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I’ve seen Donald Trump and he isn’t pretty

By Caitlin Dean

When Donald Trump triumphantly descended from that escalator in Trump Towers to announce his candidacy for president, I was bemused and disinterested. I had not been living in the US that long and although I was familiar with the name Trump and what it meant, I knew little about him beyond his reality TV show.

I decided not to listen to Trump and hoped his campaign was some stunt, a piece of performance art that would end with his famous “You’re fired!” catchphrase from The Apprentice. In short, I didn’t take him seriously.

That changed back in March when I decided to attend the Trump rally in Tucson, Arizona. I went out of curiosity to see if there is anything more to the Trump fanfare than the soundbites. This was tempered with caution since Trump’s rallies have become known for their violent incidents. I certainly felt nervous as I approached and saw a large group of protesters outside chanting “shame on you, Trump is racist and so are you”. I got in line and tried to hide my face. A woman stood with her arms crossed and stared at me with so much pity and sadness that I wanted to burst into tears and reassure her that this really isn’t who I am.

I felt like an imposter as I took my seat, nervous that I would be found out. A Big Brother-like voice boomed out across the hall discouraging violence and then adding that if anyone sees someone protesting in their area, they should hold up a Trump sign and start chanting “Trump”. This would assist the security services (paid for by Trump) in locating and removing them, the voice said. It only seemed to encourage the supporters to become more worked up, more edgy and confrontational.

First up to speak was America’s “Toughest Sheriff”, or the “Most Lawless Lawman in America”, depending on who you talk to. Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County and his department has been accused of failing to investigate sex crimes and the unlawful enforcement of immigration laws. A US federal court found him guilty of racial profiling and appointed a monitor to oversee his own office’s operations. The jails under his jurisdiction are infamous for their severity and have twice been ruled as unconstitutional.

The crowd enjoyed Arpaio and gave him a standing ovation. He boasted about how many criminals he has locked up as sheriff and bragged about his friendship with Trump.

Then the man himself made his entrance to some bombastic pop anthem and wearing his now trademark red ball cap with that slogan “Make America Great Again”. The crowd cheered as he launched into his soundbites about how wonderful he is, how fantastic America will be with him in the White House and how Obama has brought the country to its knees.

A man dressed in an American flag shirt and holding a sign showing Trump’s face with the slogan “Bad for America”, was removed by security. As he was escorted out, he was pulled to the ground and repeatedly punched by someone in the stands. Trump, noticing the altercation, pointed to the stand and called it a “disgrace” by “disgusting people”. It wasn’t clear if he was more offended by the protesters or the violence.

Trump outlined his rather substance-less policies. He would rebuild the military, the US would defeat Isis and he would construct that border wall and make damn sure that Mexico would pay for it. He spoke in half sentences and meandered from one thought to the next. He talked about how change is needed but was never explicit as to what kind of change. Obamacare is a disaster, education in America is a mess and bad deals were negotiated.

Afterwards, riot police corralled us into a line and escorted us outside into the sea of protesters. I half expected to be pelted with tomatoes or eggs. I tried to vanish quickly and become part of the protest, anything to alleviate the guilty feelings that I had from attending the rally.

I spent that evening watching a documentary about apartheid. Images of black protesters being violently suppressed flashed across the screen followed by shots of a white resistance group clad in black. There was the white supremacist leader, the late Eugene Terre’Blanche and then Madiba appeared, beaming ear to ear and showing forgiveness on a biblical level.

Such contrasts took me back to Trump’s rally, a context defined by sharp edges and divisive anger. Mr Trump, I take you seriously now and I seriously hope that you think about your rhetoric. Words can be more dangerous than you might know.

Caitlin Dean is a South African who grew up in East Africa and currently lives in the US. She has lived in various countries, including Kenya, South Africa, Jordan and Rwanda.

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