Inside The Alternative Universe Of The Trump Rallies

The next afternoon I approached David and Sharon Starcher, a pair of 60-something retirees from West Virginia, as they were eating concession-stand burgers between the end of their volunteer shift and the start of the show. He had worked three decades at an aluminum mill until the company failed; Trump’s focus on industry had raised their hopes for their long-struggling state. When I asked whether they’d voted early, they explained that they like to cast ballots on Election Day itself—because they figure there’s less time for someone to manipulate their votes.

As people streamed out of that arena—home to a minor-league ice-hockey team called the Everblades—I encountered an earnest volunteer for Ron DeSantis’s campaign handing out yard signs. John, who would give only his first name because he wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to speak with a reporter, talked thoughtfully about the divisive tone of politics today and said he often watches CNN, though he does perceive a bias against Trump. He also said he liked the right-wing news outlet Breitbart and its founder, the former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, because they will be the first to publicize stories relating to a “deep state,” a theorized cabal controlling the government in defiance of elected leaders. Like all good conspiracy theories, this fear cannot be disproved.

Along with optimism, camaraderie, and displays of patriotism, the rallies are filled with sound and fury. Mention of Obama’s name draws intense boos. Behind the podium in Indianapolis, Trump reminded his people that Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly would have a rally with “Barack H. Obama,” waving his finger to write an “H” in the air, reminding voters of his middle name, Hussein, which helped stoke the false belief that he is Muslim. (Polling in late 2015 found about 30 percent of Americans believed that, while a mid-2016 survey found a majority of Trump supporters believed it.)

In line for the Chattanooga rally, Sonya Wooden said disgust has not faded in her family. “Everybody is so over the Obama administration and how it ran America into the ground,” said the 40-year-old who works in the front office of a medical practice. She and her relatives blasted Obamacare and its recently repealed mandate that adults have health insurance or pay a fine. “That’s a right, for me to choose if I want insurance or to pay out of my pocket,” she said.

Her relative Doris Durham, a 59-year-old administrative assistant at a country club, said she saw more poor people during the Obama years. “It sucked” was how she summed up that period. She viewed that administration as putting America second: “They didn’t care if they bombed us ... It just seemed like it was all for the other countries.” And, she added, “we never heard anything about God.”

It isn’t just Obama; crowds will boo at the mention of any Democrat: Nancy Pelosi, whose return as speaker of the House is feared by supporters for potentially bringing endless investigation and obstruction. Cryin’ Chuck Schumer. Crazy Bernie. Pocahontas, Trump’s racially tinged nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Trump said at the first of his three rallies on Monday in Ohio that he had to stop calling her Pocahontas because it’s now been proved that she has no Native American blood, as she had claimed. In fact, Warren recently released a DNA test that showed definitively that she had a Native American ancestor, as she had been raised to believe.

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