Donald Trump, racist whoopie cushion, appeared this afternoon in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, where I’ve relocated my insomnia for the past few weeks. Because I’m pathologically incapable of avoiding cheap and writable discomfort, I stood in line for several unwhiskeyed hours in 100-degree heat to experience the least-amusing civic joke in recent American history. At this point, one could assemble a pretty decent anthology of “I Went to a Trump Rally” narratives, so there’s nothing particularly special about the experience or about anything I might offer here. But today’s event was goddamn predictable and boring in a way that I actually found somewhat horrifying. There’s no question that the Trump campaign remains an ambling shitshow, and his “speech” reminded me of a somewhat less-cranked Spud from Trainspotting, but the normalization of Trump’s weirdness strikes me as more deeply troubling than what we all witnessed earlier in the year, when he was simply tugging his dick and yodeling while career patrons of the local Kum & Go punched hippies and black people. Adding to what Erik observed earlier, conditions like these underscore the horror of recognizing that Trump might actually win.
The two-hour wait outside the Hotel Roanoke was for the most part innocuous. It was hot and humid as Lucifer’s taint this morning, which might explain why no one in line near me was particularly chatty. My companion and I spent most of our time getting to know “Austin,” a 20-year-old future alimony delinquent from a nearby town who — if his odyssey was to be believed — had worked a 16-hour shift at a tire factory before driving several hours to spend time in the same room with Donald Trump, a humanoid pimento cheese tub. We talked about his family for a while before detouring into an extended review of his achievements on Call of Duty, interrupted by his occasional hoots of “TRUMP!” and “BLUE LIVES MATTER” when the local constabulary generously rolled by with another cooler of bottled water. When I asked if his parents shared his enthusiasm for politics, he ruefully shook his head, paused for a moment as if to relive an angry moment with Pop over the burn barrel, and explained that his folks preferred Ted Cruz. During a lull in the conversation, he showed me a recent match he’d earned on Badoo; “Scarlett,” as it turned out, was transgender, a deal-breaker for the young rake Austin.
While everyone waited for the hotel doors to open, journeymen plied their trade along the line. Every single one of them was a person of color, engaged in a secondary grift layered atop the primary grift that had drawn people like Austin to Roanoke in the first place. For $20, vendors offered shirts emblazoned with Elizabethan insults like “If you don’t bleed red, white & blue take your bitch ass home” or “If you build it, they won’t come” (featuring Trump waving through the fissure in a nearly-finished brick wall — an image that incongruously puts the shirt’s observer on the other side of the wall from Trump, implicating all of us as Mexican rapists and drug dealers.) In any event, I didn’t know what to make of the fact that literally the only black people in sight were fleecing white folks and selling them new church clothes; it’s difficult to cheer the continued circulation of dumb Lewinsky blowjob jokes (e.g., “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica”), but at least the proceeds were flowing away from the Trump campaign.
After gaining entry at long last to the air-conditioned hotel ballroom, we lingered for another two hours before the event began. During the last half-hour, the listless Trumpkins distinguished themselves mostly by failing to sustain any of the predictable chants — “USA,” “Build the Wall,” and “Lock Her Up” — for longer than about ten seconds. It’s been years since I spent much time in Roanoke, and while it may be somewhat less amped than the irate cornholes that seem to populate the campaign’s itinerary, I was mildly surprised that the self-assigned pep-squad deputies scattered around the room were unable to whip up some stiffer peaks of fury before the arrival of TrumpPence. Alas.
While the millennials in front of me Tweeted and Snapchatted and swiped left and right, the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played unironically in the background. The song reminded me of The Big Chill, which reminded me of how much I hate The Big Chill, before I remembered that the song plays during
the opening scene the first part of The Big Chill, which involves the dressing of a a funeral for corpse who had filleted his goddamn wrists so his friends could come smoke dope and fuck each other for a few days. It’s not the first tune that would come to mind if I were assembling a “Make America Great Again” playlist, but no one asked me.
Finally, the Indiana tube sock known as “Mike Pence” emerged to introduce Trump, who apparently developed his “big heart” toward and “understanding” of Americans by building things with them — “skyscrapers and skylines,” Pence explained, which Trump completed by “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the people he employed. No, really. After some armpit fart noises about how Trump would get better trade deals from other countries and how we need a president “who digs coal,” Pence welcomed the man that the better-liberals-than-you in your Facebook feed regard as a threat no more worrisome than Hillary Clinton. It took Trump all of about five seconds to mention all the beautiful property he owns in Virginia and how he signs lots of paychecks in the commonwealth, before he proceeded into a distracted, 45-minute vortex that consisted mostly of scattered commentary on the sectarian drama unfolding within the Democratic Party. He cracked wise about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, made fun of Tim Kaine for being a “weird little guy,” invoked BENGHAZI! and Pocahontas, and accused Clinton of being a “low-energy” candidate who needs to take lots of naps. I wasn’t aware that this was a thing with Clinton, but evidently Trump believes napping is detrimental to national security, a point he ought to take up with Ronald Reagan someday. The entire speech was an incoherent mess, as if Donald Trump’s brain were a Firefox window, and he sits at his desk every day shuttling between various Breitbart sites, YouTube, and Craigslist Casual Encounters, never bothering to wonder how he managed to wind up with 75 open tabs.
But the audience today didn’t care. In his own distracted way, Trump is a genius who understands that his supporters are simply bundles of dopamine receptors. All he needs to do is invoke BENGHAZI!, or the Second Amendment, or the importance of repealing the Johnson amendment, and he earns a room full of ecstatic eyerolls and jazz hands. During the “town hall” portion of the event — which consisted of three questions and a prayer — someone asked if Trump would promise to support Israel “100 percent” (whatever that means). Trump simply nodded and said “yes,” and the entire room went fucking bazonkers. He barely even needed to mention The Wall, except to promise that it would keep heroin out of New Hampshire and that it would be “as good looking as possible.” His biggest applause line, in fact, came when he griped about the fact that an enclosed hotel ballroom packed with 1200 bodies might get a little warm after two hours. Because he evidently doesn’t understand physics, Trump blamed the hotel itself for being inept — blurting out that he didn’t even know its name — before announcing that the owners “should be ashamed of themselves” and that if he were staying there, he’d skip out on the bill. That’s right: A man who aspires to live in the White House is now trying to earn Bad-Ass Points with his supporters by fantasizing about something equivalent to a dine-and-dash. And at the moment, this is a man who stands a 40 percent chance of winning in November.