Dallas’ American Airlines Center, home of the Mavericks, has hosted many great and mediocre entertainers in its time: Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Metallica. But none have aimed as high as Donald Trump, who monopolized the space for over an hour on Monday night along with some 16,000 of his fans.
Trump promised his formidable crowd that, like Dirk Nowitzki with nukes, he will put the fear of god in America’s multiplying enemies and create order in home court if elected president. He will whiten your teeth and restore the disordered planets to harmonic alignment. He will end the bad things and multiply the good things. He will fix it. He will make America great again! It’s on his hat.
You know the shape of the Trump show by now, promoted as it is on every cable channel and content-providing website — including, as you now read, this one. This has been the summer of Trump, a pretty sorry season. You know the man. But who are his people? Why is it that this guy, poorly coiffed, evidently fraudulent and more than a little mean, can pack — most of the way — an NBA arena in a state that should have had its fill of hardline politics?
Mysteries abound. They cannot be attracted by the substance of the Donald. Monday’s speech gave no real clue to Trump’s preferred policies. He does not talk policy, really. A tax plan would be coming soon, he said. He’d lower taxes but raise them on the rich. The wall had to be built. Someday, they’d name it after him, he said.
His speeches are not meant to be understood in the traditional sense. Like former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, he tends to throw out subjects, nouns and verbs and then bask in the applause or disapproval of his adoring audience.
Here’s one: “So — the Iran Deal. The Iran Deal,” he said. Boos. Here’s another: “China,” he said. Boos. “Mexico,” he said. Boos. “We gotta build the wall,” he said. Cheers. That’s when he’s talking about matters of substance. He’s much more comfortable talking about the pathetic nature of his enemies and his campaign’s great masculine prowess. Rick Perry is a “nice man” who “tried,” he said. “He tried.” Ben Carson is getting too much press. He doesn’t need the rich men’s money: He’s that good.
Trump is running, in essence, a tautological campaign: He asks for your support because he’s winning. He’s worthy of your vote because he leads in the polls. If that seems overly reductionist, watch his rambling 70-minute speech for yourself. I dare you.
But those in the audience weren’t taking the speech very seriously, either. Unusually for a political rally, beer was served and consumed in great quantities. In the run-up to Trump’s speech, people ate, laughed, took selfies. The mood was celebratory. Popcorn and peanut shells littered the floor.
Donald Trump’s little army marched from near and far to be with him tonight, but they came for a variety of reasons. They were a much younger and more diverse crowd than you might find at a tea party rally.
There were two twentysomething friends, J.D. Stevens and Elijah Perez, from Comanche, Oklahoma, a four hour drive away from Dallas. They were here for the show. Stevens’ kin had witnessed history in years passed, and now he would witness himself some history, too. “I just wanted to come and see this,” he said, “because I had a grandmother who was at a John Kennedy thing, and I wanted to come see one of these in person.”
There were also those who came with clear eyes about the Donald — they knew what he stood for. One attendee, bald, bearded and well-built in his late 20s, declined to identify himself except to describe himself as a “paleoconservative and traditionalist” from Collin County. He wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Commies aren’t cool.” Trump, he said, was the only candidate who’d look out for the “American worker.”
“I support Donald’s immigration plan completely,” he said. Trump’s immigration plan consists largely of forcing the Mexican government to build an impermeable wall along their northern border and then deporting everyone. “I think that’s the most comprehensive immigration plan we’ve had in a while.” The haters and losers, in Trumpian parlance, needed to set “emotion aside” and look rationally at Trump’s plans, he said. Here is Trump’s plan.
Others enjoyed substance and showmanship both, such as Arlington resident Karen Clarke. “Trump is going to make a wonderful president. He is very thoughtful and generous and intelligent and caring,” she said. “He knows a lot about the problems going on in our country, and has a lot of good ideas about how to address those and make America great again.”
Wait, what ideas? “I really believe he knows the specifics, although I know he hasn’t communicated a lot of them. But he has communicated some of them,” she said. “He’s an intelligent, thoughtful person. And he made a wonderful boss on the Celebrity Apprentice. He really raised a lot of money and helped a lot of people. His generosity is truly unparalleled.”
Well, OK. After an invocation from a megachurch pastor who thanked God for Trump’s dedication to “selfless public service” and a brief address from Metroplex tea party activist Katrina Pierson, who urged Trump, to cheers, to tear up the loyalty pledge he signed to the Republican Party, Trump finally emerged.
It is both discomfiting and reassuring to see a crowd respond to Trump. It’s troubling because the ideas Trump propagates are so poisonous and so well received. He’s an economic populist, but he’s one of the most effective advocates for xenophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry that America has seen in recent decades. But it’s also comforting, perhaps, that most of these people, no matter how much they delight in Trump, are there for the show.
For months, people have puzzled over how Trump will fall. Gaffes, even truly awful ones, don’t seem to affect him. He doesn’t need money or approval from the Republican establishment. But the end game seems simple enough, now: Like any reality show star, he’ll fall off the map when people get bored, and eventually they will. Trump can’t talk about anything other than himself with any level of sophistication. The media will have less of an incentive to cover him. And without that oxygen, he’ll fade. CNN, apparently, broke away from Trump’s event mid-speech.
That wouldn’t have happened a couple of weeks ago, even though Trump’s manner of address was as narcissistic and repetitive on Monday as it was earlier this summer. The man only has so many tricks. Even in the stadium, where most of the crowd was still with him to the end, a surprising number of seats emptied before Trump was done with his marathon speech. Were they leaving to get back to their cars, or because they had their fill? There’s no way to know. But like any touring act, the curtain will inevitably drop. Trump should juice his ego while he can.