A day in “Trumpland”

Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the International Convention Center in Louisville on March 1. “We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said to a round of applause and cheers. Nicole Boliaux/HERALD

Andrew Henderson

Editor’s note: The following is a commentary of a Herald editor’s experience as a member of the press at a Donald Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 1. This includes his own personal observations, experiences and interviews he conducted.

A congregation of people gathered along the streets outside the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville on Tuesday, all patiently waiting for one man.

Some were decked out in American flag T-shirts. Others sported signs that read “Veterans Lives Matter.” A select few had hats with “Back to Back World War champs” emboldened on the cap. There was a man carrying a guitar and wearing a cowboy hat amid the throngs of people.


These individuals were part of a line that started at the convention center doors on South 3rd Street in Louisville and continued on down South 5th Street seemingly without end.

These men, women and children had gathered to see Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

As a member of the press, I had to know what it was like to attend a Trump rally. It wasn’t so much a rite of journalistic passage as a sick, twisted curiosity. I just needed to know.

Here is a man who has made disparaging comments about women, pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and make the latter pay for it, called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, insulted a prisoner of war, continuously mocked other presidential candidates and recently vowed to open up libel laws.

What might have started out as a monthlong “Saturday Night Live” skit is slowly becoming a reality as Trump might well have clinched the nomination for the Republican party given his multiple wins yesterday on Super Tuesday.

Tuesday was my first time covering a political event, much less one sponsored by Trump. Trump’s campaign often comes under fire for how it deals with members of the press, and sometimes it escalates to violence.

Upon arriving inside the room where Trump would later speak, we were escorted to what I mentally called the “First Amendment ring” where all members of the press would be contained once the rally began.

Before the rally’s official start, I elected to make my way around the room and get a feel for the atmosphere of a Trump rally.

“This is going to be the first appearance he’s made since people realized he’s going to win” was a phrase I overheard from a rally attendee who was then ushered away and lost in an ever-growing sea of supporters and onlookers.

I saw a man sporting a full-grown white beard and mustache wearing a full American flag jumpsuit with the Budweiser beer logo printed along the side. The room was slowly filling with a variety of people: some old, some young, some with disabilities and some of color, all of them filing from the convention center escalators.

Some people elected to sit on the floor along the room’s walls. Some of them looked disheveled while others just looked toward the stage waiting for the main event to get underway. Signs filled the room with phrases like “The silent majority stands with Trump” and Trump’s tagline “Make America Great Again” emblazoned upon them.

Members of Trump’s campaign would occasionally come out on stage and record videos of the crowd, and the crowd never disappointed as they all eagerly shouted and waved their signs in the air.

Vera Thomas, a Louisville resident, was standing a few hundred feet from the main crowd. Thomas said on Monday she went to see Republican candidate Ben Carson in Lexington and that she enjoyed seeing him and finding out what his stances were.

She was in Louisville for a similar reason: to discover what Trump’s stances were and to find out what was behind all the hype. Currently, Thomas is leaning towards voting for Carson, but she’s willing to compromise.

“I’m leaning towards Ben Carson right now, but let’s put it this way: if Ben doesn’t get the nomination for the Republican party, then I just may be voting for Trump because I’m definitely not voting Democrat,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she’s not just voting because of her Republican party affiliation, but by her own conscience. She then followed up by saying she could never vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

One of the most striking things about the rally, given everything that later transpired, was the sheer amount of young children who were there, hand-in-hand with their parents, being led around the room.

Did they know who Trump was or what he supported? Or were they taken aback by the palpable excitement in the air and $5 ice cream in a waffle cone? I for one was enticed by the latter.

The rally began as a young girl took the stage to sing the national anthem. As she did, the crowd’s cheers intermittently cut throughout the anthem and erupted in applause upon its conclusion.

A reverend whose name I was unable to catch opened the rally with prayer.

“God bless Donald, God bless Kentucky and God bless America and make her great again,” the opening prayer for the rally concluded.

Not long after that was the big event  or, rather, the precursor to the big event. Trump took the stage accompanied by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who recently dropped out of the GOP race and is now throwing his support behind Trump.

“America needs a strong leader in the Oval Office again, and we have that man in Donald Trump,” Christie said.

I won’t bore you with what Trump said because it’s more of a checklist than any sort of promise or plan.

“We’re going to take our country back and make it great again,” Trump said. Check.

“Who’s going to pay for the wall?” Trump asked. “Mexico,” the crowd responded. Check.

“We’re losing our industry … we’re going to renegotiate our trade deals and make great deals,” Trump said. Check.

“We’re going to make our military strong. We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said. Check.

Several times during the rally, Trump was met with opposition from protesters. Each time, Trump met them with variants of “get them the hell out” or simply “get out.”

Cynthia Ferguson, an Eastern Kentucky University freshman from Lansing, Kansas, was one of the people who was escorted out of the rally.

Ferguson said she went to the rally with two of her friends, one of whom was not allowed in by security. She said other people she knew were not allowed inside the convention center because they had anti-Trump posters.

Ferguson quickly remedied this by buying a Trump hat, which allowed her access.

“So I made it through where most people didn’t,” she said.

By the time Ferguson reached the room, however, Trump had finished speaking but hadn’t quite left the area. Security had Ferguson show them the contents of her poster, which read “Can you #FeelTheBern now, Mr. Trump?”

She was told that she had to leave her poster outside the room or she would not be allowed entrance.

“So I walked in without my poster, came back out, grabbed my poster and went back in without security’s permission,” Ferguson said. “At that point, one of their security agents saw that I had the poster and walked me over to a couple police and had me escorted out the back door.”

She said she tried to see the event from both perspectives as to why she was escorted out of the event. On one hand, she could see that Trump had a message and didn’t have time to deal with the those who were in opposition to him. However, this didn’t excuse the behavior.

“At the same time, if you’re not even going to let someone in who has a sign that’s not even hateful … I guess it just kind of says he has a very low tolerance and isn’t really going to take anyone’s perspective into consideration if they differ from his,” she said.

Upon the rally’s conclusion, I tried to make my way up closer to the stage where some of Trump’s supporters still lingered. Instead I was met with a firm “stay there” from his campaign’s media manager. I was then told I had to leave.

Outside the center, I was met with a group of anti-Trump protesters armed with signs. As time passed, the group grew in numbers. They shouted, “Black Lives Matter,” and their chants were met with a shouted retort of “All Lives Matter” from Trump’s side of the street.

The yells of both groups were occasionally drowned out by a man selling T-shirts just a few feet away.

“Hillary sucks, but not like Monica. Trump that bitch,” the man shouted, giving his selling pitch over and over again.

Louisville native Devon Murphy was one of the protesters in attendance. Murphy said there’s a variety of reasons she doesn’t support Trump.

“He’s racist, he’s homophobic, he’s classist, and he isn’t taking the political party system seriously, which I think is an affront to everyone here,” she said, indicating both the group of protesters and Trump’s supporters.

Murphy has lived in Kentucky for 10 years and believes Trump’s rise to power is telling of Kentucky’s politics.

“It’s like the story of our politics essentially. Someone comes around, says some crap, everyone believes it at face value because their lives are hard, our lives are hard, and then we get dicked over,” Murphy said.

Brittany McChristiom, also a Louisville resident, said she doesn’t support Trump because he doesn’t promote peace and love, and a country under him would be a country divided.

“Donald Trump does not care. With Donald Trump it’s not about Republican party or Democratic party; it’s about Trump party,” McChristiom said.

McChristiom said she was at the rally earlier in protest but had her signs ripped and was shortly escorted out.

“Two women got up in my face and cussed me out. I was escorted out just for saying ‘Dump Trump,’” she said.

She said the experience was frightening, but she knew she had to do it. She said once she started voicing her opinion, she would be escorted out.

McChristiom said she believes Trump will receive the Republican nomination and possibly become president, which is why she spoke out at the rally. For her, it’s no longer a monthlong SNL skit either.

“It’s not funny anymore. It’s real,” she said.

At one point, protesters took to the streets and were soon corralled back to the sidewalk by Louisville police officers, who formed a line to enclose them.

Their chants echoed throughout the streets, but whether or not anyone heard them is still up for debate.

With the protests slowly dying down and the 30-degree weather and winds getting to me, I decided to call it a day.

As I left Louisville and headed back to Bowling Green, I thought of how surreal the event was — about how Trump came and left so quickly and how it felt like he wasn’t really there at all. The “Trump train” had arrived and left the station with extreme speed.

The drive back allowed me to really ponder what I had just witnessed. Was I really just in the same room with the man who might become the president of this country? Because it certainly didn’t feel like it.

I felt like I was in the room with a child. A child who makes empty promises with no intent to fulfill them. A child who goes along with whatever his supporters clap along with. A child who is active in silencing those he does not agree with.

Trump may claim he’ll “knock the hell out of ISIS,” but if he won’t even listen to a dissenting opinion from a protester, journalist or fellow Republican, then he’s not fit to run this country.

I think back to the final scenes of Trump’s rally in the convention center. The smoke trail of an e-cigarette slowly ascended in the air before rapidly fading into oblivion.

As a member of the press and a person who strives for political and civic engagement, I was dismayed. My hopes, much like the smoke trail, are rapidly fading.