Last Friday, I went to a Trump rally. After hearing so much about Donald Trump, his statements, his campaign, and his rallies, I was intrigued. I had to see this guy, and I wanted to understand his supporters, so I hopped on the blue line and headed down to the UIC Pavilion.
The rally was scheduled to start at 6:00 and I was able to get in line (which was five or six blocks long) at 3:45. The first thing I noticed about most of the Trump supporters was that they were wearing an insane amount of American flag gear. I’m talking glasses, pants, shirts, shoes, pins, belts, hats, and I’m pretty sure someone even had an American flag belt.
There were also a number of protesters in line, many who ended up starting arguments with the Trump supporters. Some of the Trump supporters I spoke to expressed their disappointment that people were protesting. They felt that people shouldn’t waste their time protesting Trump, and instead spend their time supporting their own candidates.
After entering the arena and passing security, I was stopped by a security guard and given a floor pass. The pass allowed me to go in front of the TV cameras and stand in front of the podium, and to my surprise, I ended up being the first row.
I had about an hour and a half, so I started talking to the Trump supporters near me. Most of the people fit into one of two personas. The first was the blue collar worker, they’ve seen their wages fall, their friends have lost jobs, their town is suffering. Life has been rough, and to them, the American Dream is fading away. Who is to blame? China and Mexico. Free trade is allowing the Chinese to take away their manufacturing jobs and the illegal immigrants are coming for whatever is left.
The second type of person I met was from suburbia. Middle class, white collar. These people usually brought their entire families with them. They felt that America was lacking true leadership and that Trump, a seemingly successful businessman, could bring a new perspective and strategy to governance.
Now, what about the gun loving, confederate flag waving, blatantly racist “rednecks?” There were a few, but probably because this event was in Chicago, they were a significant minority of the Trump supporters.
What disappointed me most about the Trump supporters was their negativity. Every single person I met felt that America is declining (“losing”) and that our country, without Trump’s leadership to “Make America Great Again,” (“win again”) will fade. Most supporters also felt that political correctness is destroying our country and that Trump is one of the few people who aren’t afraid to “say it like it is.”
Every fifteen minutes or so before the rally was supposed to begin there would be a small protest. The crowd would start booing and wait for the police to escort the protester out. Then came the eerie part: the crowd would start chanting “USA, USA, USA, USA.” I’ve heard the chant before, after the national anthem at sporting events, but it felt a lot different after watching a protester get escorted out. Combining the chants with the excessive amount of flag apparel everyone was wearing gave the event an eerie nationalistic vibe.
At about 6:30, a half hour after the rally was scheduled to begin, a Trump aide took the stage and announced that the rally would be “postponed” due to safety concerns. That’s when all hell broke loose.
A large number of protesters who were waiting for Trump to appear revealed themselves and were immediately confronted by the Trump supporters. This led to a shouting match with some chanting Trump’s name and others chanting Bernie’s. Others began to start fighting, and one person hopped the barricade and charged the stage.
The police tried to get the situation under control and move people outside. I exited the arena with a number of protesters. Outside the arena, were thousands more protesters. I estimate that the Trump supporters were outnumbered 10 or 15 to 1. This was also when the photo of a Trump supporter performing a Nazi salute was taken:
A lot of the protesters held signs comparing Trump to Hitler. Many others held signs and were visibly supporting Bernie Sanders. There was also more violence including some clashes between protesters and Trump supporters with police.
I am proud of my city for showing Trump that his divisive views are not welcome here. However, I can’t help but feel extremely disappointed by the violence, whether it be instigated by the Trump supporters or the protesters. It says something awful about our country when we have to resort to beating each other up to solve our political differences.
Attending a Trump rally, even without actually seeing Trump, proved to be a very enlightening experience. I believe that for us to come together as a country, we need to start listening to each other, and I encourage everyone to attend a rally of a candidate that they disagree with.