place on the teleprompter, and still manage to charm a crowd. That’s talent. He was that good.
Reagan had a natural gift. He wasn’t that smart. He wasn’t much of a political philosopher. He didn’t know a damned thing about economics. Hell, he didn’t even know much about government. But people liked him. Even his political adversaries — they all liked him.
Donald Trump lacks this essential gift, which when you think about it, is the most redeeming of human qualities. He’s the anti-Reagan. But let’s also give him credit — he can sure work a crowd, too. This crowd likes their Emperor. They don’t like Trump because he’s nice. They like him because he’s mean. Borrowing the old line of wisdom from another former president when confronted with reports pro-American Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was committing brutal atrocities: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch!”
Trump is their son of a bitch.
This convention hall seems big, but it’s really quite small given all the Grand Old Party dignitaries who are present and the grandiose scope of what we’re about to experience. It’s not every day the President of the United States stands within our midst, commanding our collective undivided attention, although I’ve got a sizable wager riding on the NY Jets-Cleveland Browns game being played simultaneously on this Thursday evening. That’s the one good thing about smartphones — getting instant football scores. This feature works all the same, at funerals and presidential addresses, alike. If an errant cheer roars from my voicebox sometime during the middle of the speech, it won’t be any affection for Trump. It will be the Jets covering the point spread.
“God bless the USA and the Jets +3.”
Playing Las Vegas is a tough crowd. Our attention spans are shorter than other places. This isn’t Des Moines. We’re used to seeing white tigers eat the talent and Chinese waifs catching on fire. The entertainment bar here is high, that is, if don’t count Britney’s awful show and the abomination that is Vinnie Favorito. If Cher can put the squeeze to thousands of her fans for $165 a whack five nights a week to watch her lip-synch two hit records from 1967, one should expect this traveling circus headed by the nation’s serpentine ringmaster to draw a much bigger crowd. After all, Trump’s carnival show is free. Announcing Trump is about to make a local appearance is like dropping a ten-ton magnet into a cracker-barrel filled with crucifixes and iron crosses. Every crackpot bigot between the Highway 95 Trailer Court and the Shoot-a-Machine-Gun range in Kingman ought to be here foaming Pabst at the mouth.
Political rallies are highly-orchestrated PR stunts and the people who attend them are props. Nothing more. This isn’t to say they don’t have value. They do. They’re mannequins propped up inside a political department store known as America’s new incarnate of Banana Republic. Props are used — not to sell dresses and pantyhose — but to peddle propaganda and illusion. Bodies are television’s background confetti, daily doubling as party noisemakers and canned clapping laugh tracks. Everyone here is a used tampon.
I’ve been standing at the rear of this convention hall just three minutes now and already I’m convinced this place fucking sucks. Why is it held here? Couldn’t it have been someplace else? Holding this rally at much bigger Thomas & Mack Center, a few miles away would have made more sense. A pack of gum and a $20 bill could probably rent out the building for a week. Thomas & Mack Center holds 16,000 seats, easily enough space to accommodate the estimated 8,000 who are present on this night. Too bad, comforting mannequins isn’t the agenda. The trouble with organizational sanity is, a posh arena would look half empty, a no-no in public relations. Political theater has become the mastery of glass management — making things appear half-full. Make certain everyone, especially the boss, sees things as half-full. Thousands of Trump loyalists, including a disproportionately high number of retired and elderly, could have been seated comfortably inside an air-conditioned arena with plenty of public facilities, with room to stretch out, and spaces to park. But rallies are made for television, not the people who attend them. A half-empty arena looks worse than the Roy Moore Chapter’s turnout at the N.O.W. Fan Club. Empty seats are the loser’s only cheerleader and no politician wants that.
So, organizers, in this case, Encyclopedia Britannica sellers better known as the Nevada State Republican Party, basically said — screw our mannequins. They do what slimy rock promoters used to do when uncertain about how many fans would show up. Underbooking is far preferable to overbooking. If a band might draw 8,000, it’s far better to sardine them into a venue with a 7,500-seat capacity and make another 500 people wait outside. Book the band in a 15,000 seat arena and then sell just 8,000 tickets, and the promoter is getting fired. Identical numbers. Different perception.
Trump’s rallies, indeed most political events, deploy the “Jaws effect.” Don’t schedule rallies too closely together. Instead, Trump holds his rally in West Virginia a month ago, then a few weeks later shows up in Montana. Tonight, he’s in Nevada. His next rally takes place in Indiana. The chances of anyone making it to more than one of these rallies and hearing the same canned speech over again is remote, that is, unless Greyhound announces a national fare sale. The marketing technique takes its name from the movie Jaws, which opened in 1975. Theater owners, eager for a summer hit, begged the studio to release the film on 2,500 screens on opening weekend. Lew Wasserman, head of Universal Studios opted instead to release it initially on 175 screens and watch the media go into a frenzy reporting the lines at movie theaters wrapped around the block. The media snapped at the bait, everyone got eager to see what all the buzz was all about, and the movie premiered on 3,800 screens the next weekend.
The Trump show has become our Jaws.
Just two minutes into the speech, the gnarling wolves get tossed their favorite chunk of raw meat and what a tasty treat Hillary Rodham Clinton turns out to be to this hungry pack swarming onto the convention center floor.
“If my opponent had won, all you’re 401Ks would be down 51 percent!” Trump bellows, somehow pulling abstract hyperbolic impossible-to-verify figures straight out of his ass to be showered over a crowd desperately longing to be baptized with bullshit.
On cue, tossing the Hillary bait into the mad-cow crowd works like magic. It elicits the intended reaction. The chant begins.
“Lock her up! Lock he up! Lock her up!”
This one was easy. It was like lobbing a Molotov cocktail onto a grease fire. Hillary should be getting royalties.
For those contemplating anything related to gawkish gonzo-style observation, you have to be there, and this what I mean is — inside the room. You must taste the wicked witches’ brew straight from the poisonous well, not merely analyze it from afar as all too often elitist pundits do. Watching a political stump speech on television — it doesn’t matter who’s speaking — just isn’t the same as being there in person. For one thing, television doesn’t capture the subtleties inside the room. The way a crowd reacts to a speaker and the nuts and guts of a speech reveals a lot, both about the Emperor and his subjects. Sometimes, a punchline that worked before falls flat, which is difficult to catch on television. Other times, an extemporaneous line explodes and catches on like wildfire and then gets added to the routine. Even more revealing, there are the other people to be seen and heard who openly display their emotions — from boredom to ecstasy, from confusion to indifference, from adrenaline rush to fatigue.
Then, there are the kids. There’s something really special about children as truthtellers. We’ll get to them later.
My arriving late to the rally gives me a better perspective. Had I been here earlier, surely I’d be much closer to the front, perhaps even next to the stage. But that’s not where heavy artillery lands in political warfare. The shells explode out here in the crowd, up in the bleachers, in the hinterlands, and outside the arena in millions of homes where people are watching.
Those are the targets.
Trump spoke for one hour.
There wasn’t anything much original about what he said. His discombobulated ramblings hit on all the predictable themes — flags, god, guns, country, veterans, and electing lots of Republicans in the fall. His speech hammered the soft targets — Hillary, Obama, the fake mainstream media, immigrants, and the Democrats who were called “disgusting.”
“We have to have more Republicans in office,” Trump pleaded. “We’ll get everything we want, so fast. We’ve got to have it.” Never mind that this amounted to political gluttony. The remarks were oblivious to Republicans controlling the White House for the last two years, the Senate for the last four years, and the House for the last eight years. Just elect some more Republicans, and “we’ll get everything we want, so fast,” Trump promises.
Then, there’s the favorite chestnut of Trump’s obsessions: “We won big, 306-223. Remember? There is no way, right? There is no way that Donald Trump gets to 270. No, we got to 306″ — Trump boasted. The 2016 presidential election ended 682 days ago.
“Hispanic — any Hispanic here? I think so.” (sic)
Yeah, he really said that.
“Any Asians? Asian? Asian? Any Asian?”
Yeah, he really said that, too.
“Look at my African-American over there.”
Okay, so he didn’t say that — not this time. Apparently, that’s because almost no African-Americans could be found in this crowd, not even the crazy Black guy who travels around to Trump rallies wearing the wacko Jesus 3:16 shirt. But, yes, Trump really did say that at a previous rally.
Trump really missed an easy softball here, a sure applause line. He should have said, “Where’s all my White people? Where’s the Whites at? The roof would have blown off the fucking building.
When supermarkets sell old meat, they douse it in spices and then repackage it. Sometimes, they use barbecue sauce. That way, the old meat doesn’t smell.
Trump’s stump speech began to stink a while ago. It’s pretty much the same stale package of prepackaged botulism he’s been espousing ever since his half-baked birther conspiracy theories hit the baloney bins back in 2012. So, Trump’s added more spice and poured in another bottle of barbecue sauce to the stinky script. What’s inside might be nauseating, but also impossible to identify exactly because of the peppery distractions. One foul smell has replaced another.
For Trump, Brett Kavanaugh is the latest spicy bag of shake-and-bake intended to marinate a stale speech way past its expiration date, morsels toothpicked so many countless times before that everyone listening already knows the punch lines. Some recitations, such as “we’re going to build the wall and trust me — Mexico’s gonna’ pay for it,” can be recited by memory. Trump’s Supreme Court pick was the zesty new flavor this week and the crowd ate it up like pigs feeding at a trough.
“Kav-van-augh! “Kav-van-augh! “Kav-van-augh!
About this time, something strange happened. People began leaving. Midway through Trump’s remarks, Nevada’s Senator, a plastic thunderbolt named Dean Heller was introduced to the crowd. Heller has about as much charisma as the nightshift assistant manager at a Walmart. He’s up for re-election and deadlocked in a tight race with Rep. Jacky Rosen (described by Trump as “Wacky Jacky” — isn’t that cute?). Heller, wearing a suit looking like it came off the big and tall clearance section at Burlington stammers up to the microphone. Instantly, the handoff in what was to be grandiose political theater became a bathroom-break moment. No one came to see Heller, who might as well have been the sound-check guy making sure the audio still worked. While Trump stood off to the side, arms folded, his lapdog Heller touted his exemplary voting record as a senator representing the interests of
corporations, banks, casinos, the people. Meanwhile, many decided this was the perfect opportunity to make a clean break. This was the lull at the Rolling Stones concert when Mick announces, “now we’re going to play some new stuff off our latest album,” Everyone turns and springs for the bathrooms, waiting for Jumping Jack Trump to return to the stage once and start bashing Hillary and the New York Times again. That’s the kind of satisfaction they stood two hours in line to see.
Trump even introduced Sen. Heller with this glowing gem of a personal endorsement: “We started out, we weren’t friends. I didn’t like him. He didn’t like me.”
At that instant, all I could think of was — for once, I agreed with both Donald Trump and Dean Heller.
A long time ago, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a short fairy tale which later became known as, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” In the story, the Emperor is an egotistical man who always demands the latest fashions. Swindlers convince the Emperor the new set of clothes they are making are of such fine quality that only the divine people can see them. The Emperor cannot admit he’s not divine, so he wears the clothes in the palace while everyone bows and compliments his fine set of clothes. They’re afraid to contradict the Emperor. Later, he goes out and leads a parade to show off his clothing to the people. Everyone in the crowd pretends to admire his clothes, except one little boy who yells out, “But the Emperor has no clothes!” The moral here is that because of pretentiousness and social hypocrisy people pretend to know about or agree with certain things so they will fit in. However, unencumbered innocence reveals the truth.
Trump’s speech had no beginning, no middle, no end. There was no close. One could pretty much walk into the speech 15 minutes in and not miss anything, or could leave 15 minutes early, and have no awareness of anything that was missing. It was like making a political visit to the DMV.
Even Trump seemed bored with it all, at times. Sure, he started off strong and began with his usual bravado, his rooster head cocked back like he’s peering over a barnyard of captive hens, the twisted facial gyrations which make him so great for live TV, the waving hand gestures like watching Leonard Bernstein conduct a philharmonic of philandry. However, attack, after attack, after attack, after attack had an unintended consequence, the inevitable realism of science and limited attention spans. The orange-trunked heavyweight punched himself out. By the end, he couldn’t deliver the knockout. Sure, he jabbed for a very long time during that hour-long speech and he had plenty of stargazing sycophants in his corner.
Still, as others realized Trump wasn’t going to do anything out of the ordinary they hadn’t seen before, some who went to the bathrooms never returned. I stood near those steel doors guarded by police. They swung open and then stayed open the rest of the night.
Were they all stooges and bigots?
Many of these Trump supporters, if I encountered them elsewhere and politics never came up, would be perfectly acceptable as company, friends even. Some are family members.
Still, I can’t help but be incensed that herein lie the parasitic hosts willfully nurturing our national infection. Without these bodies of otherwise good people, Trump would be nothing. He’d be the Charles Nelson Reilly of New York City real estate and two clicks on the remote control away from The Jim Bakker Show.
A startling recent poll showed more than half the Republican Party would be perfectly fine with Trump suspending the 2020 presidential election and continuing to rule the kingdom unchecked. An alarmingly high percentage of that mindset which believes a golfing sleepwalking megalomaniac should be America’s Great Dictator and the press should be shut down are gathered here inside this room. Yet, for standing up and defending the Constitution, we’re the haters.
So, they admire his clothes. They’re fearful of contradicting him and afraid of embarrassing themselves amongst their flock of neighbors and churchgoers. Lies. Bribes. Indictments. Treason. Nothing matters. These are enablers.
But childhood innocence has a remarkable way of cleansing the clouded lens.
As Trump rambled on and on, some kids around me became increasingly impatient. They were bored with it all. These kids had school the next day. Perhaps they were just tired, perfectly understandable. But, they were becoming visibly agitated. It was like taking a child on an airplane, only there’s no distracting tablet playing video games, a box of crayons, or back of a passenger’s seat to kick. While the Emperor decried the Democrats’ agenda of “radical socialism,” those were inflammatory and confusing words and phrases with no meaning at all to a disinterested 8-year-old. And so a few kids blurted out their displeasure and held nothing back.
“I wanna’ go. I’m hungry. This is boring.”
One Trumpian Mother threated to spank her little infidel. Another took her crying youngster outside.
However, not everyone was bored. Some were riveted. Some couldn’t get enough. A couple of white-bearded guys in wheelchairs who looked to be vets of more than one war and just as many divorces appeared to love what they saw and heard.
“He’s the best-damned president we ever had! You tell ’em, Mr. President! We got your back!
After it was over, the star of the show left the room. He was gone. Vanished. The Emperor had left the building. But for one full hour, and to this day, it remains an impressionable experience. I got to see a live speech from the most powerful man in the world….
Except for Vladimir Putin.