Timeline: Hickory, NC March 14, 2016
“Get a job! Why aren’t you at work?!” says the guy in the Trump line to a protester, seemingly unaware that he too is here on a bright Monday morning obviously not attending to his chosen profession.
The predicted wild throngs of “anarchists” (to quote Sheriff David Clarke, though I don’t think he really knows what the term means) and agitators were absent in Hickory, NC. There were only about a dozen people who were less civil than their counterparts. By “less civil” I mean they said “fuck” a lot. But on the whole, college football games are more likely to explode into spontaneous violence than was this halcyon spring day in March.
The majority of the Trump supporters there were actually still rather confused about why anyone would protest his on-the-record fascist remarks or his overt, incendiary racism. Some Trump supporters genuinely asked “Why are people protesting?”
And I think they don’t get it, some of them. At least, they don’t admit that they understand why people would protest a man who has an undeniable history of using provocation and incendiary language to stoke the smoldering embers of racial mistrust. Not that they themselves were overt racists…well, most of them. They saved that for their murmured conversations when they were with others they thought were of like mind. But these were the rank and file, the fearful, confused majority who just don’t want the world around them to change. Very average people who have fallen for a con. Quintessential townsfolk who, despite good health and security, have thrown in with a snake-oil salesman, a rainmaker. The Monsters had arrived on Maple Street.
To wit, these are the notes I took while standing in line with his supporters:
Obama = Hitler…bible prophesy foretold all this.
“Trump said 240 million American Christians need to unite and stand firm.”
Fear of Obama dictator.
“If we can’t get into the auditorium at least we can watch his plane take off…”
“That TV show ‘House of Cards’ is exactly how our government is…”
“Trump has the biggest turnout of anyone, nobody else has lines like this…”
“He has a gift…a mind like a web, making all kinds of connections.”
“His parents didn’t just hand it to him, he worked all his life for it.”
“You can take them out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of them…”
“If you walk on a flag you should be treated like a terrorist because that’s terrorism…”
No, those notes were not selectively written, but reflected the general opinion of the people in line. Despite my obvious disdain for Trump, my purpose on that day was to just bear witness as fairly and objectively as possible. But having grown up in this area, the sentiments expressed were unsurprising to me.
One of the ironies of the Trump campaign is that he bills it as a kind of revolution, a ‘fighting back’ against the status quo and establishment Republicans, yet the hue and flavor of his message is backward looking, nostalgic, utopian, and yes, regressive and besotted with fear-mongering and thinly veiled prejudice that has deep, established roots in America. His message has a kind of conservative appeal insofar as that goes.
On the other side of the courtyard from the supporters were hundreds, if not close to a thousand, protesters, but not what you might think. You see, the campus where this took place, Lenoir-Rhyne College, is affiliated with the Lutheran Church. And the local clergy coordinated a protest that was, to my thinking, how Christians should behave when confronted with fearful, divisive threats to our common humanity and decency.
Anti-Trump signs, nearly all of them denouncing his demagoguery and fearful rhetoric, were held by many. But in their other hand was held the hand of their neighbor. Yes, hundreds of people, all holding hands. They sang hymns and prayed. They displayed firm resistance with a sense of compassion and love that I must honestly say was refreshing to see. My disagreements with religiosity notwithstanding, I was genuinely glad to see people actually living the better parts of the faith they claimed. And it wasn’t just the ecumenically religious who were there.
I spoke at length with several people; a wonderfully tolerant startup newspaper editor from Lenoir, NC, a young homesteading couple from the Asheville area who had their own self-sustaining farm, retired factory workers, and plenty of people who took time off from work (they had jobs?!) to join their friends that day. But the common thread that ran through them all was how clear the threat of Trump’s promises (I know, he has a multitude) would be if he followed through on them. There didn’t seem to be any particular onus against the Trump supporters, only opposition to the Pied Piper who deigned to be their savior.
But there were other things I recognized in everyone there, supporter and protester alike: fear, self-doubt, hurt, and hope.
Fear of others, of the unknown, of difference. Fear that is as old as humanity.
Self-doubt that “I could be wrong, and if I am, what then…?” This kind of self-doubt often manifests itself as braggadocio and reactionary aggression, the kind Trump wears on his sleeve. It’s to be pitied, really.
Hurt, that the world is NOT fair and never will be…and blaming any and everyone else for that hurt.
Hope that someone somewhere could ‘fix’ things in your life. To bring order to your chaos and the forces of chaos you perceive around you. Whether that person was to be found in the pitiable form of an aged reality TV star turned presidential candidate, or a career politician who seems to offer pain-free political solutions to problems that are at their core societal and individual, or some other die-cut politician… or if it’s a new age self-help guru with “The Secret”, a preacher offering prosperity in this life (for a small donation), or whomever. People tend to look to others for the answers in life, as if those others know any answers at all.
The stark reality is that the only person who can directly change your own life does not exist “out there.” Find a mirror and you will find that person who can help you.
But this is all of us, isn’t it? The best we can hope for in other people is that they will encourage us to be better, help us up when they see we have fallen, help others because it is right and not just merely advantageous to them… and kick us in the ass lovingly when we fall for the charms of a snake. I am fortunate to be wealthy beyond measure when it comes to these things. I wouldn’t trade it for the shallow admiration of millions, nor the millions of thin dollars that solicit that admiration.
What really struck me the most was the civility, the decency, the respectful disagreement that most of the people on both sides displayed. Sure there were pockets of incendiary rage and seething resentment on both sides, but the tone when people actually discussed things one-on-one, personally, was often actually really civil. Shouts across the courtyard don’t count as dialogue. And when those shouts threatened to turn ember into flame, the protesters formed a human wall and began with their message of love and tolerance. The screaming and shouts between supporter and protester more often died away in open-jawed acquiescence to good will. This happened all day.
Anger was literally hugged and loved away.
To my surprise, I left the whole thing with a sense of hope. Not hope that Donald Trump can unite and heal our country of its ancient prejudices and wounds. Hardly. He only exacerbates them, causes the infections to fester and come to a head in angry tumescence. But what he has done, it seems by accident, is bring up what was beneath the surface, and acutely felt only by some, until it has become an embarrassing boil on the face of all of us.
Some people are still trying to hide the infection, or to deny its existence, some fewer still embrace it in a masochistic and nihilistic orgy of racism and fear. But others… others see the problem clearly and will no longer turn their gaze from it. They attend to the open wound with delicate and attentive care that sometimes inevitably causes wincing pain, as the lancing of putrid boils will do, but which opens the wound for healing. Of course, when you open a wound, that’s when opportunistic reinfection of the kind spewed by Trump can reestablish itself.
But what I saw was people who would not let that happen. People who, recognizing how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go, stood in the full light of the sun and said, “Not today, not here. You will not sow seeds of destruction in the fields of amity and felicity that have been so long tended by so many.”
And I saw that they embraced and protected the right of someone else to have an opinion, no matter how much they disagreed with it, nor how odious the opinion. But they made clear that the seeds of fear, mistrust, anger, and resentment that were carried in that speech found no purchase, no moisture to spring them to rancorous life.
So, yes. Hope.
It sounds almost trite and hackneyed, but there it is. No thanks to Donald Trump for renewing that hope, he is still espousing his incendiary and fascist rhetoric, but thanks to all the people on both sides for renewing the hope that people can disagree without being disagreeable. Thanks to the protesters, religious and non-religious, for reminding me that my cynicism should be tempered with a healthy dose of hope that the common decency and humanity of people can win out over fear and prejudice and the dark shadow of totalitarianism and jingoistic nationalism are not universally welcomed. There’s even hope that reason and rational thought may be putting up a good fight against emotional anti-intellectualism and perhaps even winning.
Maybe it does spring eternal…
Author: Tim Propst is a man with too many hobbies including chasing solitude and gathering morels. He avoids small talk and pop culture inanities and would prefer watching grass grow over any conversation about popular culture or other peoples personal lives. If he isn’t getting stung by honeybees, making videos with his creative friends, practicing bushcraft, making mead, or throwing heavy things in a kilt you might be able to find him writing about whatever strikes a nerve… if he hasn’t gone fishing.
Photos by Tim Propst