by Tim Gilmore, 2/6/2016
I knew I shouldn’t do it. I shouldn’t have done it. I did it. I walked into a Donald Trump campaign office today.
A month ago, someone defaced the oversized “We Want Donald Trump” window banner to make Trump Hitler. Today the owner of the building told me what she thought about it.
The banner had been up for less than a week when a swastika appeared on Trump’s forehead and a Hitler mustache on his smug upper lip. “We Want Donald Trump” became “Heil Donald Trump,” and “Republican Candidate for President” became “Nazi Candidate for President.”
Trump had displayed strong fascist tendencies, proposing a religious test for entry to the country, speaking of Muslims the way Nazis spoke of Jews, and claiming he’d build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it.
I should have gone in undercover, been smart about it. I didn’t and I wasn’t, but I collected some fascinating reactions.
A middle-aged man in a gray sweater greeted me like a used car salesman, said chummily, “You’re a big one. I bet you play football.”
I asked why this office was set up in Riverside, one Jacksonville neighborhood you’d not think Trump territory.
He seemed puzzled until I said, “You know, this is a neighborhood filled with—”
Whereupon he squinted suspiciously, said, “Filled with what?” before I’d completed the thought.
Filled with what? Good question. Several friends and neighbors had commented they were stunned to see the banner go up in that long-empty storefront and said they’d like to drive their cars through it. We’re adults, however, and have learned, most of us most of the time, to control our initial childish spurs to the amygdala. So what were we in this neighborhood?
“Filled,” I said, “with artists and educators and writers and—”
“Liberals,” said a boy in a stuffy suit coat. Most folks in the room were in their 60s at youngest, some wearing outlandish apparel like glittery red-white-and-blue vests and ball caps.
“Liberals,” I affirmed. The El Word. So many liberals hate to be called liberal, hate to be categorized, made a strawman. Conservatives, on the other hand, interpret this squeamishness as shame, while they out-conservative each other any way they can. Even now, in my typically liberal way, I’m internally objecting to either-or compartmentalizations, thinking how these terms have been used historically in sometimes completely opposite ways.
“Liberals,” the boy said. They acknowledged, each one of them, they don’t live in the neighborhood, some of them quite defensively.
The used-car salesman asked me if I had children.
Idiotically, I bit the bait. “You don’t get to bring my children into this,” I said.
“So you do have children. Don’t you want somebody for president who’s gone protect your children from people who want to kill them?”
When I asked him how Trump would do that, he said, “Because he’s strong.”
“No,” I said, “He’s a bully.”
I asked how he could think someone presidential who called women “pigs” and “disgusting animals” and people who disagreed with him “morons” and “losers.” I asked him if he thought presidential candidates should engage in that kind of name calling.
“Well it’s about time somebody did it,” he said.
A group of Trump supporters had surrounded me, taking pictures with their phones.
“So you think it’s okay that a presidential candidate calls people pigs and losers?” I asked again for confirmation.
I got an awfully strange response. Turning up his used car salesman charm, he said, “You want something to eat? Why don’t’choo come on back, get something to eat, we got some pigs back there.”
Clearly I didn’t hear that right. “You have what? Pigs?”
He nodded, said it again: “We got some pigs back there.” I still have no idea what this meant. Pigs-in-blankets, those little sausages cooked into biscuits? Bacon? Did he assume I was a vegetarian and that this would offend me?
I’m sure they didn’t have the women Trump’s called pigs in their back room on Park Street. After Fox News’s debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump about insults he’d aimed at women, he said she must have asked that question because she was on her period. “She had blood coming out of her wherever.”
This kind of lowball political back-and-forth reduces everyone involved to the level of foul-mouthed 10 year olds. That must be it, what I hate most about Trump, and here I am engaging. I too am 10 years old and potty-mouthed. I too am part of Trump’s reality-TV show the United States calls the presidential campaigns.
I asked the used car salesman if he, like Trump, thought there should be a religious test for people entering the country. That was a mistake. I knew the answer before I’d finished asking.
He looked reassured of finding firm ground and said, “Yes I do!”
Why did I step foot in that office? I knew it would be a waste of time. I didn’t expect to change minds. That was never the point. But I couldn’t stand not saying something.
One older woman asked me why I found Trump scary. Her question seemed sincere. It wasn’t a rhetorical question. She wanted to know.
The used car salesman said I needed to leave or he’d call the police. I wanted to answer her question and she responded, “Let’s step outside. You can answer it out there.”
She seemed so reasonable, so earnest. I agreed and we stepped out on the sidewalk, just as a male voice inside shouted, “Go fuck yourself!”
On the sidewalk, when she repeated the question, Why did I find Trump scary?, my first response was that Donald Trump was mean. This statement didn’t strike me as very sophisticated, and I acknowledged it sounded silly.
I mentioned that even Ted Cruz—and the oily fundamentalist scares me as much or more than Trump—started the last Republican debate, the debate in which Trump poutingly refused to participate, saying, “I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly,” then said, “Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way…”
She was listening, really listening, and then her husband came from I don’t know where and told her, “Just fill out your card and go back inside.”
As she did what her husband told her to do, I suddenly faced Patsy Butts, the diminutive 79 year old woman who owns the storefront properties along the northeast corner of Park and King Streets.
The hair salons with yellow equal signs on blue backgrounds posted on their front doors and the little bistros that offer organic Vegan gluten-free sandwiches and salads here in hip, artsy, liberal Riverside pay their leases to Patsy Butts, who lives at the beaches and loves Donald Trump.
Standing about two feet shorter than me, she blew cigarette smoke not quite in my face, but in my general direction. She sounded like she’s been smoking since she was six.
“I’ve owned these buildings for 50 years,” she said, “and I can do whatever I damn well please.”
I told her I agree. Someone shouted that I’d better leave, they’d call the police for trespassing. I said, “I’m standing on the sidewalk.” Ms. Butts said I could stand where I stood, but if I took one step forward she’d call the police. I told her no problem.
“They defaced my sign,” she said, referring to last month’s alteration of Trump into Hitler. “I have the FBI posted all around here,” she said, pointing her finger in a wide circle above her head, “and when they find who did it, I’m going to send them to jail and I’m going to sue them and I’m going to take every single thing they own and make myself even richer.”
Puzzled by the angry non sequitur, I asked, “What’s that have to do with me?”
The used car salesman stepped in front of her and said, “You need to leave.”
I agreed. How foolish of me to’ve stopped by, to have walked in through that door. But I had to ask one more question. I’d asked Patsy Butts if she lives in this neighborhood, and she’d said, “Hell no. I live at the beach.”
Now I asked, “What’s with all this taking pictures? Is that supposed to threaten me?” I suppose my blurred mug is spread across a dozen local conservative media sites and blogs by now.
“You’d better just leave,” an older man with a slight fuzzy mullet told me. “We don’t want your kind around here.”
And that’s when I realized how truly stupid I’ve been. I should’ve seen it all along. Trump’s no Republican. He’s the caricature any mainstream liberal would’ve drawn of a Republican as far back at least as Reagan. He can’t be real.
I don’t believe what I’m about to say, but I offer it as the most logical explanation: Trump’s having the time of his life, running the biggest reality-TV show ever, caricaturing Republicans to get Hillary Clinton elected.
I don’t believe it. It’s too conspiracy-theory. But its the only explanation that comes close to making sense.
And all of us, all along the political spectrum, from socialist to fascist, are falling for it. It gives Trump too much credit and can’t be true, but it’s the only explanation.