What I Saw at the Trump Rally in Chicago

What I Saw at the Trump Rally in Chicago

On Friday, I can’t believe it was only Friday, protesters outside a building at my alma mater shut down a Trump rally.

I was here, at home, but still as close as I could be. I was watching my friends facebook and twitter feeds, proud and terrified, and conflicted. I was watching Periscope like my life depended on it, checking the broadcasts from both inside and outside the UIC Pavilion, both pro- and anti-Trump. And what I saw was so horrible it has taken me this long to write about it.

The day after the rally, an image from the event began to go viral. An older woman, her hand raised in a Nazi salute, a sneer of violent derision on her face, wearing a Trump t-shirt.

I was not surprised. I was so far from surprised.

You see, what I saw on Periscope was so, so much worse.

One broadcaster, a young white man from the southern side of the state, was gleefully walking through the crowd of Trump supporters, laughing and asking them, “Which is worse, Jews or fags?” And as he asked, each person laughed, clapped, nodded, called out, “Jews!” or “Jews ARE fags!” This was somebody publicly broadcasting himself of his own free will, and I watched as a crowd of smiling faces agreed that gay people and Jewish people aren’t people.

This what’s was happening in my city, at my university, while I stayed home and lit Shabbat candles with my children.

I spoke to a few other parents from my kids’ Jewish preschool about the rally. They also had wanted to attend, but as one African American father said, “I can’t risk that kind of stuff now, with three kids to look out for. I can’t spare that kind of bail, or, you know…” he trailed off.

Because of course he did. Being a minority at one of those rallies risks much worse than losing money. Trump supporters are being incited to violence- so overtly that now North Carolina is likely charging Trump personally with inciting violence, the actual crime. Bail is one thing. Hospital fees are another. A funeral is another again.

But, and this is something that I NEED to address, it wasn’t just the Trump supporters making me physically ill to watch.

When the news went out that Trump had decided not to show, the crowd outside, a crowd of thousands, began to celebrate. But in this absurdly tense, violent, and divided political atmosphere, the celebration turned ugly, fast.

I watched on Periscope as Trump protestors, broadcasting themselves publicly for anyone to watch, stalked Trump supporters. Followed them out of the rally, followed them as they walked to the train or bus or their cars, followed them as they hurried away with their tails between their legs. They clustered in packs and followed these people, shouting at them all the way, chants of, “GO HOME, RACISTS! GO HOME RACISTS!” but much more upsetting, they alternated between shouting, “GO HOME RACISTS!” and “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!”

You see, “Trump” doesn’t just mean “Trump” anymore. Now “Trump” is a code word, used by bigots, in place of all the words they don’t feel they’re allowed to say. They can’t say the n-word, they can’t say kike, they can’t say the racial slurs they imagine they were free to use without consequence in the good ol’ days. So when they’re presented with a moment in which they are free to act as racist as they are, they begin chanting it. “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

When a group of hecklers started harassing Latino basketball players in Iowa, they switched from shouting racial slurs to, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” There are incidents of this all over the country.

“Trump” as a chant is a threat. It means, “This country is not FOR you, and you are not welcome here,” and that applies to Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, and anyone who doesn’t support the man himself. He is his own battle cry.

So why does it bother me so much to see protestors engaging in stalking, harassment, and creating a threat of violence while shouting, “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” I mean, Bernie Sanders is a Jewish man with an ideological agenda I can get behind. He’s made no threats to imprison, kill, or deport millions of Americans. Why is chanting his name, at least in this context, so problematic?

Because this protest? It had nothing to do with Bernie Sanders. The crowd outside the Trump rally was filled with Muslim student groups, Bernie AND Hillary supporters, African American student groups, professors, and even Republicans who understand that Trump is a threat to our country.

But Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have, I’m afraid, a lot in common. They both represent the politics of political distrust. They both represent the optics of anger- of an old white man yelling to a screaming crowd. They both appeal to a vein of deep political unrest, and it has nothing to do with policy. It has nothing to do with what they’ll do when they get to office. It has everything to do with making sure that somebody, somewhere, gets their comeuppance. For Trump, it’s all the non-white, non-Christian, non-native humans in the country. For Sanders, it’s the banks, or the 1%, or the establishment– that nebulous description that could mean nearly anyone benefiting in any way from the way things are currently done. The philosophy for both these groups of supporters is, “There is something horribly wrong in this country, and now I know who to blame.”

Not all Bernie Sanders supporters feel this way, I know for a fact. But I also have heard too many Sanders supporters tell me if they can’t vote for Bernie, they’ll vote for Trump. For many, many people, Bernie is the safer version of Trump. But there is no safe version of an ideologue in whose name people cause violence.

Just as we have and must demand that Donald Trump disavow this behavior in his followers, we must for ANY politician whose name is becoming a battle cry for violence. And if you don’t believe stalking somebody and screaming at them is violence, ask any woman who’s had to walk home alone through a bad part of town how that makes her feel.

After he canceled his appearance, Donald Trump blamed Bernie Sanders for the violence at his rally. “Get your people in line, Bernie,” he said, and Sanders quite reasonably said he had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t an official Bernie Sanders event. It was truly a grassroots protest, filled with thousands of people of varying backgrounds and political affiliations. But when you adopt a battle cry that is also a candidate’s name, there are other questions you have to answer. Particularly if you’re that candidate.

It’s primary day in Illinois, and I expect my state is going to be close for the Democrats. It could go to Hillary, or to Sanders, and will definitely go to Trump. But since Friday night, I am genuinely scared of what will happen if we see a Sanders/Trump presidential contest. I am genuinely frightened of all the anger that is no longer being hid, all the fury and violence being given opportunity by being put into somebody else’s name. I want to believe Bernie Sanders would be horrified to know some of his supporters are equating his name with a threat, but I can’t know that until he’s presented with the question. And as far as I can find through a weekend of frantic googling, he hasn’t been asked.

Hatred and fear are terrible reasons to support anyone, even anyone-but-Trump. Hatred and fear never bring change for the better.

For those of you voting, supporting your candidates at rallies, and protesting Donald Trump wherever he goes, good luck out there.

Be safe. And please, don’t make anyone else unsafe, either. This isn’t a war now, but it could be. This whole situation is ugly, and could be much uglier, soon.

Remember that after the election we are all still Americans, all still human beings, and there are some wounds we may not be able to heal.


Read more of my thoughts on the election here: I Love Bernie Sanders, But This is Why I’m Supporting Hillary

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