Last night in Orlando, Florida, Donald Trump officially announced his re-election campaign with new promises of cured cancer, space travel, and the end of the Democrats. More than ever before, Trump, Pence, and their supporters made it clear that they do not want the Democratic Party or left-leaning people to ever have power or feel welcome in America again.
“We’re here for one reason and reason only: America needs four more years of President Donald Trump.” — Mike Pence, June 18, 2019, Orlando, FL
“Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you. And they want to destroy our country as we know it.” —Donald Trump, June 18, 2019, Orlando, FL
To support these threats, it was crucial to continue the narrative that Trump is widely beloved and that the “fake news media” is downplaying his tremendous success. To that end, his supporters played fast and loose with the numbers, claiming that thousands of supporters waited 5 days in the rain to see him and filled a 25,000-seat arena, while thousands of others watched on the outside jumbotron.
None of that was true.
As the Orlando Sentinel released its endorsement for “Anyone But Trump 2020,” the hashtag became trending, but Trump’s supporters and countless Twitter bots gleefully pointed to the Sentinel’s well-timed (or ill-timed, perhaps) endorsement as evidence of the Trump-hating press. They also swiftly labeled the Sentinel as “fake news” for (accurately) reporting that there were seats left in the arena, which only held 18,000 people, and that only a few people lingered outside.
That was true.
There’s nothing quite like being in the place where a major event is happening and seeing how far removed social media commentary can be from it. There’s nothing quite like seeing your beloved city shut down, its roads closed, people leaving work early to avoid said closures and any risk of chaos, and yet Trump supporters on Twitter claiming that the city was teeming with passionate patriots, that people had to be turned away from the event, and that meanwhile, violent liberals were hunting friendly Republicans who just wanted to support the President.
In reality, several blocks of Orlando became a peculiar, colorful setting for Trump supporters and protestors, all of whom were relatively well behaved. A couple of people were turned away for having weapons. One altercation between a Proud Boy and a protestor ended with a hug. As the media indeed reported, there were a lot of people with a lot of excitement — on both sides. About 1,000 protestors demonstrated with the Baby Trump balloon. According to local media, the 18,000 seat arena reached capacity. Naturally, Trump boasted that 100,000+ people made reservations, which made me laugh because he was clearly unaware of the campaign to fraudulently make reservations in order to steal seats from supporters.
Truth be told, it may have been the weather. Perhaps attendance would have been better. And yet that’s not the point of their rhetoric that the event was wildly successful and that all true Americans should want to be in that arena. That the news media are desperate to make Trump look bad.
The Sentinel, despite its non-endorsement of Trump, dutifully covered the entire day, which included the 45 Fest and the 42 hours of waiting in line that about 250 supporters did. CNN and the other “fake news” broadcast the entire speech. I imagine them rolling their eyes as Trump berates them for not telling the truth about him, as they literally stood there with cameras covering yet another of his big moments.
Truth is, we in Orlando saw it all. There are plenty of photos and videos online that show the extent of the crowds (or not) and the dedication of Trump supporters and protestors alike. Yet there was a verifiable lack of evidence that liberals were attacking Trump supporters. Meaningly, some supporters scoldingly informed passerby speaking Spanish that “this is America.”
Other Twitter commentators simply didn’t seem to understand the party nature of the event, which was filled with people wearing flag-themed clothing (a violation of flag code) who were musing that Democrats never wore patriotic clothing (confirming my theory that Republicans simply assume that everyone they meet is also a Republican). I doubt the attendees wear their flag clothes and red hats every day. Others trumpeted the big crowd and mocked the low turnout for Biden’s campaign announcement, ignoring the obvious fact that a sitting president is definitely going to draw a bigger crowd than a mere candidate for the nomination.
The shape that all this rhetoric took was that the majority of Americans support Trump and that this rally proved it. That — despite extensive news coverage the event had—the media are still the bad guys, and Trump supporters are hunted and persecuted by these non-American liberals who are just jealous and intolerant.
Me, I felt unsafe in my city because while most of the event attendees were likely indeed there to support the President, enough of them think that I don’t belong here to make me worry that they would try to harm me. Enough of them say that I am stupid and weak yet somehow also a terrorist, that I fear their attempt to eradicate me. I felt unsafe because they purported to have taken over the city where I live. Because they say that I, as a member of the media, am an enemy of the people.
They told reporters that Trump stands for all Americans and that Democrats are not true Americans. Because I don’t think he stands for me, as a woman with disabilities, I apparently am not an American (and apparently I’m a Democrat, too). Pence addressed the crowd and said, “If your life has improved in the past three years, it’s due to Trump.” But it’s not. It’s due to me. But Trump and his supporters believe that only their experience matters. That they know what’s best for everyone, and that anyone who disagrees is simply stupid or unpatriotic.
Nowhere were these attitudes clearer than in downtown Orlando yesterday or in the social media storm surrounding it. The truth is that everything in real life was fairly tame. That the rest of the city puttered on. That the numbers were not as big as people made them out to be. While I’ll give some the benefit of the doubt because they weren’t actually here, we all know that the reason they want the numbers to be big is so that they can support the shift to a one-party country, and they want to start in my city. And that is terrifying.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.