“Fuck Donald Trump!”
I’ve been outside the UIC Pavilion for about 10 minutes when I first hear someone shout it from a passing car. It’s about 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The heckler, in a silver sedan, has come to a rolling stop to yell at the line of rally attendees — now long enough to snake along the length of the arena and a parking garage. The doors to Trump’s rally won’t open for another hour, and already at the south entrance, the maximum-capacity line has been shut off to any stragglers.
Ever since Trump announced he’d be coming to the University of Illinois at Chicago, it hadn’t made sense to me — Chicago writ large isn’t natural Trump territory, much less UIC, with its young, diverse student body. This wouldn’t be one of his barn-burning romps through the Deep South; this would be a pitched drive onto enemy territory, for Trump as well as his supporters — almost uniformly suburban or out-of-staters. Worse, the Trump camp seemed to have a ready-built opposition in formation: the coalition of largely black and Latino activists who had lately rocked Rahm Emanuel’s mayoralty, amidst the compelling evidence his administration had covered up the police murder of unarmed teenager Laquan McDonald.
On Friday, it doesn’t seem like that force has materialized. A Trump supporter named Matt is dual-wielding signs, mocking the paltry number of protesters: “At Least You Tried, Protesters!” and “Liberals Claimed 3,000 Strong — I See 30.” The count isn’t that low — there are about 50 of them across the street and kitty-corner to the main entrance — but I’m still surprised by the thin ranks.
“I can’t afford to go to a top-tier university, and I’ve been working since I was 15 years old,” Matt tells me. “I’ve been busting my ass my entire life.”
“What do you make of Bernie Sanders’ proposal, of free tuition for college?” I ask.
“That oversaturates the value of a degree.” Matt sputters a bit. “It would give away too many degrees, and make it harder to find a job.”
“What do you want to hear from Trump today?”
“I want to hear him speak from the heart. He really gets the people.”
This is a sentiment I hear over and over again — from the kindly old lady who confides to me that Trump “says what I want to say”; from Jeff, the friendly Iraq War veteran who teases me about looking tired, and who considers Trump “pure American”; from Sami, the Egyptian immigrant with a soft purring voice, and neatly clipped hair, beaming that Trump “owes nobody anything.” I like all of these people. For such a rah-rah, flagsucking crowd, they sure seem to know the game’s rigged against them, in a way the Mark Halperins of the world never will.
So it’s all the more baffling — and enervating — when in the same friendly tone, Jeff talks about “collateral damage” and loosening the rules of engagement in combat zones, and Sami says we need to start bombing ISIS territory and “kill them all,” and young, cheery Leah beams, wide-eyed and manic, that she would proudly pour the foundation of Trump’s magnificent border wall.