The day before a presidential election, candidates usually make a final sweep of key swing states in order to show their awareness of their base in said states. It’s a strategy that both seeks to alert inactive and undecided voters, as well as to strengthen and appreciate core supporters.
Yesterday, I attended Donald Trump’s rally in the afternoon and Hillary Clinton’s rally in the evening, both in Raleigh, N.C. And the difference was literally night and day.Three of us walked into J.S. Dorton Arena with the hope for a heated, passionate crowd who looked to Donald Trump and other conservative leaders to inspire their consistent following. We’d heard the stories professed by Trump and by the news media about the intensity of his rallies, and wanted to see a historic, last-day push. What we got was more of a sideshow act.
Two massive American flags served as the décor, minus a shoddily-constructed “T-R-U-M-P” fixture that stood awkwardly blocked off in the corner. It felt empty in the arena, with plenty of overhead space and space around us. A band of 10 middle-schoolers donning “Trump-Pence 2016” shirts and “Make America Great Again” hats accompanied the gradual entrance of the Trump train, playing the same five songs in a two-hour loop prior to the beginning of any speeches. The other kids at the event were busy joining their parents in “Lock Her Up” and “Build The Wall” chants, which faded when the crowd would hear themselves a bit too clearly, as they laughed off the discomfort.
The token Asians held up their “Chinese-Americans for Trump” signs and received a cheer as they paraded themselves, the token Muslim man and token gay man were conveniently placed directly behind the stage, the token women, most of whom accompanied their husbands, held pink signs to distinguish themselves, and two token black YouTubers named Diamond and Silk announced that they were, in fact, “black women, and still voting for Trump,” for the sea of white that encircled them.
Each pre-Trump speaker, from the anti-Black Lives Matter black sheriff David Clarke, to the tag-team of former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gov. Pat McCrory, was introduced as if they were acts in a circus: “your favorite cowboy from the Republican National Convention” and “the man who keeps your daughters safe from men in the showers.” They riled up the crowd with the anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric that has been sermonized by the Trump campaign for the past year—verbatim. The same chants were led and said by the same people, who were all egged on by Trump suits who threw the same recognizable swag into the crowd. Everyone was having a great time…that is, within the confines of the rally.
And then, there he was, “Donald J. Trump, next President of the United States,” the greatest stock-still candidate of our time. After the initial roar upon his taking the stage, he immediately fell into the consistent muttering routine that has worked so well for delivering the content of his speeches. He mumbled his traditional talking points and buzzwords, feeding his supporters the ammunition to legitimize their fire against the media, against Democrats, against Hillary, against “the rigged system.” He mumbled that he had the “best” crowds waiting outside who were unable to gain entry, despite the stadium’s spacious floor and unfilled seats. He mumbled that his victory was “looking more like 100 percent,” and that all his supporters had to do was vote, and “don’t listen to the media,” and tell Hillary supporters that the election had been postponed.
People laughed that off, too.
Trump boasted, “There’s nothing more fun than a Trump rally.” And he was right. For the devoted Trump train who wears the “Adorable Deplorable” title with pride, “the Trump rally” is a safe space, a communion, a news report, a place to hear whatever it is Trump supporters want to hear. He repeats, with no evolution of thought about a post-defeat plan or about his controversial campaign. Trump waved goodbye to North Carolina, and his supporters scuffled out of the building into the outside world that asked of them, “Was that enough?”
It wasn’t enough for me. I hoped to see the burning passion, the wild protestors, the spirited revolutionaries, the bold speeches and the unison in undisputed support I’d heard so much about. What I got instead was the older white gentleman beside me observing, “There are no blacks here, you see that?” and quiet conversations between husbands and wives, children looking to their parents to follow along and an increasing levity in the room, matched by a carelessness from the Republican nominee to put any effort into strengthening his message.
So I hoped for more from the Hillary rally; maybe it was because of the celebrity rumors, or her larger budget, or the rising sense of her victory. When we got into N.C. State’s Reynolds’ Coliseum, bypassing a line that stretched a half-mile with a “Duke Democrats” key-code, it was as if we had arrived at a campaign event for an entirely separate election from Trump’s. The organization and presence of staffers and security, the American flags, the blanketing blue, the active and emphasized press, the massive “Stronger Together” banners and myriad home-made signs and the packed, interacting crowd, not to mention the professional deejay who conducted a two-hour karaoke session, it felt like a giant victory party, thrown for the supporters. It felt like both the candidate and her supporters needed to be right there, in that stadium, in that moment.
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The stage was placed in the middle of the basketball court, and each pre-Hillary speaker, from Roy Cooper and Deborah Ross to Lady-freaking-Gaga, brought their own unique awareness to their remarks: they campaigned for themselves in the broader mission of a Clinton presidency, they hoped for making impending history, and they realized and accepted the possibility of a Trump presidency. They were excited, but hesitant; confident, but careful. As each of them spoke, the audience remained in dead-silence, respecting the necessity to hear each word, as if the call to action meant more than just being there to see Hillary Clinton.
And then, an exclusive concert, a party hosted by Lady Gaga and Jon Bon Jovi, celebrating and appreciating Hillary’s supporters. It was a treat. And then, unannounced, the Clintons took the stage: Chelsea, President Bill and Hillary, and the crowd erupted, and stayed erupting. Their presence in itself was electrifying, Chelsea’s and Bill’s remarks were kept brief to shine upon Hillary. And she took advantage of her crowd and its desires, and went off-script, delivering a purely motivational speech to push for victory. She did not mutter, nor criticize, nor falsely reassure. She read the room, she read the moment and delivered, and left the stage to a thunderous “I believe that we will win” cry that shook the floor. It was 1:30 a.m., and Hillary’s supporters had been rejuvenated.
There was nothing new in the air at Trump’s rally. No motion, no excitement. It was a cesspool of repetition, vague ideas, purposeless attacks and the overarching desensitization to lies. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no surprise, no controversy, no motivation. Here, Trump was the celebrity; and unfortunately, that’s what I had expected.
Hillary’s rally was grounded in the spirit, not the dread, of election day. It was, in all senses of the word, a “rally,” to bring her supporters closer to her mission, to bolster her ground-game in North Carolina and to reach out to the non-voters and those on-the-fence with a massive statement showcasing her best. She knew what her supporters expected and did more.
The epic day/night ended with four friends and I at a Waffle House; we were followed by other attendees of the Hillary rally. The exceptional marker of a Waffle House is that it is expected to be open, no matter what, serving fresh-made waffles and All-Star Breakfasts. But it was late, and the rush of six new tables caught the three late-night Waffle House workers by surprise. We waited a while for our food, which commendably came to us in full…minus the hot syrup for the waffles.
We didn’t want to bother our waitress; we didn’t have the energy to. Scottie, the chef, was working his ass off, and to heat up some syrup for five college students who probably wouldn’t tip well was a request that could have easily been forgotten, or understandably ignored. Our waitress told us that Scottie was “a bit mad,” and we took that as our cue to go on without it. We tackled our eggs and hash browns, and crafted some inside jokes, but we waited on eating our waffles, anxious about the hot syrup, each minute becoming more doubtful about its existence.
As I finally got up to grab a pitcher of syrup from the counter, we heard from the kitchen, “I’ve still got hot syrup on, is anyone gonna take it?”
Of course Scottie didn’t forget. It was a Waffle House, after all; they knew what we hoped for and expected and, even at 2 a.m., the place worked at its highest capacity. After we demolished the plates of syruped waffles, I asked Scottie if he’s expected to make hot syrup often.
He said, “I’ve always got hot syrup ready, someone’s gonna want it and so I’m always gonna have it.”
Four hours later, the polls opened to Hillary supporters who hope for and cautiously expect a victory, and have been invigorated by some late-night hot syrup.
Jackson Prince is a Trinity sophomore and editorial page editor. His column, "playing with fire," usually runs on alternate Mondays.