What Is A Trump Rally Like?


MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE

740 MILES FROM HOME


The photographer was ready to kick someone’s ass.

We were sitting in our hotel room on the eve of his first Trump rally. I was watching Fox News while he processed some photos from the Joe Biden event earlier that day. He couldn’t see the television, but he could hear it.

“How can you watch that shit?” he asked me from the desk at the back of the room.

“You’ve got to know what you’re getting into,” I said.

I turned the volume down. He fumed at the sight of Sean Hannity. Maybe he was nervous at the thought of running the gauntlet of a journo-bashing MAGA mob at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Entering an arena of 10,000 screaming Trump supporters as a journalist promised a heightened level of tension. He felt that he should prepare for an all-out brawl. In his mind, he would either hear something that would set him off — the same way Hannity was prodding at a raw nerve — or he would be the one to trigger a Trump supporter with his visible liberalism.

I had been covering Trump rallies since February 2016, and to be perfectly honest there is always a deep level of discomfort that washes over me just as I pass the Secret Service checkpoint. Not because I feel that an angry mob of conservatives might sense the liberal in me and leave me bloodied in the street. Instead, it’s a feeling that comes from knowing how Trump supporters view that amorphous blob we call the media. There’s always a deep-breath moment before I introduce myself to someone who’s likely to see me as the enemy. Having to explain that an interview is not going to turn into an ambush is like the click, click, click of a rollercoaster climbing just before the drop.

Once the ride gets going, you find, it’s never quite as bad as it looked from the ground.

Trump supporters dressed in patriotic cosplay wait in line to enter a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
Trump supporters dressed in patriotic cosplay wait in line to enter a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

I’ve always tried my best to avoid the press box at a Trump Rally because I learned early on in 2016 that entering a Trump event as credentialed press is the best way to box yourself in. At some point in the early morning you receive an email from Hope Hicks that tells you to arrive three hours early if you plan to bring a camera crew and remain within the barriers at the back of the room until the end of the event. It’s a wonderful experience if you enjoy getting sniffed by the Secret Service dogs and entering every building through the cargo bay, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get to speak to any of the red-blooded Americans who attend.

Many journalists dread the idea of having to attend a Trump rally because, if they’re honest, they’re not entirely objective. The ideas floated by the president are uncomfortable, the comments about journalists are uncomfortable, the “fake news” chants and boos are uncomfortable, the reporters are uncomfortable and everyone around them can see it.

It’s safe to say that a lot of the national press are probably content to remain in the press cage from the moment they enter the building to the moment everyone leaves. It’s not without reason that they feel this way, and reporters like Jim Acosta could probably tell you how terrifying it is to be singled out by a crowd shouting “CNN sucks!” as you stand on the dais. When a waist-high steel barrier is all that separates you from a thousand screaming strangers, fear of the unknown is a natural response.

It’s also fair to say that it’s hardly worth going to a Trump rally as a journalist if you’re not going to talk to any of the supporters who attend. After all, the campaign routinely uploads all of Trump’s speeches to their YouTube channel and the president tweets enough of his thoughts each day to make attending a rally only to hear him speak in person seem like an incredible waste of effort.

So, as we rounded the corner of Old Granite Street in Manchester to see a massive crowd waiting outside, we decided to skip the press credentials and wait in line to enter through the same metal detectors as everyone else. We would experience what it was like to go to a Trump rally with his supporters rather than simply covering it from the dais where all you can hear are their screams.

Trump supporters wearing unofficial merchandise wait in line to enter a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
Trump supporters wearing unofficial merchandise wait in line to enter a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

Any real experience to be had at a Trump rally comes by waiting in lines that wrap around the venue for several blocks. Where Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” blares through loudspeakers as you inch your way toward the front doors alongside folks carrying signs that read “Help Destroy America, Vote Democrat” and wearing shirts that say “TRUMP 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again.”

As we stood in a line that wound one way up the street and down the other like some wild ride awaited at the end, I could see that a man in a camouflage Keep America Great hat marked us as nonbelievers. We were just about the only two in line not wearing our support on our heads or our backs. I could see the wound-up tension in his face. I’ve seen it before on Trump supporters who suspect that they’ve found someone who has come to disrupt the event. The man in the KAG hat turned to his wife and said, “Who the fuck are these guys?” Then he turned to us and demanded to know if we were there to show our support or to stir up some shit and I was rather disappointed that those were our only options.

In that moment a fight would’ve been the best thing that could happen to me as a storyteller. It would have given me something to write about, and it would have kept you, the reader, scrolling right down to the last word of this impossibly long article. I could picture the bold-faced headline accompanied by a photo of a salivating brute: TRUMP SUPPORTER ASSAULTS JOURNALISTS AT RALLY IN MANCHESTER.

As storytellers, we seek out these moments—which isn’t to say that we look for a fight, but we’re always on the hunt for anything that might help us compete with everything else on the internet. We’re not just competing with other reporters — at the exact same rally with their cameras pointed at the exact same thing—but also with that “how to build a resin table” video you just scrolled past on your way here. We aim to inform, but we work to pay our bills, so more often than not, we also have to work to entertain.

It’s always the most outrageous moments that stand out because presidential campaigns, for the most part, still work the way they did before the internet—at least they did before COVID-19 threw a wrench in everything.

Candidates still go from town to town delivering the exact same stump speech as though livestreaming and social media doesn’t exist. The press follows the program and waits for the candidate to slip up and give us something that breaks from the script. Something that we can pounce on. We have an eye for these moments because editors and producers demand it, but also because no one ever wrote about a plane that landed safely. That’s why Trump is constantly in the news. According to the rules of good politics, he’s a horrific plane crash and we just can’t look away.

Trump supporters know this. They’ll face down questions about it openly. Darren Ramsden, a supporter we met in Manchester told us, “That’s how he lived his private life. He was the bombastic businessman from New York City who craved being on The New York Post.” A paper that endorsed his reelection saying, “We can return to the explosive job creation, rising wages and general prosperity we had before the pandemic.” It’s doubtless the editors at The Post also love the headlines he makes.

As do the network television executives. It’s why CNN gave so much free air time to Trump in 2016 and why executive chairman and CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves, openly admitted that the constant Trump coverage, “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Darren Ramsden, a Trump supporter, from New Hampshire poses for a photo after being interviewed. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

My first Trump rally was in Davenport, Iowa. I was working for an alt magazine out of Toronto that wanted to send me to a rally before we missed our chance and his reality TV carnival burnt out. The mood at the time was that the circus might be over soon, and we had to catch it before it packed up, left town and politics got boring again.

But Trump never lost, and by the time he secured the nomination his rallies became the place you might expect to see a fight. For a time that was true, especially in the spring of 2016, when a rally in Chicago had to be cancelled because the future president was encouraging his supporters to punch protesters in the face after opposition to his rallies had ramped up and become violent.

The real chaos was always outside of his rallies as state police formed the dividing line between seething protesters and the MAGA-capped overflow from overbooked events. At one 2016 rally in Ocean City, Maryland the campaign claimed to have booked 20,000 attendees for a school auditorium. Which was a basic guarantee that those who couldn’t get into the rally would be met by protesters on the street. Trump’s events still overbook, now more than ever, but it’s been a while since you could expect a confrontation at a Trump rally.

After he became president, a giant screen began to loom over the entrance of each event listing all the prohibited items that would be confiscated at the door — including homemade signs of support. Even if Trump hadn’t tempered himself or his tweets, his campaign team was lucidly aware of how bad it might look if anything outside of the ordinary happened at a rally. In some cases, they don’t even sell beer at the concession stands.

“If a protest starts near you,” an upbeat female voice booms over the crowd from a loudspeaker. “Please do not, in any way, touch or harm a protester.”

What you will find at each rally are lawn chairs and tents abandoned by the supporters who showed up days in advance to be sure they could get in. For those who don’t make it through the doors, the contraband screen offers a chance to hear the president’s speech from the parking lot.

A jumbotron screen displays prohibited items at a Trump rally in Charleston, South Carolina. February 28, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
A jumbotron screen displays prohibited items at a Trump rally in Charleston, South Carolina. February 28, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

What most folks imagine when they think of a Trump rally comes from the standard that was set in those early days. It’s an image that’s stuck around because, for the most part, President Trump hasn’t changed since taking office. He is still the same man he was as a candidate and he’s been a 2020 candidate ever since his campaign registered the slogan Keep America Great a couple of days before his inauguration. Despite what some political wizards believed, he never went on to become presidential.

“If we compare his behavior to other past presidents, absolutely, it’s below the office of the presidency,” Ramsden told us. “But I understand why he does it and so I can look beyond those people who think he’s just a big blowhard.”

The answer to why he does it, for supporters like Ramsden, is that Trump is fighting back and hitting harder than anyone has ever hit. The central focus of that line of thought is that he’s hitting back not hitting first. Trump supporters see a relentless barrage of critical coverage — something reporters would argue it is their job to do — and they see a president who isn’t afraid to die on the hill he’s chosen.

They also contrast that coverage most often with the way the media treated President Barrack Obama. “If the media treated him half as fairly as they did other presidents, we wouldn’t have a problem.” Ramsden told us. Trump supporters look to appearances from the former president on Jimmy Kimmel and Between Two Ferns where soft-ball questions from non-journalists are guaranteed. They look at the praise he rightly received for some of his accomplishments and the lack of critical coverage for the policies that rightly earned criticism.

What gets lost in this comparison is that Trump is very much that bombastic businessman who craves to be the story. He tweets far more than Barrack Obama ever did, despite the fact that Obama was the first president to have Twitter. More than that, unlike Obama, Trump tweets every tweet himself, unfiltered, while a separate official account for the president sends out a well-polished message. Trump’s supporters love him for his blunt honesty, but it’s that same blunt force way of grabbing at headlines that gets him in trouble.

Obama took a far more guarded approach. At times, his administration was trying to protect him from media attacks that were not all that different from the ones Trump now gets from certain stories — like the length of his tie — that aren’t really stories at all. The three that stand out for Obama are the coffee cup salute, the infamous tan suit or the countless times he was asked — by Donald Trump — to prove was born in Hawaii. Obama simply had a different, more quiet, defensive press team that would take no shit.

Obama’s guarded approach to the media was also one which many reporters resented or downright loathed. If a journalist tried to cover a story like the administration’s drone bombing of Yemen they would be suppressed aggressively in the name of national security. “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” says a report written by Watergate reporter Leonard Downie Jr. for the Committee to Protect Journalists. It’s a particularly disappointing part of Obama’s time in office if only because he promised to run the most transparent administration in White House history.

A Trump supporters shows off his shirt at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
A Trump supporters shows off his shirt at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

When both parties have done their equal share of wrong there’s a game of spot-the-difference that often forces us to focus on the most negative, surface-level, aspects of the political game: the worst thing a candidate has ever said, the most obnoxious supporters who follow him. It’s an excellent way to keep reporters busy while policy happens behind the scenes.

Trump’s supporters are able to look past his language because, for them, he’s accomplished a lot. What the president has done while in office may enrage Democrats as the complete antithesis of what they aim to achieve, but for conservative Americans the answer to why they continue to support him is not his words, but his actions. In short, they don’t care if he’s vulgar.

“I’ve been asked, ‘is he the kind of guy that you would consider to be a good role model for your grandchild?” says Ramsden. “I don’t care because I don’t vote for a president on whether or not he’s a good role model for my children or my grandchildren, I vote for a president who steps up and does the right thing for the American people from a policy standpoint.”

The question, from that point of view, could then be, what’s truly right for the American people? A great many Americans would disagree with those who say that Trump has done any good at all.

For conservatives, the eleventh-hour appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and two justices before her, is an accomplishment that’s reason enough to vote for Trump again. Trump supporters also boast that the president has appointed more than 200 federal judges in his first term. His judicial appointments alone are enough to set a legacy that will last for decades. Then there’s the economy.

“I support him because he’s a businessman and the United States government is the biggest business in the world,” says Chris Sawyer, a Navy veteran and frequent volunteer for the campaign. As a tax business owner, Sawyer firmly believes the president has helped the economy. He knows this because, he says, he’s felt the effects of the past four years and the Trump tax cuts — before COVID forced shutdowns across the country, which Trump’s opponents argue caused the greatest loss of jobs in American history.

The economy, however, is a complicated issue. As the virus spread unpredictably across the world, Democrats, led by a President Hillary Clinton, might have shut down sooner and longer and lost just as many jobs.

Then there’s the question of who the booming, pre-COVID, economy truly belonged to. It’s a slow-moving beast that doesn’t align neatly with the election cycle. Nominated by Obama to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and by Trump as the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell said in September of 2019 that “The U.S. economy continues to perform well. We are into the eleventh year of this economic expansion.” His statement suggests that the boom began with President Obama and under President Trump it continued to boom.

To reflect on something like the economy and come to the conclusion that the answer is more complicated than we think requires us to hear through all the noise, but it can be quite hard to hear through the coverage of Trump’s rallies. Especially when our focus is thrown from one headline to the next about the outrageous things the president says.

Trump’s rhetoric stirs anger, boils blood and attracts more readers and viewers, making sure that the loudest voice in the room is the only one that’s heard.

Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist has proudly boasted that the longer the circus distracts the country the better for Breitbart News. Anyone who will listen to Bannon, knows that he’s repeatedly spoken about the coverage of Trump saying, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day,” while Trump appoints judges and passes executive orders.

A  Trump supporter holds an anti-Democrat sign outside SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.
A Trump supporter holds an anti-Democrat sign outside SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.

A typical political rally is meant to keep its audience awake long enough to introduce them to the candidate. Usually, they’re held in a church hall or in school gymnasiums. Trump rallies are a movable carnival that orbits three blocks around the center of gravity, usually an arena, sometimes graced by a flyover from Air Force One and always surrounded by merchandise vendors screaming at one another for setting the price of a MAGA hat too low. It’s a one-ride state fair and a storyteller’s wet dream. Trump, we all have to admit, is one hell of a showman.

I still remember the man who sat behind me at the Adler Theatre in Davenport in 2016, laughing into his phone. “You’ll never believe what I’m doing with my Saturday night,” he said. “Yeah, no, I’m at the Trump rally. No, I’m serious. I’m here.”

Trump rallies are the real-world equivalent of shitposted memes to trigger progressives. They are a cathartic release of ideas that are no longer seen acceptable in polite society. They’re a political Gathering of the Juggalos for intensely patriotic social outcasts who eventually return to the world to sell us cars or build our homes or help us file our taxes and shrug it off when someone says, “I can’t believe you’re one of them.”

“You know how you meet up with a group of your friends and you kind of relax? Sometimes, part of it is that,” Esther Sawyer, who volunteers for the campaign with her husband Chris, explained when we asked if Trump rallies are all for show. Instead, she says, they’re a place where conservatives can comfortably be conservatives and Trump can be Trump.

“He’s just having fun with the supporters,” she says. “It’s not like he believes any of this stuff and you can tell because he’s laughing and everybody else is laughing.”

Sure enough, in Manchester that day, a packed arena of head-to-toe MAGA-clad Americans cheered the president on, shortly after laughing at him — as you might laugh at a friend — for confusing Concord, New Hampshire with Concord, Massachusetts.

Walter O'Neil, a Trump supporter shows off his crucifix haircut at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.
Walter O’Neil, a Trump supporter shows off his crucifix haircut at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.

It’s a common thing to hear a Trump supporter say “he’s joking” when asked about statements reporters pick out from his speeches. “To me,” Chis Sawyer told us, “saying that statement you just said, ‘I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue’ he’s joking, he’s using a metaphor. The fake news will twist that around and say he’s promoting violence.”

Sawyer and other supporters like him believe that opposition to Trump is to be expected. He sees Trump as an outsider who’s challenging a broken system from the highest office in the land.

“He’s in there with a bat smashing at the way things used to be. So some of the stuff that he says gets twisted around. He’s not a politician and that’s part of why he gets himself in trouble. He says stuff that we want to hear.”

It’s true, that reporters and those who don’t regularly attend Trump rallies refuse to accept that the president is simply joking. The president has been asked repeatedly to denounce white supremacy and repeatedly he has denounced it, but the press keeps asking in part because they don’t believe him. They hear some of the wildest of statements from Trump and his supporters and conclude that sometimes the Deplorables get too comfortable when they rally together.

I’ve been to several Trump rallies and the most memorable moments are always the craziest things I’ve heard, because even when you make a valid point while using abrasive language, the tone of the statement tends to distract from the point.

The moments that are etched in the back of my mind and brought forward when asked to recall what it’s like to be at a Trump rally are always the most outrageous. “She’s a cunt! A cunt! She’s a bitch! A fugly bitch!” I remember a man with a MAGA flag screaming into the crowd as we stood in line through sub-freezing weather to see the president speak in Battle Creek, Michigan on the day he was impeached. He was screaming about Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin. I still remember his black goatee, his blue windbreaker, a KAG beanie hat on his head, and the other Trump supporters around me who looked horrified and annoyed. I have no idea what the others around me looked like, but the two things I remember of that day are my freezing cold feet and him. The loudest voice in the line.

Walter O'Neil, a Trump supporter shows off his shirt at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.
Walter O’Neil, a Trump supporter shows off his shirt at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.

As we waited for the president to take the stage in Manchester, a t-shirt caught my eye from across the floor of the arena. It had an image of Trump riding what looked to be a Harley in front of the White House with Hillary Clinton falling off the back of the bike. Written across Trump’s back were the words, “IF YOU CAN READ THIS THE BITCH FELL OFF.”

The man wearing the shirt was Walter O’Neil, a local business owner who had a mohawk cross shaved into his head.

“I voted for Trump last time because I had to,” he said. “This time I’m going to be very proud to vote for him again as my president. He did what he said he was going to do and you don’t get that in politics today.”⁣

A devout Catholic, O’Neil told us that he was motivated by his religion and a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution.⁣ He felt that too much had changed under the Obama administration and that was why he was gunning for four more years of Trump.

“I think that Trump has saved us from a lot of bad things,” O’Neil told us. “From the whole eight years of Obama. From boys in the girls bathroom. They were really just pushing it all in our faces.”⁣

O’Neil’s shirt was a talking point. An ice breaker of sorts. It certainly drew us in from across the room and that was exactly what he said it was intended to do. He was a proud supporter of the president and he wasn’t afraid to show it.

“When I’m at work my shirts have crosses or political statements on them. So, I do like to put it out there…it’s the same thing with my haircut,” he said, tilting his head down to show off the cross. “It will invite someone to ask me a question and then I’m able to talk to them. I’m not going to go pushing on anybody. I used to do that, but people don’t like that stuff.”⁣

We asked if managed to convince any of the people he talks to to support Donald Trump. “The never-Trumpers are real hard to talk to,” he said, “but there’s been a few customers of mine I’ve been able to bring over to my side.”

When asked if the country is really as divided as it seems, his answer was resounding yes and a firm reminder that folks like him will stand their ground. “The country is absolutely as divided as it looks in the media,” he said. “But that’s not a problem for me, I own guns.”⁣

Reporter Miroslav Tomoski interviews Walter O'Neil, a Trump supporter,  at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.
Reporter Miroslav Tomoski interviews Walter O’Neil, a Trump supporter, at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo: Lance Monotone.

One thing that is made quite clear as you walk the floor and scan the bleachers at a Trump rally is that his supporters are not some fringe group that hunkers down in the woods until it’s time to vote. Those are the supporters we all hear about. The self-identified western chauvinist Proud Boys who stand at a proud 6,000 members. Militia groups whose estimated 60,000 members would make up 0.1% of Trump supporters if they all cast their ballots for the president. These are the groups we know, but there’s certainly more supporters out there — enough to elect a president.

When reporters come across someone like the Battle Creek Screamer, it’s easy to forget that the people who attend these rallies are schoolteachers and football coaches and business owners and millwrights. Their ideas and values are embraced all across America, even if the other half of the country is fighting back.

The past five years of traveling through America has made me realize that Americans are too far gone into the echo chamber to believe anything an outsider tells them about their sworn enemies: other Americans. I’ve also learned it might be worth our time to try to understand why people believe the things they do.

Why someone like Darren Ramsden, who voted for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, can think of a family member who’s suffered from opioid addiction; see the president tweet “90% of the Drugs coming into the United States come through Mexico & our Southern Border,” and think that something ought to be done about it.

“A country is not a country without a border,” He told us as we stepped aside to talk after the rally. Immigration reform is an issue both parties believe is in dire need of a resolution. The difficult part is finding a policy that everyone agrees with. It’s a point that even Ramsden will concede. “I actually think there are more people like me in the country,” he said. “People who, if they were being honest, would be willing to say, “Yeah, I’d give up a little of this to get that, and that would be okay with me as long as it advances the greater good of the community.”

Instead, the country is left in a stalemate on the issue of immigration after multiple failed attempts to reach a deal under the Obama administration. The process of passing immigration reform became so stagnant that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner resigned, partly in frustration with his own party.

What the country has been left with is one executive after another taking the harshest of measures. From Bill Clinton who built strategic walls along the border to funnel migrants into desert death traps, to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ aggressively ramping up the existing separation policies and saying, “We need to take away children,” as a deterrent.

It’s an approach that leaves a whole lot of the world with a rotten view of America because executive orders are not made to tackle complex issues that ought to be solved through compromise in Congress. They are a temporary fix that often treats all immigrants the same. Even those who have come to America because they are fleeing an interventionist foreign policy President Trump disagrees with.

My family, for example, became immigrants in the mid-90s — when I was far too young to know our country was fighting a civil war. I recall my dad telling me he would rather we stayed in Yugoslavia if it hadn’t become a country in collapse; ravaged by a war in which America played a major role. First, Americans tried to keep the peace as best they could in the short amount of time they took to understand the history of the region or the extremist local leaders they supported. But ultimately, whenever someone asks why I’m so fascinated with America, I tell them it’s because the first time I was introduced to America was when my country was introduced to its bombs.

Not all immigrants have the same experience of America or come to its shores for the same reasons. Esther Sawyer came from the South American Nation of Guiana with a familiar view of America as the Land of Opportunity.

“I don’t see America’s evil,” she told me. “I also like American capitalism. I want to work and get rewarded and enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

Esther came to America 27 years ago on a student visa, in what some might call the right way. With the help of her uncle who sponsored her, Esther was able to meet all the requirements and pay all the fees involved in the immigration process. As a naturalized immigrant, she supports the president and his immigration policy, and is now a sponsor for her mom and her siblings who are awaiting approval.

A packed crowd at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire waits for President Trump to arrive. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
A packed crowd at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire waits for President Trump to arrive. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

Asked if she felt that the legal immigration process is too restrictive or difficult, she said no, but it is time consuming. “In my case it didn’t take me long to get a student visa because I met all the requirements. I had good grades in school and my uncle, he was a professor,” she said, explaining that he was able to show he could support her if she came to the United States. “My sisters and brothers, they had to wait fifteen years to get their interview. Fifteen years before they got contacted that the paperwork had gone through.”

Despite the exhausting length of the process, Esther believes that the law is the law and that those who have come to America illegally should have the chance to become citizens, but only if they apply as she did. “It bothers me that people come over the border [illegally] and call me a racist for not liking that they’re breaking the law to begin with.”

With an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who already live in America, we have to ask if it’s truly realistic to locate and deport each and every one of them? Some Trump supporters believe it can be done, others disagree.

“This is where I move from being staunchly conservative to more of a moderate. You have to be realistic.” Ramsden says. “We could come up with some kind of policy that says if you don’t have a criminal record — and I don’t mean the guy who was caught stealing a candy bar or a single DUI — I mean a violent criminal record, I think a common sense approach that would allow those people to earn citizenship makes the most sense.”

A group of women at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire wave Women for Trump signs. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.
A group of women at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire wave Women for Trump signs. February 10, 2020. Photo: Lance Monotone.

Until recently, America was built to suit an overwhelming majority of citizens who considered themselves a part of Christian, middle-class, nuclear families. Today, Trump supporters see a changing world because we are living in profoundly transformative times which none of us are fully equipped to handle.

Most of the president’s supporters honestly do not see themselves as defending racism or jokes made in poor taste. They wait quietly in line to see the president. They see declining marriage rates, young folks who aren’t having children, a growing number of Americans who are “spiritual but not religious,” and the industries which built America disappearing. When they say Make America Great Again they are unwittingly harking back to a time when America wasn’t so great for a lot of Americans, but what they envision are the days when Flint, Michigan and Lordstown, Ohio were booming industrial centers of the country that offered well paying, Made In America, work.

When asked why she supports Trump as a woman Esther told us that “I support Donald Trump because he’s making America safer for my daughter. When she grows up, I want her to have the America that I came here to,” nearly thirty years ago.

There are some who would read Esther’s sentiments and say that Trump is the worst possible choice and point to the 500,000 women who took to the streets of Washington DC in 2017 for the Women’s March. They would point to newly appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett and ask, what about a woman’s right to choose? Is there anything Trump could do that would make someone like Esther Sawyer lose faith in him? Support for abortion, she said. “That is where I draw the line.”

The values of Trump supporters are fundamentally different from those who oppose him. So much so, that it’s exhausting to try to think of something that could reconcile the two sides. Changing your entire outlook on life, everything you’ve been brought up to believe, is not something that comes easily. When most Americans go to the polls they don’t look for someone who will change the way they think or the things that make them comfortable, they look for a fighter to defend what they feel in their gut to be true.

“I trust him,” says Chris Sawyer. “I trust him and I would crawl through five miles of broken glass to vote for him again.”

You might not expect a fight anymore, but a Trump rally is a place where the president’s supporters go to put up a fight. The one place where the liberals aren’t “putting it all in our faces.” It’s where you don’t have to feel uncomfortable as a conservative in a changing world. A Trump rally is where conservatives aren’t made to feel stupid for the things they believe. It’s the opposite of the internet, where our headlines remind them how uncomfortable they make the other half of the country.

“What I’ve found over this summer primarily is that I’m actually getting tired of the same old kind of pitch of conservatives good/liberals bad,” Ramsden said when I caught up with him recently to talk about how much has changed since the rally in February. “Whether you’re right or left, there’s always going to be a faction that’s going to say no we can’t deal with that, we don’t like those terms.”

Nostalgia is not always bad. At some point, if we want to continue the great American experiment, we’re going to have to return to a time when the country could settle with compromise. Americans, at the moment, are willing to expect the worst of each other. The photographer certainly expected it when he came to the rally ready to brawl. There was no fight that day. He sat next to a hockey mom. They talked about their daughters.


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