Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at a Trump Rally
Those who fail to learn after being fooled over and over again are doomed to be fooled over and over again.
Writing about a Trump MAGA rally is like narrating an orgy. I look around and I can’t believe I’m here. Everyone else seems to be having a ball of a time. Boobs and asses pack the room and are bouncing everywhere. There’s lots of screaming. But no one here strikes me as someone I want to get too close to, let alone touch. Please, I hope no one recognizes me.
I’ve met Donald Trump four times in the physical flesh. Before he lost his mind sometime between incubation and the self-branding marketing charade masquerading as the 2016 presidential campaign which somehow Frankensteined into the national hysteria of the unthinkable, Trump was borderline bearable as a human being. Shaking hands with Trump was kinda’ like meeting someone on the level of a Charles Nelson Reilly D-Lister or taking a guided tour of the State Capitol Building of South Dakota — certainly a mild curiosity, and perhaps even something to share with a few people who might pretend to actually give a fuck.
After what he’s plundered from the casino industry and after duping the many thousands who work in the gambling business, Trump coming to Las Vegas stands as the ultimate display of credulity. It’s like Sherman running for mayor of Atlanta. Local casino workers, some who lost everything back East and relocated here after spending years running his dreary Atlantic City casinos have nothing positive to say about their former boss. Don’t take my word for it. Ask around. Talk to the legions of victims who worked for him in Atlantic City. He fucked contractors. He fucked employees. He fucked creditors. He fucked his managers. He fucked customers. In the casino business, Trump’s name is serpent shit. He’s a joke — only no one is laughing (except for Trump, perhaps — having screwed them all and, at least to this point, got away with it).
Trump once owned three big casinos. Each one was a gaudy rat hole — like buying a Howard Johnson’s, spray painting it with a $4.29 can of metallic gold, and then cramming the lobby full of slot machines and blackjack tables. He was Atlantic City’s all-time worst three-card monte dealer, only the stakes were much higher, and he had no clue what he was doing. To cover up his gross incompetence, he deceived regulators, he lied to banks, and he screwed his partners. Despite his grip on the entire Northeast corridor as the biggest single portfolio holder of gambling enterprises, in spite of all these extraordinary advantages, Trump still couldn’t make it in the casino business. His dirty deeds and repeated business failures are but one reason why Trump has never been able to acquire a gaming license here in Nevada.
Indeed, the good people of Las Vegas know his record. Trump may have been able to con and fool his way to an electoral victory by winning other swing states, promising the moon and stars by squawking a simpleton language of patriotic phrases. Sure, he’ll reopen those shuttered tire factories. He’ll wave a magic wand and make coal jobs come back. Make American Great Again — like it was before — in 1888. In some parts of the country, they’ll believe anything.
But not Las Vegas.
Trump’s latest “Make America Great Again” rally was held inside the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center, a lifeless maze of grey walls made out of cloth and carpeting fabricated from polypropylene stretched over beams of steel. The floor was of acid bleached cement and shined like a mirror. Rented drapes were strung up around the faux arena’s perimeter and Trump-Pence signs and American flags were conveniently placed everywhere, presumably to be picked up and waved by unpaid extras on cue. Trump’s cult clambake of steroided patriotism might as well have been held inside a warehouse in Henderson. It had all the humanity of a cardboard box decorated with red, white, and blue marks-a-lots.
But I’m not inside yet. Instead, I’m outside standing in the heat in long line.
Trump is scheduled to speak at 7 pm, which in pop concert time probably means closer to 7:30 — perhaps even 8:00. Doors open at 4 pm. According to tweets on social media, the line began forming outside at 8 am.
Listening to Trump supporters while lining up outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, talking amongst themselves, I’m reminded of P.T. Barnum’s famous quip, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
The media has always spelled Trump’s name right. The press may be the “enemy of the people,” according to Trumpthink. But for a man so utterly desperate to be the center of attention at all times, the media have become the barnacles of his success, following him wherever he goes and reporting whatever he tweets or says. Yes, the media are the Donald’s best friend. Before, Trump used to be famous for being famous. Now, he’s president. That makes him an attraction. He’s the attraction. He doesn’t just make news. He is the news.
By 5 pm the line has stretched beyond any capacity to accommodate the amoeba and is quite long, worse even than the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, only with no option of the super pass. By 6 pm, the line extends further than any eye can see — from the front entrance, across a baked parking lot, and clear over toward the Renaissance Hotel on Paradise, which I estimate at perhaps a quarter-mile long. And I’m standing here and broiling smack dab in the middle of it, at least another hour from the door. Here’s hoping Trump is on pop concert time.
What’s most striking visually about this Trump rally (and presumably all Trump rallies) is how White and wrinkled the crowd is. It’s even Whiter and more wrinkled than I imagined. Just about everyone in line is White and old, or at least older than average. I did count 6 Blacks. They were all young men. The number of Blacks was so tiny, they were easy to calculate since they stood out. Five of the Blacks I counted were selling pro-Trump gear. The other Black man was passed out on a bus stop bench — either lost, drunk, stoned, or all of the above. Bless him. He was the probably the sanest of the bunch.
Trump’s crowd is also decidedly blue-collar. Fifty years ago they would have been union laborers driving Chevy pick-ups. They detest the elite and make no attempt to hide it. They work hard and many probably live paycheck to paycheck, but they still have enough money to buy plenty of guns, beer, and smokes. It was surprising to see how many Trumpsters were smokers.
They puffed away. All there was to do was smoke and talk. And stand in line.
The young Black guys worked that long line like a pack of shaman with scalpels. They walked the line and sweet-talked those Trumpsters, up and down, and over and over again, back and forth. Red MAGA hats sworn to be made in the USA and not China were hawked for $20 a piece. A wagon was brimming with anti-Hillary t-shirts, sporadically announced as being “on sale.” The anti-Hillary gear now on clearance could mean she’s finally so worn out as a political punching bag that even the Trump crowd is sick of hearing about her. Other t-shirts parroted “Trump 2020,” support for the American flag, love for the troops, pro-Israel, anti-immigration, and gun rights.
A young girl in line ahead of me who looked to be perhaps 10 or 12 was approached by one of the souvenir sellers. She liked one shirt’s pink color. On the spot, the mother decided the little girl should have a pink-colored t-shirt which read:
The lettering surrounded a picture of a handgun.
The mother bought the shirt costing $15, presented it to her impressionable young child. Then, the girl was seen proudly wearing the shirt a few seconds later. One wonders if she’ll be wearing it to school the next day. I snapped this photograph of Trump Mom gleefully molding her daughter’s mind into an unfathomable distortion.
Every few minutes, someone in line began chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” The chant would launch a short-lived chorus of a few dozen more, then gradually peter out. This went on for 90 intolerable minutes.
I know. Why do I hate America so much?
Some television camera crews came by, filming the snake line and stopping occasionally to interview a random Trumpster willing to go off on some rambling topic which never stands a chance in hell of being shown anywhere. Some who were in line flipped off the camera crews with an extended middle finger. There were shouts of “FAKE MEDIA! FAKE MEDIA!” There were jeers, followed by cheers. It was like attending an LSU-Ole Miss football pre-game when the visiting team walks out of the locker room.
Against my better judgment, I talked to a few Trumpsters. What else was there to do? Listening to their reasoning became a supreme test of mental and intestinal fortitude. I felt like a racehorse buckled up in the gate, wrangling to run free. Someone brought up North Korea and what a great job Trump had done to “avoid a nuclear war.” All I could do was look down, nod, and shuffle my feet a little. “Uh, huh. Uh, huh.”
As the front door became increasingly visible to us, music piped from the inside to the outside became louder. Within just 100 feet or so of the door, giant boom speakers blasted upbeat songs by Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and country music I didn’t recognize. Then out of nowhere, peculiarly, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” came on. That’s the song with the verse — “Jesus freaks, out in the streets….handing tickets out for god.” Oh, the fucking irony. No one around me seemed aware of the awkward moment nor was able to recognize the surrealism of playing Elton Fucking John at a Trump rally. I silently wondered if the DJ, probably hired as a temp off Craig’s List, was secretly trolling the crowd.
By 7:15, I’m finally inside and there’s an announcement to the smaller contingent still waiting to get in that the fire marshal is about to close off the room. Reportedly, the convention hall is at near capacity. This sets off a near riot. Trumpsters and me have been waiting in line for hours. It’s like a TSA line at the airport and hearing the announcement your flight is about to close the boarding door. The crowd boos. “BOO! BOO!”
“HURRY UP! HURRY! THE PRESIDENT IS INSIDE THE BUILDING! HE’S HERE! HE’S IN THE BUILDING!”
Somehow, I managed to make it through the screener without enduring (or being pleasured) by the sensation of full body cavity search. The last hundred of us who made it through the door run in a mad dash down the hallway to the arena doors still propped up but ready to be shut when a new song comes on. It’s Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!”
I made it in the door. But barely. It’s my first Trump rally. Still, I can’t help but to recall we’ve been here before.
“People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in his scathing 1972 election expose, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
“But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now and then….No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.”