Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trump Days

Trump is wearing the red baseball cap, or not. From this distance, he is strangely handsome, well proportioned, puts you in mind of a sea captain: Alan Hale from “Gilligan’s Island,” say, had Hale been slimmer, richer, more self-confident. We are afforded a side view of a head of silver-yellow hair and a hawklike orange-red face, the cheeks of which, if stared at steadily enough, will seem, through some optical illusion, to glow orange-redder at moments when the crowd is especially pleased. If you’ve ever, watching “The Apprentice,” entertained fantasies of how you might fare in the boardroom (the Donald, recognizing your excellent qualities with his professional businessman’s acumen, does not fire you but, on the contrary, pulls you aside to assign you some important non-TV, real-world mission), you may, for a brief, embarrassing instant, as he scans the crowd, expect him to recognize you. (...)

It’s considered an indication of authenticity that he doesn’t generally speak from a teleprompter but just wings it. (In fact, he brings to the podium a few pages of handwritten bullet points, to which he periodically refers as he, mostly, wings it.) He wings it because winging it serves his purpose. He is not trying to persuade, detail, or prove: he is trying to thrill, agitate, be liked, be loved, here and now. He is trying to make energy. (At one point in his San Jose speech, he endearingly fumbles with a sheaf of “statistics,” reads a few, fondly but slightingly mentions the loyal, hapless statistician who compiled them, then seems unable to go on, afraid he might be boring us.)

And make energy he does. It flows out of him, as if channelled in thousands of micro wires, enters the minds of his followers: their cheers go ragged and hoarse, chanting erupts, a look of religious zeal may flash across the face of some non-chanter, who is finally getting, in response to a question long nursed in private, exactly the answer he’s been craving. One such person stays in my memory from a rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, in March: a solidly built man in his mid-forties, wearing, in the crazy heat, a long-sleeved black shirt, who, as Trump spoke, worked himself into a state of riveted, silent concentration-fury, the rally equivalent of someone at church gazing fixedly down at the pew before him, nodding, Yes, yes, yes. (...)

Somewhere in the crowd, a woman is shouting “Fuck you, Trump!” in a voice so thin it seems to be emanating from some distant neighborhood, where a girl is calling home her brother, Fuckhugh Trump.

The shouter is Esperanza Matamoros, tiny, seventeen years old. The crowd now halts her forward progress, so she judiciously spins and, still shouting, heads toward the exit. As she passes a tall, white-haired, professorial-looking old man, he gives her a little shove. He towers over her, the top of her head falling below his armpit. She could be his daughter, his granddaughter, his favorite student. Another man steps in front of her to deliver an impromptu manners lesson; apparently, she bumped him on her way up. “Excuse me,” he says heatedly. “Around here, we say excuse me.”

An ungentleness gets into the air when Trump speaks, prompting the abandonment of certain social norms (e.g., an old man should show forbearance and physical respect for a young woman, even—especially—an angry young woman, and might even think to wonder what is making her so angry), norms that, to fired-up Trump supporters, must feel antiquated in this brave new moment of ideological foment. They have thought and thought, in projective terms, about theoretical protesters, and now here are some real ones.

This ungentleness ripples out through the crowd and into the area beyond the fence where the protesters have set up shop. One of them, Sandra Borchers, tells me that out there all was calm (she was “actually having dialogues” with Trump supporters, “back-and-forth conversations, at about this talking level”) until Trump started speaking. Then things got “violent and aggressive.” Someone threw a rock at her head. A female Trump supporter “in a pink-peachy-color T-shirt” attacked a protester, kicking and punching him. Rebecca LaStrap, an African-American woman, twenty years old, wearing a “fuck trump” T-shirt, was grabbed by the breast, thrown to the ground, slapped in the face. (She was also told to “go back on the boat,” a perplexing instruction, given that she was born and raised in Mesa.) Later that day, in Tucson, two young Hispanic women, quietly watching the rally there, are thrown out of the venue, and one (as a member of Trump’s security staff bellows, “Out! Out! Out!”) is roughly shoved through a revolving door by a Trump supporter who looks to be in his seventies and who then performs a strange little quasi-karate move, as if he expects her to fly back in and counterattack. A pro-immigration protester named George Clifton, who is wearing a sign that says “Veteran: U.S.M.C. and C.I.A.,” tells me that two Trump supporters came up to him separately after the Fountain Hills rally and whispered “almost verbatim the same thing, not quite, but in a nutshell”: that they’d like to shoot him in the back of the head.

In Tucson, Trump supporters flow out of the Convention Center like a red-white-and-blue river, along hostile riverbanks made of protesters, who have situated themselves so as to be maximally irritating. When a confrontation occurs, people rush toward it, to film it and stoke it, in the hope that someone on the other side will fly off the handle and do something extreme, and thereby incontrovertibly discredit his side of the argument. This river-and-shore arrangement advantages the Trump supporters: they can walk coolly past, playing the offended party, refusing to engage.

Most do, but some don’t.

“Trump is racist, so are you!” the protesters chant, maximizing the provocation. A South Asian-looking youth of uncertain political affiliation does a crazy Borat dance in front of the line as a friend films him. An aging blond bombshell strolls by in a low-cut blouse, giving the protesters a leisurely finger, blowing them kisses, patting one of her large breasts. A matronly Hispanic protester says that the woman has a right to do what she likes with her breasts since, after all, “she paid for them.” A grandmotherly white woman tucks a strand of graying hair behind her ear, walks resolutely over, and delicately lifts a Mexican flag from where it lies shawl-like across the shoulders of a young, distractedly dancing Hispanic girl, as if the flag had fallen across the girl’s shoulders from some imaginary shelf and the grandmother were considerately removing it before it got too heavy. The girl, offended, pulls away. But wait: the woman shows her anti-Trump sign: they’re on the same side. The girl remains unconvinced; she’ll keep the flag to herself, thanks. “So sorry,” the white woman says and rejoins a friend, to commiserate over the girl’s response, which strikes her, maybe, as a form of racial profiling.

by George Saunders, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Seymoure Chwast