They came despite a drenching, thundering downpour. Forty-five minutes before the appointed hour of 7 p.m., Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Performing Arts complex was pretty much full. The star of the show, Donald John Trump of New York City, would not appear until an hour or more later, but the people, his people, were there in the mess.
A phalanx of security guards was evidence this was not a touring Broadway show, or certainly David Wood’s annual “Christmas Carol” or any of the more calm and high culture events to which Memorial has been host all these decades.
No, Raleigh police were in full force. As were some security people in plain clothes, and a very tall, serious-looking gentleman standing just next to the metal detectors with “Secret Service” on his vest. Upstairs, some besuited young men with those important-looking badges hanging around their necks warily eyed those ascending to the balcony.
The announcements from some unseen voice — Oz, maybe — came out of the air, imploring people in the audience to “help” security forces by, if they saw a protester, calling out “Trump! Trump! Trump!” so that the security forces could find the rascal and haul him out.
On the walk down to check out the crowd — I wasn’t there for the speech — I’d passed some people several blocks away singing something with the phrase “Help us, Lord!” and I ’preciated it, as a lightening bolt was too close for comfort to my half-bent Totes umbrella.
I’d come to just see who the Trump supporters were. And mainly, to see if the stereotypes applied to them from some in the camp of opponent Hillary Clinton were right: racist, sexist, fearful, Neanderthal, dumb.
I knew going in and certainly knew going out, that such was not the case. The audience crossed all age lines, gender lines, money lines. There were some young people with the predictable T-shirts, such as “Hillary for Prison in 2016.” There were millennials disappointed they couldn’t get a craft beer, families, and some of the well-bred, well-fed crowd from West Raleigh with those little alligators on their shirts.
Oh, I overheard stuff about how Clinton (who this very day had learned she wouldn’t be prosecuted for reckless email procedures while Secretary of State) was a crook and the whole government was corrupt, and sure, there were untamed references to “Hillary.”
But the truth was, save for the fact there were not many people of color in the audience, the crowd was pretty much representative of the rest of the country, the state and the city. Seeing these good folks, stereotypes didn’t apply. They’re not bad people, not all gullible suckers for a New York billionaire who likely wouldn’t offer them the time of day if he didn’t want their votes. And it would be woefully unfair to label them all racists.
They are mad at what they think is an out-of-touch government. They’re mad because a recession changed their futures . They’re mad because they fear any chance of the American Dream is gone, and they don’t know why. And they’re mad because their Superpower can’t bring a sudden end to terrorism.
It’s dangerous to make any decision while under the influence of anger — particularly when that decision is picking a president. And who knows? It’s going to be hard for Trump to keep people at the peak of rage for four months. Perhaps some who support him now will look more closely at the fuzzy message he delivers, which basically comes down to, “I’ll fix it. It’s gonna be beautiful.” Or he may be done in by tax returns showing he’s another rich guy who doesn’t pay his share. Hillary Clinton — no perfect candidate to be sure — may air commercials with some of the many former employees who lost their jobs in Trump’s high-flying bankruptcies.
Ah, well. The sun rose after the rally. She’ll be back and he’ll be back. In the meantime, sing it, Brother: Help us, Lord.
Jenkins: 919-829-4513 or firstname.lastname@example.org