There is something about watching Donald Trump at one of his own rallies that is completely unlike watching him in a debate or TV interview or any other medium. First, there's the crowd. It is, as I noted from the Trump rally in Atlanta on Sunday, unlike any crowd I've seen at a Republican event in Georgia in the past seven years. It was more diverse in every respect: racially, ethnically, age-wise and, judging solely by appearance, in terms of socio-economics. I wondered how much of that was pure curiosity, so I left the safe confines of the media area -- more on that in a moment -- to stand among the crowd. Based on what I heard from talking to people and listening to their reactions to Trump, they were with him at least up to a point.
Then there is the atmosphere. It was vaguely threatening in the same way that being a sports fan at an opposing team's venue is. I've covered a lot of events, political and otherwise. Many times, there is a roped-off area reserved for the press, with tables and chairs (and, if you're lucky, extension cords). I've never been to one of those where there were also armed, uniformed police in said roped-off area. I found this a little off-putting, at first. By the time I returned to it toward the end of the speech, I found it a bit reassuring -- given the repeated times Trump exhorted the crowd to turn, point, boo, hiss at the very people who have given his campaign the oxygen it needed to thrive.
But what's most different about seeing Trump in person, or at least alone and not having to share the stage trading 60-second sound bites with other candidates, is the way he is free to speak at length about various topics -- saying nothing of substance, very little that is true, and a lot that is borderline insane. Here are a few snippets I've transcribed from a video recording of his appearance (to ensure I got it right, word for word).
On the Keystone XL Pipeline:
"We should have it, but we’ll make a much better deal. We should have it, but we should get a piece of the action for the United States, right? Right? Right? See, only a businessman would say that. Why should we approve it? They’re using by the way eminent domain to make it, otherwise you can’t. We should get a piece of the action. Approve it, it’s a lot of jobs. Frankly, it’s Canadian oil, I don’t care so much, but we’ll be good neighbors. Approve it, we’ll get the jobs, but we should get like 25% of the profits or 25% of the ownership for the United States. Right? Right?"
Only "a businessman" would say the government should demand ownership of a private venture creating jobs on our soil ... or a corporatist, as Mussolini understood the term. Take your pick.
On How He Would Have Negotiated a Better Iran Deal, Part 1:
"You ready? You walk in, you say fellas, you gotta do us a favor. Release our prisoners -- this is four years ago -- release our prisoners. They’re gonna say no. And we say, bye bye! Bye! And then you go outside, you call up, you double up the sanctions, you triple up the sanctions. Within 24 hours, maybe 48 hours, they will call you and say the prisoners are gone, they’re gone. Amazing, a miracle."
"Maybe" a whole 48 hours? How modest, this Trump. Of course sanctions could be doubled, tripled -- and capitulated to -- in a day or two. Just "call up." Whom? Doesn't matter. A "miracle," indeed.
On How He Would Have Negotiated a Better Iran Deal, Part 2:
"I say, very simply: Fellas, we got a problem. Our country is going to hell. We’ve had incompetent leadership. Grossly incompetent, like how 'bout the worst? We owe $19 trillion. We’re gonna owe another $2 trillion soon because of this horrible budget. We owe $19 trillion. We’re a debtor nation. Our infrastructure is falling to pieces. Our health care is no good. Common Core is horrible -- it’s costing us a fortune; we’re getting rid of Common Core; we’re getting rid of Common Core, by the way; we’re gonna have local, local, local love; local education; getting rid of Common Core, that’ll be one of the early things, OK -- and we just don’t have the $150 billion. I’m so sorry, I don’t know how to tell you, we just don’t have it. They’ll go crazy, for about a day. And then the second day they’ll call, and we’ll start, and we just saved $150 billion. Believe me. Now – believe me."
Yes, he said he'd bring up Common Core with the Iranians. And that would be one of his excuses for why we couldn't pay them $150 billion -- at which point one wonders if they'd remind him the money in question represents their assets frozen in our banks, not an appropriation American taxpayers have to fund. And one supposes his answer would be, as he said so many times Sunday, "Who cares?" Which is how we get from the "miracle" he mentioned earlier into fairy-tale land.
On how he'd bring jobs back to America/what's wrong with the Trans-Pacific Partnership/who's paying for his campaign:
"I love our country. I love the people of our country. I’ve gotten to love them more and more. I see such incredible potential. This country is amazing. I want to make Apple iPhones and computers and all of the stuff -- I want to start making it in our country, not in China. (Cheers) And we’re gonna put a lot of pressure on Apple and these companies to make their product here. We have incredible people. And the reason they make it there is because they’re money manipulators. You look at China, what China does to their currency, you take a look at what China does to devalue their currency, it makes it impossible for our people to compete. They’re manipulators. You know the new trade deal? It is so bad for us, it is so bad for us. You have countries -- TPP, you’re really up on it, that's good; Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is the worst -- they don’t even talk about manipulation! That’s their number one method. Devaluation of currency. And China is like a grand chess master. There’s nobody that’s ever done it better. So we ought to get rid of that. We have some conservative politicians and some liberal pols that want it badly. The reason they want it badly? Take a look at their campaign finance. Take a look at the people giving them money. I’m self-funding. I’m putting up all of my own money. I’m putting up my money."
If you're scoring at home, that's one corporatist threat against American companies; one misleading tangent about the TPP, which by design excluded China and therefore never possibly could have addressed Chinese currency manipulation; and one lie about campaign finance, refuted early and often on his own financial disclosures to the federal government.
But there is nothing I heard or saw, not one thing, that compared to a scene that simply has to be seen to be believed:
Trump went on to say this:
"Now listen, this is the thing. The lights go off, it’s better. We say, we want the lights on, it’s terrible, it’s terrible. We take a big deduction off the rent because the lights are off, but it’s actually better. It’s the kind of sick thinking we really need for our country, isn’t that right? So because the lights didn’t work, even though it’s better, we say, we’re not paying the rent, the lights didn’t work, this is ridiculous, we will not pay the rent. And we say, bye bye!"
Thousands of people chanting "Turn off the lights! Turn off the lights!" and cheering for "sick thinking." Yep, that about sums it up.