I have a friend who attended the Trump rally in Novi, Mich. recently. This friend’s politics are not easily defined by labels. He supported Bernie and is as anti-Clinton as much as anyone I know. Now, I could never attend a rally such as his for purely practical as well as political reasons, so I was a little curious about what he learned. He told me the atmosphere was “electric” with people very much excited and enthusiastic. There were a lot of people who were clearly well educated and “typical suburban professionals” as well as blue collar workers and a lot of older people. Not the stereotype of a Trump crowd.
He didn’t see a single minority in the crowd, and when he asked Trump supporters why, the responses were interesting. Most people who responded were simply apathetic. “Who cares?” was the essential attitude. Not one person he asked about the absence of any minority was concerned in the least. But some did have explanations. “It’s because there are no handouts here” was the response of one man dressed in a business suit who claimed to be an attorney. An older woman speculated that “those people” wouldn’t mix well with “hard working, religious people like us.”
Then he recounted something a bit disturbing. The crowd went into what he described a religious or rock concert frenzy when Trump appeared on stage. They wildly cheered and answered his rhetorical questions as though they were in a personal conversation with him. At times he described a kind of mob mentality, with people yelling out things they probably would never say at their workplace or church. Some of it was the over-the-top demands to “lock her up” or “string her up.” Some of the spontaneous shouts were darker and more malignant. “F the Nigg…” was heard more than a few times when Obama was invoked.
My friend left shaken and convinced that he had just experienced more of a hate rally than a political rally. “It was as though the rally was an opportunity for people to shout out all of the anti-social, hateful impulses they keep hidden until part of a mob.” Trump supporters simply respond to criticism of their rhetoric that they are tired of being “politically correct.” But not being PC doesn’t mean sanctioning hate speech. He told me “I thought Hillary’s comment about half of Trump supporters being deplorable” he said “but after attending that rally I think it is more like 80% including people I would have never thought of as so hateful.”
I doubt that all, or even most, Trump supporters are racist, violent or otherwise “deplorable.” However, history is replete with societies of otherwise decent people becoming swept up in the hatred of a demagogue.