More than 9,000 supporters of Donald Trump assembled in an airport hangar in Moon Township, Pittsburgh, not so much for a political rally as a celestial coming. Afterwards, as Trump’s plane taxied away from the hangar to the evocative strains of Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma, a blast of fumes from the aircraft’s turbines shattered the teleprompters, sending glass flying as thousands of people cheered, utterly mesmerised. On Tuesday, the 2016 election extravaganza reaches its crescendo. There has been a dangerous awakening based on fear, fanaticism and prejudice that erupted out of the Trump campaign. The theatre is breathtaking. The consequences could be spine-chilling. RANJENI MUNUSAMY reports from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From around midday on Sunday, thousands of people began queuing to get into a massive airport hangar in Pittsburgh where Donald Trump was scheduled to speak at 20:00 as part of his final sprint through the key battlegrounds. When 20:00 arrived, an estimated 3,000 people were still outside while a sea of people inside the structure stood waiting patiently. Children dressed as Trump superheroes or in masks of the presidential hopeful’s face dozed off. Others remained propped on their parents’ shoulders, their excitement at seeing the man perceived as their champion and saviour keeping them bright-eyed.
Earlier a pastor had prayed that God would “create a great awakening” and give Trump and his running mate Mike Pence “superpowers” and “natural wisdom”. Republican congressman Mike Kelly told the crowd that Trump had set off on the campaign trail at 07:00 that morning and was a “high octane guy”. Thousands of posters fluttered in excitement – among them signs that read: “The silent majority stands with Trump”.
In this space of altered reality and impassioned neo-fascism, fuelled by jingoism, nobody laughs. It is all deadly serious.
Trump arrived after 22:00 and what unfolded was, frankly, spectacular.
According to word in the media pen, he had been late leaving a rally in Detroit, Michigan. With music booming in the hangar, it was difficult to hear aircraft landing on the runway and due to the heavy security presence, it was not possible to wander around outside. So the first evidence that the “great one” had arrived was the sudden storm into the media pen of journalists travelling with Trump.
Judging by the conduct of the journalists who stomped onto the raised media platform, shoving people out of the way, Trump’s odious personality traits must be contagious. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism with being obnoxious – it must be an assignment worst than testing excrement in a sewer to be part of the Trump expedition, on a repetitive diet of vitriol and constantly facing attacks in his speeches.
The crowd, who regularly chorused the Trump slogans “Lock her up!”, “Drain the swamp!” and “CNN sucks!” (the last one directed at all the “liberal media”), bustled with excitement and began chanting “Open the door”. Eventually the door of the hangar began to slide open to thunderous chords blasting from the sound system. The tail of Trump’s Boeing 757, reportedly the eighth most expensive plane in the world, became visible.
Music blared, lights flashed, the crowd went wild as the entire aircraft with the word “Trump” emblazoned on it was unveiled just outside the hangar. The door of the plane stood open and in front of it was a brightly lit staircase proclaiming, “Make America Great Again”. When Trump appeared in the doorway in a trench coat and his red “Make America Great Again” cap, the crowd seemed to levitate in ecstasy. He descended the staircase, waving. When he ascended the podium and held his hands up it felt like the synchronised orgasm of the crowd would blow the roof off.
When Jesus returns, he will have to shoot lightning bolts out of his fingertips to outdo the theatre of Trump.
Considering that people had travelled hours to be there and had waited on their feet in a confined space for over five hours (such is the efficiency of Planet Trump that 9,000 people share five portaloos), you would expect Trump to deliver the revised Commandments straight from Mount Sinai.
It was the usual wild promises, irrational leaps of logic and caustic attacks on his opponent Hillary Clinton and the media. It made for fantastic footage with the massive plane as his backdrop where other lowly politicians have posters or cardboard signs.
Trump told the crowd that the premiums on “Obamacare” would be escalating dramatically. “I know what the number is. I won’t tell you because I don’t want to ruin your night,” he said.
Superb approach to his presidency that: scare the crowd about their healthcare system but keep the information from them. But the aim is not to present his followers with knowledge to help them make informed choices. It is only to whip them into a frenzy.
“Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to run for the presidency of the United States,” Trump said. “The investigation into her crimes will go on for a long, long time.”
With this backdrop, Trump delved into the developing story that the FBI found no evidence in the e-mails discovered on disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer to warrant criminal charges against Clinton.
“The rank and file in the FBI won’t let her get away. Right now she is being protected by a rigged system,” he said, sending billowing anger through the crowd. “You can’t review 650,000 e-mails in eight days. You can’t do it, folks.”
Under a Trump presidency, justice will be “the way it used to be”. “It will be so special… It will be called Brexit plus plus plus.”
Despite all his ridiculous assertions, it was not possible to laugh out loud or even smirk. With constant hate vibes from the crowd and intermittent attacks from Trump, journalists confined in one area at the back of the hall are under constant scrutiny.
“There are very dishonest people back there,” Trump pointed to the media pen to a roar of boos. “There is the corrupt media there! There! Liars! Liars!”
Then he would switch back to saviour mode.
“I am your messenger. I am just your messenger. This is one of the great movements of all time.”
Back to attack mode:
“We are led by stupid people, people who don’t have a clue. We will stop the jobs leaving the country.”
“Hillary Clinton got the questions for the debate ahead of time. The most biased people back there, they don’t talk about that. She cheated like a dog. If I had to do that, they would reinstate the electric chair… Very, very dishonest people.”
The comments that got the least reaction were Trump’s reassurance to “African-American and Hispanic communities” that he would rebuild and make the inner cities safer. It turns out the 9,000 white people in the hall did not care so much about this rather patronising message. But Trump had wild applause when he said he would put a stop to Clinton’s plans for a “550% increase in Syrian refugees into our country”.
He would also keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of America and “pause admission from terror prone areas”.
“We have enough of our own problems, folks. We don’t need them here.”
In case anyone in the crowd did not abhor Clinton sufficiently, Trump was ready to help: “Hillary supports open borders. She wants to fight Isis – she is the one who started Isis.”
And then the winning line: “Yes we will build a great, great wall and Mexico will pay for the wall!”
Is there anything more terrifying than such prejudice evoking feverish acclamation from so many thousands of people? Throughout the manic performance, Trump waved his hands about animatedly, occasionally embroidering his invisible quilt.
He huffed and he puffed. He blew the house down. In front of the media pen, someone fainted – either from excitement or exhaustion.
Trump rounded up: “I will make America rich and wealthy again! I will make America strong and powerful!
The crowd chimed in: “We will make America great again!”
With that, it was over. Trump ascended the stairs of his plane. At the door he paused, turned around and waved. People cheered feverishly.
As the plane powered up, Pucini’s beloved aria Nessun Dorma reverberated. A plea from Pavarotti’s family earlier this year that the Trump campaign stop using the maestro’s work apparently fell on deaf ears. Or perhaps the billionaire presidential wannabe simply feels entitled to the tenor’s signature aria like he does women’s genitals.
Shattering the glass teleprompters with a gust of hot air, the Trump plane disappeared from sight – an astonishing metaphor that probably did not strike the thousands of his disciples spewing out of the hangar.
But where do they go from here? From such fanaticism and devotion to Trump that eclipses religious passions, what lies ahead for these people from Wednesday? Do they accept the election results or not? Does their hate for Clinton, the Democrats, the establishment, foreigners or anyone unlike them manifest in some other way? If there is a resort to violence as some have threatened, how will people in the security services who support Trump respond?
Trump is right about one thing: he has started a powerful movement that millions of people across America believe in. What will he do with it beyond Tuesday’s election? Will he surrender control and wash his hands of it or put the monster he created to sleep? Or will he use his new army of Trumpians to fight the establishment? There are no examples in history where such fanaticism ended well.
The question for all Americans will be how to heal a nation so polarised and return to a semblance of normality.
Nessun Dorma climaxes with Pavarotti repeating the Italian word “Vincero” or “I will win”. It is what Trump has convinced his supporters he will do. There is no song for what happens when he does not. DM
Ranjeni Munusamy is participating in a 2016 US General Elections Embed programme administered by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and sponsored by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Centres and US Embassy Posts.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald campaigns at a rally at Loudon Fairgrounds in Leesburg, Virginia, USA, 07 November 2016. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved