Understanding Trump’s appeal: An eyewitness account


Who are these people? I’ve been asking this question consistently since June. Do they think this is all some big joke? Do they actually have confidence in his abilities as a leader? Do they think they’re phoning for the next winner of American Idol?

An aura of mystery, or confusion rather, has surrounded the supporters of Donald Trump for several months, but on Friday, March 11, I ran smack into the hoards of people who came out to the Peabody Opera House downtown to watch the inflated, orangey hairpiece speak.

The answer to my question was not surprising. It was actually exactly who you might expect to be at a Trump rally, and I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to assume that everyone in attendance has pledged his or her allegiance to Sir Drumpf, but I could tell that most of the people in line had already drank the koolaid and threw their crumpled cup to the ground.

I don’t want to be hasty in my characterization. So, I’ll let The New York Times give you a taste at the demographics behind the Trump movement. In an article titled “The Geography of Trumpism,” The Times identified 10 variables most closely linked to a county’s support for Trump, and the top three variables included white people with no high school diploma, people who reported their ancestry as “American” on the census, and people living in mobile homes.

But it should also be known that there is still love for Trump among the well educated and affluent, as well. In fact, in her own quest to discover who these people are, late night host Samantha Bee invited a group of college educated, multi-ethnic and bi-partisan Trump supporters to take part in a focus group. A common thread among them was a love for the hyperbolic and sensational. They loved that Trump uses evocative language that, as Bee put it, “speaks to out lizard brains.”

More than that, I think what links Trump supporters is a deep-set anger, and sometimes even hate. In one part of the segment, a young man became riled up in defense of Trump after Bee’s fact checker pointed out that Trump once said he could shoot someone in the middle of Manhattan and he wouldn’t lose any voters. The man began gesticulating wildly and raising his voice. Bee responded, “I feel like you’re getting all fired up right now,” and he replied, “I love it, I love it.”

Trump is garnering enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm is grounded in this anger that we’ve all seen lead to violence. That was no different here in St. Louis.

I parked my car, grabbed my camera and walked to Market St., where a line went on and on and on, wrapping around several city blocks. That was disheartening. There was definitely a distinct energy amongst this crowd. It was rowdy, belligerent and, yes, angry.

I walked up and down the street surveying the scene. Many were clad with anti-Hillary shirts (Hillary for Prison 2016), others wore camo attire, others dressed like frat stars in chubbies and bowties, and most donned the “Make America Great Again” caps. I saw a child wearing a button emblazoned flames that said Trump would blow up ISIS. But I gravitated toward the protestors.

It was in a small string of protestors where I saw the worst come from the Trump supporters. The protestors held signs saying things like “Love trumps hate” and “Mine is bigger than yours: my head and my heart.” One woman with a “Black Lives Matter” sign received the brunt of it. People yelled things like “All lives matter” and “Get out of here, Bitch.” One man came up to confront them all, speaking ill of the democratic candidates, calling them liars, socialists and other heinous names you can’t print in the paper.

I didn’t go inside the rally. I had no intention to do so. Walking among his supporters was enough to make my stomach lurch. The videos of the violence and hateful language between the supporters and protestors showed up in my news feed later. Images of men being dragged to the ground, women pushed, all of the protestors chanted at, “Get em’ out of here! Get em’ out of here!” The rally itself had been shut down for ten minutes. The Chicago rally that was supposed to take place that night had to be postponed. All due to violence.

The most surprising thing about Trump supporters is just how many there are. The scariest thing about Trump supporters is how angry they are. What can we do about it? Be kind to them. Engage in a dialogue. But if all of that doesn’t work: go and vote.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email