A plan to attend a Donald Trump rally on 2nd May as a part of an international media delegation organized by the Foreign Press Center under the State Department got off to an ominous start when some early requests by some members for press credentials were denied.
Donald Trump’s campaign’s love and hate relationship with the media apparently extended to the international press, perhaps aware of the unfavorable coverage abroad to the ‘Trump phenomena.’
The foreign media group along with the Foreign Press Center instead decided to get tickets to attend the rally as regular people without press credentials. Aware of the risks involved, especially with past violence at Trumps rallies, instructions were given to keep a low profile and keep an eye out for each other.
An unspoken but understood thing also was that given the mixed race and ethnic group of the international journalists, we had to be extra careful.
So, as the bus parked discreetly in the town of Terre Haute in Indiana, a few blocks from the rally, we headed on foot to join a very long line of Trump supporters.
We were greeted by a very long line of mainly middle aged white people with many sporting Trump hats, shirts and other memorabilia.
Given the past tales of violence and intimidation there was a psychological air of menace, though to be fair, nobody there said or did anything against the group.
Many mobile vendors moved around capitalizing on the Trump brand selling ‘Make America Great’ again caps, ‘Trump for President’ badges including ‘Hillary for Prison’ badges etc.
A cowboy crooning songs for Donald Trump, a block from the entrance and a small group of vocal Protestors across the street completed the image.
A couple of cars with young drivers on high blast speakers with songs singing expletives against Donald Trump buzzed by the rally and drew stares and chuckles from those waiting in line. There were a few others driving by who gave a disgusted and distasteful look at the line.
The local hall hosting the rally was supposed to seat around 1,600 people, but such was the interest that the hall fit around 2,000 people before the main outer entrances were shut. A lot more people were stuck outside.
One of the organizers requested the crowds to not attack any protestors in the venue and instead let law enforcement authorities handle them.
As Trump arrived at the venue to speak for an hour he was greeted by chants of ‘USA, USA’ from an enthused crowd.
Trump’s speech was demagogic, populist and aggressive throughout, whipping the crowd into a wild frenzy at times. His very speech was interspersed with personal insults and taunts more reminiscent of high school students joking around than a political rally.
Trump from the word go launched into an attack and took the general line of blaming everyone else for America’s problems.
In perhaps an indication of how his supporters are feeling, they lapped up every bit of it no matter how unbelievable some of the claims were or even how repetitive they were.
Trump, explaining his popularity he said that he was always on television as he drove ratings up. He also cited a NBC and Wall Street Journal showing a 15 percent lead over Ted Cruz.
However, that did not stop him attacking the Press stand pointing to it and calling them ‘dishonest people.’
He also attacked his main opponent Ted Cruz by taunting him as ‘Lyin Ted.’ Citing his own support among evangelical Christians he said, “Evangelicals are falling out of love with Lyin Ted coz they don’t like liars.”
Referring to the negative advertisements Trump said, “There are so many negative advertisements. They are so crooked, almost as crooked as Crooked Hillary,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
A sensitive issue in the United States is a ‘Black lives Matter’ movement where mainly African Americans are protesting the excessive issue of force against African Americans by the police, which at times is fatal.
While not referring to the movement directly Trump expressed support for the police. He said, “Cops touch people by mistake and they lose their career, pension and get fired. The police are incredible and I love them.”
Touching on economic issues Trump started local by referring to the loss of one in 7 jobs in Terre Haute. He said that the Carrier group moving its 1,400 jobs from Indiana to Mexico was emblematic of what was happening in USA.
“On devaluation the Chinese are like grand chess masters while we are like bad checker players for what they do to us,” he said. “On free trade the politicians who are either dumb or dishonest due to special interest money are not doing their jobs,” he added.
To cheers, Trump said, “I am self funding my campaign.”Referring to a USD 505 bn trade deficit with China, Trump said that even a trade war would be better than doing nothing.
On immigration Trump said, “This problem with Syria with people coming in undocumented and we have no idea where they are coming in from.”Trump in earlier rallies had restated his controversial idea to stop all Muslim immigration to America.
Trump glossed on Iraq, ISIS and the middle-east repeating how he had opposed going to Iraq. However, recent records show Trump had initially supported the Iraq war campaign at the time.
In an example of the viciousness of the attack he said, “Iraq has a crooked government and maybe that’s where we should send crooked Hillary.”
Coming to a central theme of his campaign Trump pledged to build the USD 10 bn wall along the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration repeating that he would get Mexico to pay it out of the USD 58 bn trade deficit.
He also attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saying how it had resulted in empty factories and that Ted Cruz had voted for it. He also attacked the informal alliance at the time between Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
Trump said that contrary to predictions he was getting more than 50 percent of the vote and everyone across the world is talking about the Republican Party. He also said that the party support was up by 70 percent and he had millions of votes ahead of his rivals.
Attacking Ted Cruz and the press he said that it was a lie that Ted Cruz had a better shadow campaign by getting commitments from delegates to vote for him in the second round if nobody got 1,237 votes. Referring to the press he said this was written by the ‘dishonest people back there,’ saying that Ted Cruz was instead buying lunches and getting delegates to hotels to get their support.
Referring to a drug problem sweeping across Indiana Trump said that he would stop drugs from pouring into the country.
Trump then talked about defence saying that though USA’s military budget was large a lot of it was spent in defending other countries who were not paying for it. He said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that defends Europe was obsolete.
“If they do not pay up I will say, bye bye and enjoy yourself against Russia.” Trump also complained of why ‘deals’ were not being made in the United Nations and he pledged to make a deal between Israel and Palestine.
Trump pledged to end Obama care and end the fat and waste in the budget. He called on his supporters to come out and vote for him.
After the rally Trump supporters drove by blaring horns and shouting at a small group of around 30 to 40 protestors across the street.
The Bhutanese talked to a few Trump supporters at the rally to understand why they supported Trump.
Trump supporter Brandon, 21 an Indiana State University student said that he supported Trump because he was not politically correct and said it as it is. “Trump is tapping into a silent majority,” he said. He also supported Trump since Trump supported the second amendment or the right to bear arms.
Hannah 21 also a student said that she supported Trump as he spoke his mind and supported the second the amendment.
Reflecting two widespread views about Trump, Adrian a middle aged factory worker said, “A lot of people are fed up with normal politics as they are getting nothing done. Trump has a business mentality and we need somebody for President who is a businessman and not a politician.”
There were those who while not supporting Trump came to the rally just out of curiosity.
One of them was Terry Kasy a Political Science College Professor. “I don’t support Trump but he is popular due to a lot of populist dissatisfaction and since people feel Washington has not paid attention. He said Bernie Sanders and Trump are the same sides of the coin except that Bernie blamed Wall Street while Trump blamed Washington.