BY KOBI AZOULAY
When many people think of a Donald Trump rally, the first thing that comes to mind is violence.
The numerous comments on my Facebook telling me to be safe during his rally at Stephen Decatur High School serve as testament to that belief.
Those fears are not unfounded.
In Fayetteville, N.C. a Trump supporter sucker-punched a protestor in the face. In Birmingham, AL another protestor was beaten and allegedly choked.
Trump himself has even gone as far as saying he would pay the legal fees of anybody who knocks the crap out of a protestor (he later walked back on that statement).
Curious to experience the atmosphere of a Trump rally myself, I ventured into the belly of the beast to discover the truth.
A lot of what I encountered was to be expected, but some of it opened my eyes to a possibility I ignorantly never considered: we have more in common than we all believe.
Before getting into that, it is important to highlight the toxicity that was on display.
The rough underbelly of the Trump rally was not always apparent, but once it appeared you could not miss it. It began as soon as I entered the enormous line.
About 5 minutes in I noticed a black truck with paint on it reading, “Send them all back.” Many Trump supporters clapped and took pictures of it in one of the few signs of racism I noticed on the night.
Peddlers lined the streets selling pro-Trump merchandise. Most of it was the typical “Trump for President” stickers and shirts you would expect at any candidate’s rally, but there was also a sticker that read, “Cruz back to Canada.”
One shirt in particular stood out to me.
It said, “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.” This elicited laughter from many fans around me. One man even referred to her as a gypsy.
As the line moved up, we approached the protestors holding signs reading “No racism” and “No facism” among many others. The Trump fans responded by chanting “Trump” and “Go home,” but besides snide comments about socialism and Democrats, the insults were kept to a minimum and lacked racial charge.
Once we got into the high school, everyone was disappointed to find out the gym where Trump was going to speak was filled to capacity so we were directed to the cafeteria to watch his speech on a projector screen.
That did not stop the crowd from getting fired up.
Chants of “Build that wall!” began before Trump even arrived. They continued during his speech, with one college student yelling “F*** yeah,” after.
When Trump talked about how Mexico and China are ripping us off on trade, one man bellowed out, “Those bastards!”
To my surprise, this was the only statement from a fan I heard during Trump’s speech that could be perceived as racially charged (and that is debatable).
Leaving the rally, I witnessed one last bout of poisonous politics.
Jacob Mast, a University of Maryland student wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt, was calmly telling people about Trump’s past donations to Hillary Clinton. A few Trump supporters responded by fiercely yelling, “You’re a socialist!” and “Get a job!”
All of these negatives might make it seem like there was an ominous atmosphere surrounding the event, but it was all to be expected. I actually left the rally thinking about Trump fans in a more positive light.
The large majority of people I encountered at the rally were extremely polite, personable and if they were racist, they were not obvious about it.
We told jokes together, shared in the awe of how long the line was and worried about whether we would even get in to see him. A lot of people actually strayed away from political conversations and talked about their day-to-day lives.
“If we weren’t wearing different shirts, we could all be in 7-11 together and we’d be fine” Mast said. “We’re all just people on the shore.”
Although the protestors did rile up some people, most Trump fans just wanted them to go away so they could enjoy the rally in peace.
Ironically the protestors actually sparked one of the most heartwarming moments of the night. As they chanted anti-Trump remarks, his supporters responded with “USA!” chants.
To my amazement, the protestors joined in.
This speaks volumes.
It reveals that despite all of our vast differences, despite the poisonous politics we all fall into, we are all still held together by our common bond as Americans.
Even though many view Donald Trump rallies as a scary place to be, it is important to remember that the bad apples are a small minority that exists within any candidate’s support.
Most supporters are people like all of us. They worry about their financial future. They worry about violence and do not want to be anywhere near it.
They want to make America a better place.
We anti-Trump activists need to avoid falling into the same trap of generalization we blame his fans for. We need to keep an open-mind and truly listen to the opinions of his supporters and avoid insulting them. It is okay to disagree, but important to do so in a respectful manner.
We all want to make America great, but instead of shouting about walls or fascism, let us start with civility.