Unlikely Bedfellows: What a Sanders Supporter Learned from a Donald Trump Rally

About a week ago, a friend and enthusiastic Trump supporter invited me to go to a Donald Trump rally. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, my initial reaction was to reject, but after giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that the millions of Trump voters deserved respect and had earned the right for their voices to be heard.

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With that in mind, here is my experience from the Donald Trump rally in San Diego, California on May 27, 2016:

I was dropped off a few hundred feet away from the convention center. As I walked toward the venue, I immediately felt the presence of law enforcement. Officers stood 10 feet apart forming a human barricade; it was overwhelming. I tried to peek over the mass of officers to look for protesters, but they were far away, and could not even be heard.

All week the media had warned of potential anti-Trump protests, but all I could see were cameras and reporters. It was a little disappointing. As I walked in the front gate, I told myself that I was early, and I would see them on the way out.

As I stepped inside the building, I was confronted with a security line of about a thousand people. I took this opportunity to study the people around.

Instantly, I noticed the sea of red, white, and blue. Everyone in line was either wearing a shirt in honor of the United States, or wearing some kind of Trump merchandise. I looked at my own outfit, and noticed that I was wearing red, white, and blue.

It suddenly became clear to me that Trump had successfully sold himself as the America lover; that the perfect outfit for a Trump rally would simply be an American flag.

It suddenly became clear to me that Trump had successfully sold himself as the America lover.
Jonathan Hoff, IVN Independent Author

I got through security and found a spot not too far from the stage. To my left was a widowed veteran with her 11-year-old son, and to my right was a proud African-American veteran with his wife. Everyone in attendance seemed very familial and patriotic.

I did not see the hate and discrimination that the media had led me to expect.

The rally began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a rendition of the national anthem. Veterans and politicians took the stage, one after the other, to endorse Trump. It was very professional, organized, and nationalistic.

With every cheer, hundreds raised their red, white, and blue signs, “Veterans for Trump.” With every boo, someone yelled, “Hillary for Prison,” and the audience laughed. With every silence, the crowd chanted, “USA, USA, USA!” The pattern was predictable and repetitive. This is exactly how I envisioned the Republican Party.

Unexpectedly, Sarah Palin appeared. The crowd erupted, as children ran to the front to get a better vantage point. This was the surprise the crowd was hoping for.

Her speech was classic Palin, filled with creative insults directed at the media; a speech that only she knows how to deliver. To my surprise, it was entertaining, comical, quirky, and effective. As she walked off the stage, it became clear that Trump and Palin belonged together. She was a natural fit.

As the music grew louder, we were informed that Donald was in the building. The crowd was anxious. Old American songs played on repeat. People began to sit on the floor as their legs grew tired. Five, ten, twenty, thirty minutes went by.

Finally, it happened; Donald was on stage. Showtime. Every phone in the room was raised. It was madness.

Donald was Donald. No notes, no organization, no restraints. Most of his speech was directed at the media, and the New York Times in particular. Besides a few one-liners about the Clintons, he spent most of his time discussing the Trump University case.

The highlight came when Trump yelled at a protester, “Get em out!” Surprisingly, the crowd was mostly calm, and uninterested, until the final minute where he unleashed his usual rhetoric.

The quote speaks for itself:

“We are going to start winning again big league. We’re going to win with our military. We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS. We’re going to win for our great vets; they have not been treated properly. Illegal immigrants get better treatment in many cases than our veterans, and that’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. We’re going to win on education — no more common core. We’re going to win with health care. We’re gonna win at the border. We’re gonna win at trade. We’re gonna win so much that you people are going to be calling your president and you’re gonna say, “Please, Mr. President, we don’t want to win anymore. You’re wining too much. You’re driving us crazy.” And I’m going to say, “I am very sorry, but we are going to keep winning, and we are going to win, win, win, and we are going to make America great again!” I love you San Diego!”

The music roared, and Donald Trump left the stage.

The rally was over. I followed the massive crowd of red, white, and blue out of the convention center. As I exited the building, I immediately searched for protesters. To my disappointment, there was little going on, as the few protesters were hundreds of feet away. In fact, most people were busy buying or selling Trump merchandise. I felt safe.

I did not see the hate and discrimination that the media had led me to expect.
Jonathan Hoff, IVN Independent Author

Desperate for adventure, I walked a few hundred feet to where the protesters were located. When I arrived, a handful of people were displaying anti-Trump flags while others were arguing with Trump supporters. There was no violence but the protesters definitely seemed heated.

I watched for a few minutes and realized that the protesters were the ones inciting violence, often insulting, or provoking police officers. On that note, I called it a day and walked home.

Later that night, I turned on CNN and the headline read, “3 Arrests at Trump Rally in San Diego.” I listened to the journalists as they blamed Trump for the violence, and implied that his supporters were racist, hateful, and violent. I was shocked. The media suggested that his rally was dangerous, yet it was the complete opposite. I was there, and I can guarantee that it was beyond safe. It was familial and patriotic.

In the end, Donald Trump did not convince me, but his supporters did. They were unified, friendly, and respectful. His supporters did not fit the stereotype I had been picturing, and for that, I must apologize.

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I will not be voting for Donald Trump in the fall, but I urge every single one of you to give Trump supporters the respect they deserve. The political system only works if every voice is heard.

Editor’s note: This article originally published in The Zen Corner and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.

Photo credit: Kris Arciaga / KPBS