Though I have always voted for democrats, I've never considered myself a straight-ticket voter (one who votes for democrats just because they are democrats). I like to think I open-mindedly weighed my options and ended up siding with democratic principles over republican principles each time. But with Donald Trump's rise to power, that seems to be changing. For Tuesday's midterm elections, I find myself leaning towards democrats by default – as a knee-jerk reaction against republicans just because they are republicans. In other words, I feel like any vote for any republican is an implicit vote for Trump – something I refuse to do.
Noticing that change in my own political proclivities concerns me. After all, I should open-mindedly weigh the options before casting any votes, and yet I'm not. And in an effort to address those concerns, I decided to attend Trump's rally in support of republican senate candidate Mike Braun in Indianapolis last Friday night.
I strongly believe that engaging with differing points of view is the best way to develop ideas. If those encounters show new and better ideas, then I leave enlightened; and if I end up disagreeing with the alternative perspectives, then I only strengthen my resolve. Either way, I'm better off after the encounter than was before. So while I regularly watch late night comedians mercilessly lambaste the president, I also watch Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson on Fox news. And I listen to Dennis Prager just as much as I listen to Dan Savage. Their differences, of course, are striking. But I watch/listen because I want both perspectives.
And so it was with Trump's rally yesterday. The president complains almost daily of how the “fake news” deliberately misrepresent him, highlighting his words out of context to make him look as bad as possible and ignoring any good parts. I wanted to see for myself whether or not that was true. Regardless of the answer, discovering that answer in person could prove deeply enlightening. If attending this rally showed me the media are genuinely dishonest in how they portray Trump, then that experience will help me understand his complaints, and thus provide me with a better understanding of his followers. On the other hand, if this rally showed the medias' portrayal as accurate, then it would reinforce my faith in the free press.
One of the best and most challenging questions regarding any conviction is, “What would change your mind?” In other words, what would cause you to reject the principles you currently hold and instead embrace that which is antithetical to your current point of view? If the answer to that question is “nothing”, then you are a fundamentalist – someone who will always make the evidence fit the conviction, no matter how much evidence to the contrary. And so I turn this revealing inquiry on myself: What would it take to get me to support Trump? I'd have to see things from his perspective – I'd have to see the “fake news” liberal media misrepresenting him, as he claims. And attending this rally had the potential to do just that. It's a little bit scary to enter a new experience fully understanding that that experience might dramatically overthrow one's long-standing political thinking. A small part of me wanted to avoid that possibility, but a much greater part of me is dedicated to reality and to the truth – even when it's challenging or downright unpleasant.
When the rally was announced last week, I seized my opportunity. I immediately requested a free ticket from www.DonaldJTrump.com, which I promptly received. (I figured they'd be all claimed, even though I was prompt in my request, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive it.) So with an open mind, I made the half-hour drive from my house in central Indy to the Southport neighborhood. The rally was set for 7pm, with doors opening at 4pm. I arrived shortly after 4, parked 1.2 miles away, and arrived in line about 4:30. By that time there were a few thousand already in front of me. “Do you think we're gonna get in?” the woman ahead of me asked. “I'd better get in,” I replied. “I have a ticket. He shouldn't have given me a ticket if there's no more space!” But after two hours standing in line, an announcement was made that the rally was at capacity. The rest of us could watch the TV broadcast on the giant projection screen set up in the parking lot. I declined that less-than-generous offer, and walked back to my car, more than a little disappointed and upset over how the tickets were handled.
I would not have gone to this rally without a ticket. The only reason I made the trip was because I had a ticket, and so I thought I was going to get in. In Trump's defense, the ticket does say “all tickets are subject to a first come first serve basis”, which I interpreted as “general admission” seating (as opposed to specified seating). But no, the ticket was essentially just a ticket to stand in line. Hundreds of people, including me, had tickets but still couldn't get in. I felt taken advantage of because I was led to believe one thing, only to find out it wasn't true.
Perhaps this is standard practice for all political rallies, conservative and liberal alike. It appears to be the case for all Trump rallies. One online article I found stated, “In January 2016, Trump's campaign issued nearly 20,000 free tickets for a rally at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vt., a venue that holds only 1,400 people." Having never attended a political rally before, I don't know if other politicians do this or not. But I do remember in 2005 I heard Bill Clinton speak, and in 2006 I heard George H. W. Bush. I had tickets to both events, and those tickets guaranteed me a seat (even if they were nose-bleeds). And somehow I doubt people were treated so trivially at Obama's rallies!
So why would Trump do that? It's pretty obvious: Marketing. Had Trump given out only enough tickets to fill the seats, then the line would have been much shorter. But with several thousand extra people in line, it makes the event look a lot bigger and more important than it actually is. Plus, he doesn't care at all if you get in or not because demand is so high - if you don't take a seat, someone else will. Lastly, when registering for tickets, you have to provide your phone number and email, so it's a surreptitious way for Trump to get your contact information. It'll be interesting to see how much propaganda he sends me in the next few years.
As I walked back to my car, it dawned on me: This is Trump! The media frequently uses the term “scam” to describe his many business ventures. The complaints against Trump University, for example, are predicated on false advertising - the school promised one thing, then failed to deliver. And that was exactly my experience last night, albeit on a much less consequential and expensive level.
As I drove home and thought through these connections, I realized that although I didn't get to attend the rally, the experience wasn't a waste of time. The whole point of the evening was for me to learn about Donald Trump through first-hand experience. I wanted to judge for myself, rather than through potentially (sometimes blatantly) biased reporting, if the medias' unflattering coverage of Trump was accurate or not. And through his misleading ticket scheme, he did give me the answer I sought – just not in the way I had expected.
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