On Monday I went to Columbus Circle for the “Not My President Day” rally. I met up with my friend Adrian and we spent about a half hour crammed against a barrier, watching a lone cop talking to elderly ladies and telling Lululemon-clad Upper West Side basics not to hop the fence. Finally we joined the street march.
We were rerouted onto Seventh Ave, where we encountered a woman clad in a box proclaiming “I AM A TRUMPIST YOU ARE MY PRESIDENT.” I’m not sure where she was from, but she was an immigrant with wild eyes who lunged at her dissenters, questioning what they were going to do for this country: “Trump IS your president!” she yelled. “What are you doing for the children?”
Good question. One I ask myself. We have homeless families on the rise, childhood poverty spiking, housing cutbacks and axed school lunch programs, and now Breitbart’s Sun-In Apollo waxing rhapsodic about man-boy love. I wondered if it was something she might direct toward the President she devoted so much cardboard, marker and fake flowers to that morning. But her blind patriotism could not be swayed.
Adrian and I got some coffee and walked down to Trump Tower to see what was going on. We saw a number of red-hatted supporters, as usual, but also a pair of cops awkwardly clutching guns nearly as big as themselves. We flipped off the Tower and kept going.
When we returned to Columbus Circle, the protest crowd had mostly dispersed except for a crowd situated outside the giant globe at Trump International Hotel. “Oh, goody, this is what I’ve been looking for!” I squealed gleefully to Adrian, as we wormed our way in to the mass. Trump supporters clumped against the railings clutching a MAGA flag or signs screeching such phrases as: “SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP”. Among their number was a belligerent African-American man who yelled obscenties at a group of raging pussy-hatted dissenters.
The rival echo chambers of the liberal left and populist right merged momentarily as the shouting escalated – pussy hats screaming over red hats, signs being shoved in faces. It was intense, so I stepped back a moment and Adrian pointed to a mob of people in bandannas, marching through the perimeter of the crowd, bearing a flag.
“I’m losing track now, what’s that flag for?” I asked her. “There’s so many.”
“Oh they would be the Anarchists!” she replied.
“Ooh, my people. Let’s go see what they’re up to!”
We abandoned the screechers for the time being and followed the Anarchists, but they were already halfway across Columbus Circle on the way to Whole Foods. Nothing says “Anarchy!” like Buffalo seitan nuggets. Revolutionary bandits gotta eat, I suppose.
We shrugged our shoulders and Adrian said she had to go home. The screecher crowd was growing and I said I was going to stick around to see what happened, so we parted ways.
Soon enough a fight broke out between a red hat, his bandanna-ed partner, and a group of even more enraged pussy hats. One got in the red hat’s face and started screaming, so he called her a bitch. She shoved her sign in his face in response. I recorded the incident, silently praying to the great Xenu or whoever the fuck is in charge now that I would not become a target. The red hat stomped away, in his wake a trail of people hissing “Shame!”
I took stock next to another African-American man, bearing foamcore and marker pen. He turned to me and said: “I wanna make a sign but I’m afraid I’m going to get beat up for what I have to say.”
“Whatever it is, you have the right to say it,” I replied. And I meant it. I suspected he was a closet Trump supporter, and that his fears were justified. The fact I had on a Black Panther button wasn’t lost on him, but he was willing to have a real talk, something that had become far too rare. He gave me a big, sincere hug.
“I just want people to get along peacefully,” he said, and my heart broke.
“I mean I agree with what most of them have to say,” he continued, waving to the pussy hats, “but there’s a few things that don’t sit right with me and I definitely don’t like this anger and hatred. Truth is, I voted for Trump. I did. You know why? Trump was one of the first to hold a fundraiser for AIDS research, way back when it started, like 1972 or something? People don’t know that about him. Hillary didn’t do shit for gay people like me. So that’s why I voted for him. Like I said, I mostly agree with these people socially but I just didn’t trust Hillary, and I respected that he cared about AIDS when no one else did. And now everyone’s fighting and no one is talking and I’m scared.” I gave him another big hug and wandered back into the fray.
A red hat man was berating a group of “Not My President” chanters. “Bitch I voted against Hillary!” he yelled. “She was calling us rapists in the ’90s, she doesn’t give a shit about black people! No! No she doesn’t! She doesn’t give a shit at all except her own damn pocket!”
I have never been a fan of Hillary Clinton, and supported Sanders in the Democratic primaries. But Clinton is certainly not of this caliber of evil. As far as health care goes, she has been fighting long and hard for a sensible solution for all Americans since the ’90s. In the same period, Donald Trump starred in a Pizza Hut commercial touting pies engorged with cheese sauce, fucked around on two wives, failed some casinos, and kicked thousands of people out of their rent-controlled homes.
If that were not enough, I personally know people who protested Donald Trump thirty years ago for taking tax abatements from the city that should have gone towards fighting the devastating AIDS and homelessness crises of the period. In 1996, he crashed an AIDS benefit for children for a photo op, and didn’t donate a single penny. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the largest “philanthropic donation” the Trump Foundation ever made was: $265,000 to restore the Pulitzer Fountain outside his own Plaza Hotel. I photographed a Trump impersonator sitting near it yesterday, clutching a bucket with a sign that said “Mexican Wall Fund.”
I know people who have worked with Trump in Hollywood – horror stories about being on his crew, acting with him, and tales of him soliciting underage girls from his limo. It’s no secret he’s a disgusting pig, but those who voted for him all have that one thing they can cling onto that erases, denies, or gaslights all else into insignificance.
Between the men I met on Monday and those I spoke to at the Pro-Trump rally a couple of weeks ago, a pattern has emerged. Unlike bleeding heart snowflakes, who have empathy and understanding of how society is interconnected, these Trump supporters are unable (and unwilling) to see the big picture. Their politics is micro-myopic. This may have been caused by geographical isolation, or engendered through resentment and prejudice. Whatever the reason, they are single-issue voters with one-track minds.
Anti-abortion activists cling to Trump because of Pence. Pro-Trump Orthodox Jews support his daughter being married to one of their own and appreciated the photo ops with Netanyahu. Terrified old ladies want policemen to protect them from bad guys. Bigots like his racist cabinet choices. None of them support Trump out of empathy, and either cannot imagine what it must be like to be deathly ill or devastatingly poor, or if they are deathly ill/devastatingly poor, believe it’s because of some external enemy.
How should liberals respond? Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences:
1) Debate won’t get us anywhere. No one wants to hear the other side.
2) Trump supporters are without empathy. Those who have it act to lift others up. What they have instead is pity, which implies a moral superiority that distances them from those they disparage.
3) Teach your children well. The older generations are a lost cause for now.
4) Don’t fucking shove signs in people’s faces.
5) Ditch the stupid pink pussy hats and maybe get some military berets and sunglasses. These people will never take you seriously. You want intimidating? Speak their language. Take a cue from the Black Panthers and Public Enemy. Wear black pussy hats if you gotta get your kitty on, but pink signifies weakness to them and they’re not gonna get any high concepts or wry irony. Pink’s for sissies to these neanderthals. Whether or not you think that’s true is beside the point. They do not take “snowflakes” seriously.
6) Get militant, get organized, and scare the fuck out of them, but do not get violent.