Trump Comes to Nashville
by Doug Hoekstra
Full disclosure. I have always leaned left, as a registered Democrat, card carrying member of the ALCU and unabashed liberal. Webster’s defines liberal as “marked by generosity; broad-minded, especially not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms.” I’ll take that. I’ll own that, every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Like many I was sickened by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and like many, for reasons too numerous to mention. But, it wasn’t primarily because of his political positions (not that he has any) or the usual debate between liberal and conservative values (not that he has any), but rather, what he proposed to do in destroying our institutions and integrity (not that he has any). This battle is really about democracy vs. tyranny. And, as our TN House Representative, Jim Cooper, said at a recent Good Trouble workshop here in the Music City, “our country is in crisis”
So, also like many, I felt a sense of urgency and began marching in the streets, writing letters, emailing congress people, calling elected officials, attending workshops, sending in donations and subscribing to my favorite newspapers. This was going to be a grind, but the way the resistance rose up quickly, gave hope, and like the yin to the yang of Trumpism was inspirational.
When Trump announced he was coming to Nashville for one of his “rallies”, many of us in the resistance were excited at the opportunity to personally tell him how we felt, if a bit perplexed by his choice. We’re a blue city in a red state. It isn’t like South Carolina or Michigan, say. We’re even an “it city” according to many on both coasts, with the highest percentage of working musicians per capita in the world. Then news trickled out. Trump was interested in building a hotel here. Then, he was coming to honor Andrew Jackson on Jackson’s birthday, March 15, an idea likely planted by Geppetto Steve Bannon, who has apparently sold Trump the idea he is like Jackson. And, it is fitting in some ways.
One of the early negative byproducts of Trump’s administration is the anxiety it causes, the constant attention-seeking of a man-child who berates and bullies, combined with the overall fatigue of fighting something that seems one part evil and one part incompetence. In fact, in a February 2017 American Psychological Association/Harris Poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they were on edge about the future of the country and nearly 60 percent cited the current political climate as a source of stress. Also, overall stress levels were up – from 4.8 in August to 5.1 in January on a 10-point scale. In the days leading up to Trump’s rally event, I felt this anxiety building as if a strange orange rash was developing on the back of my neck. Decisions were difficult. Should I go inside and leave when he came on? (I’d gotten tickets on his website) or should I march with my brothers and sisters outside (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Power Together Tennessee, etc.)?
Early that morning, reports came into my feeds about how folks were lining up outside around 6 a.m., even though doors weren’t to be opened until nine hours later. It was a particularly cold day for Nashville; mid-30s, and I was as shocked as the morning after the election. But, this was a good lesson, to see that the folks in the midlands of our state were still that dedicated to their man, forcing me out of my lefty bubble. After work, I headed down to Municipal Auditorium, getting there around 2. Municipal is an archaic venue, another fitting twist; built in 1962, and seating about 9,000 – although it was once a prime concert venue hosting everything from the Jackson 5 to the Roller Derby to Bob Dylan.
Leonard Cohen once sang about America being the home of the best and worst.
I had decided to begin with my sights on getting inside, standing in line with the Trumpsters and so I dressed inconspicuously, in plain black jacket, tennis shoes, and sunglasses. I even carried little American flags that I bought at Home Depot. As I approached the front of the auditorium I first passed obvious secret service men in black suits and mirrored sunglasses, wearing earpieces and serious expressions. Then, there were several vendors, selling “Lock Her Up” buttons, Hillary Clinton shooting targets, and Trump 2020 buttons, from canopied enclaves, like hucksters on the midway.
Then I hit the sea of red shirts and white faces, an endless line that snaked around the side of the auditorium for at least a mile, running parallel to our State Capitol. I became depressed. There were more Make American Great hats in one place than you could imagine. Little kids dressed in Trump gear, to match Mom and Dad. More women than you would think. . One couple with t-shirts that read “My uncle was killed by an immigrant”. Evangelical preachers. A Trump Impersonator, posing to take pictures with folks in line. I did not see anyone in line that I knew – unusual in Nashville – and my guess was when I did pass a couple in pea coats and hemp rasta hats, carrying lattes – they were molls. Like me.
When I finally got to the end of the line, I was faced with a dilemma. Clearly, the word got out and the Trumpsters drove in from around the state to thwart or plans. Would I even get in? If there were so few of us going in, would I make a greater impact on the outside? I could conceivably stand in line from 3 to 6:30 (when the show was supposed to start) and not get in. If I did get in and have to sit through the line-up from hell – Mae Beavers, Marsha Blackburn (two of our most “interesting” state legislators), Senator Bob Corker, “singer” Lee Greenwood and then Donald Trump. I thought of all the brave soldiers and wondered if I was too weak for that.
Where I stood, the crowd was mellow. I’d passed folks spitting at protesters and deriding “snowflakes”. I saw a man yell at a woman photographer, berating her as “fat-ass.” I would hear many other nasty stories later, but I also saw individuals in dialogue and overall, the day was very peaceful. This is what democracy looks like. Where I stood, I struck up a conversation with two fifty-something supporters, man and woman, very blue collar, who in gentle tones and slight accents, spoke of coming in to see Trump almost as if they were attending a Toby Keith concert. I wanted to ask them how they could’ve voted for a man who was so obviously against their best interests, a man who wasn’t really even a Republican, in a Eisenhower or even, Reagan way. But, I didn’t. Instead I just asked them if they thought we would get in. They said, they weren’t sure.
“Well, then,” I said, “I think I’m going then.” And I handed them two American flags. They thanked me. I silently hoped it would bring some good karma and do more than words could.
I went back to my car, got my protest sign, and the “Make America Rage Hat” my brother gave me, and walked across the bridge to the shadows of Nissan Stadium, where the marchers were gathering. I instantly felt energized and safe and for a moment I wondered if I was simply back in the bubble. I don’t think so, though, because we showed up, and as long as everyone shows up and does something, big or small, each day, we will move the needle.
The truth is also that the activism is bringing people together, like something out of a Frank Capra movie; only unlike a Capra, movie, you see all age, colors, and gender identifications represented. We wound up being 3000 strong, proud, committed, and sometimes hilarious, with signs that read “I Made a Mistake” (from a bold former Trump supporter) to “Nyet My President” to “If You Want to Defeat Isis Give them Trumpcare.” There were speakers from local activist organizations and the ACLU and other groups were handing out signs. I chose the one that read “We the People”. As anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, “we” is an important word. Among the marchers, I ran into many folks I knew, past present and future, and in the latter category, gave one of my remaining flags to a woman who’d driven in from Paducah to protest. She and her sister seemed just as earthy and country as the couple I met in the Trump line. If the goal for the Russians was to interfere in our election as a means to divide our country further, they have been sadly successful.
That said, as we marched over the bridge and to the courthouse for our own rally, and then to the auditorium, to await Trump’s arrival, I carried my remaining flag with me, because as I had thought and my newfound friend from Paducah noted, we need to reclaim that. We need to let people know that this is about patriotism and love of country. Interesting enough, many liberals left the line because they couldn’t tolerate the Trump supporters, joining their protester friends, but many Trump supporters simply left because the venue didn’t start letting folks in to around 5 p.m. As a result, about a third of the auditorium remained empty.
Trump visited Andrew Jackson’s grave early in the day, and then rolled into the heart of the city. While most of us were marching and gathering in the cold outside, some persistent souls did make it in and walked out after Trump began speaking, including one brave woman who challenged him on health care. Her name is Dr. Carol Paris, President of Physicians for a National Health Program. There are heroes every day and she is one. There should also be a medal given to anyone able to brave Lee Greenwood and Donald Trump for the sake of country. Watching the news feeds later, I saw Trump’s crowd shouting “USA USA” while he bemoaned that the news would report on “the one protester.” As usual for 45, this was a lie. There were thousands of us outside and thousands more across the country, past present and future.
The personal is political and for me, it’s about at least three generations. I think of my Lithuanian grandfather who emigrated, came to southern Illinois and fought in World War I for this country. I think of my late father who was part of the greatest generation, fighting in World War II, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, and then after Reagan, flipping from die-hard Republican to Noam Chomsky-lover. But, most of all I think of my 14-year old son and his peers, those who will inherit this country. They have to know we can do better.