When it comes to small-town living, spectacle and experience are in short supply. So when a big event happens or someone famous comes to town, many put on their best to come out and taste the excitement. Much like they would for the opening of a new Olive Garden, the people of Hagerstown, Maryland — a small hub city between Washington and Baltimore — and the neighboring communities came out in force to greet Donald Trump at his recent rally there.
The aura of a Trump rally has diminished in the months since his candidacy began. The combative tone that took people to the edge in Chicago has changed the strategy of your typical Trump campaign stop, and the Hagerstown event was no different. But what hasn’t changed is the environment of the Trump event. The whole thing is a patchwork collection of carnival salesmanship and sporting event, with a hefty dose of capitalism tossed in for good measure. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something more than an hour-late bloated billionaire spewing buffoonery into a microphone on a stage before jumping back into his helicopter to head to his next campaign destination. When he does exit the chopper, you expect the Harlem Globetrotters to make an appearance given the loud Jock Jams soundtrack in use. Sadly, they were not around.
What is around is a cavalcade of eccentric characters, featuring a selection of people you’d expect — Neo-Nazis are always fun to rub elbows with — people who were just curious, and a surprising amount of youth. The surprise comes from one of the most honest bits of the entire event, spoken by Trump himself. All of these people came out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to stand in an airplane hangar and listen to a presidential speech. That’s where this piece meets its divide. Is this a document that captures how much people truly love Donald Trump and want to propel him to The White House? Not at all. That’s been done and I think we’ve all walked down that road before.
This is much larger than just Donald Trump. It speaks more to a desire to be part of a happening, to be at an event. The Olive Garden comment was far from a joke, the opening of a new restaurant attracts the same type of crowd as the Trump event. As does the annual carnival, town parades, two surprising KKK rallies, or a guy in a poorly designed Power Rangers costume. There was once a rumor going around that Brad Pitt had bought a house in town, prompting some to drop cookies off at the house it was believed he had bought in the hopes of meeting their hunky idol. Instead, a nice elderly couple was showered with fresh-baked cookies.
Speaking to some of the police on site, you’d swear that Trump’s campaign rally was the biggest event to ever hit Hagerstown in recent memory. The second being Ludacris making a pit stop in town only a few weeks earlier (local news gushed about him praising the local airport). Bryce Harper allegedly couldn’t stand to leave his hotel during his stint playing for the Nationals’ farm team, the Hagerstown Suns, but the people still flocked to the stadium to see him. The only thing that usually draws notable crowds to Suns’ games is “Thirsty Thursday,” a day when cheap beer is offered at the stadium and single folks hop in to get really drunk and hit on each other.
Trump is merely the latest draw. Not only does he connect to these people politically, he has the advantage of being a famous name. Just being in the area was a big enough reason for curious people to choose between staying in, going to shop at Wal-Mart, or embarking on a long march to see what all the fuss is about with the campaign.
But mostly people went simply to be able to say, “I was there.” Heck, that’s the main reason I went — the chance to see the show. Reading the news coverage of the event, you would believe that thousands showed up to support Trump, clashing with protestors at the entrance, and filling the hangar to the brim. But the reality is that it was a mix of agreement, curiosity, and pointlessness. It was something to do.
Much like sharing an opinion on social media, attending a Trump rally seems to be a merit badge of sorts for people on both sides. The protestors showed up with minimal force, shouting far away from anybody associated with the event and barely making their presence known. Supporters stuffed up toward the stage, a hodgepodge of men in suits, men in camouflage, and women in American flag garb, cheering at anything that moved and just enjoying being a face in the crowd. Then we have everybody else.
All sides left early, all sides did the bare minimum, and all of them couldn’t wait to capture it all on their phone. I’m likely worse because I couldn’t help capturing everybody else capturing Trump on their phone. Taking selfies, using Periscope, and just attempting to be somebody. People even took the time to photograph the lines to use the Port-o-Pottys on location — something I’m guilty of doing myself.
It’s the plight of the small town. Every Springsteen song, every dream of youth. Wanting to go out, follow dreams, and become somebody. Only today it is slightly easier to do the bare minimum, like going to a Trump rally and posting photos on social media.
It’s a shot at glory. Be it the grieving cowboy Kraig Moss (pictured above), attempting to sell his CD of Donald Trump songs, the people pushing buttons and T-shirts, or the politicians hitching their wagon to the Trump happening. Even the media that follow the campaign seem to be out for the same thing, enough to be penned in like hogs for the slaughter once Trump takes the stage. We all put up with it to say we were there. We covered it, we experienced it. It came to us and we took advantage in the only way we knew how. It is indeed as pathetic as it sounds.
Best of all, it’d be the same no matter the candidate. Trump does carry that name recognition with it, but Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, or any of the other candidates might warrant the same type of grouping given the same opportunity. The only real difference would likely be with a Bernie Sanders campaign rally. You’d have to assume you could buy two bottles of water for less than $6 there.
I say all of this because it’s how I looked at attending. I’m the furthest thing from a Trump supporter, but I ate up every moment and every free handout I was given during the entire event. Anti-Pope leaflets, political fliers, and signs giving praise to the “silent majority” are the trophies I have to show it was real life. Everything else is futile in comparison.
I certainly didn’t go to make a change or to show my support. And judging from the others who marched away from Trump’s voice near the end, they did the same. They were more worried about beating the traffic.
So while it is easy to buy into outrage or buy into the outrage being spewed by Donald Trump, I’d be more apt to say we’re giving it a bit too much credence. People are far more simple than the loud voices on television are constantly shouting about. The political campaigns of today are, arguably, very gaudy wagons that we all attempt to hitch onto and hope for something more interesting than our daily lives.
That’s why a guy like Trump can lead in polls. That’s why a political rally looks more like a circus sideshow full of pushy salespeople. And that’s why thousands of people will give up a beautiful day to stand in a crowd. You feel like somebody.