Have you ever been somewhere you felt like you didn’t fit in? Where the jokes and chants ring out and you didn’t get it or can’t follow along?
That was me yesterday.
Ohio is one of the so-called battleground states that went for Donald Trump by a pretty wide margin on Election Day. Even though I live in Columbus – a city within a county that’s overwhelmingly Democratic – I’ve been around the state enough to know there was a chance it would go for Trump.
Since we play by electoral college rules, the Buckeye state becomes one of the most important to win because of its makeup and voting history. And since the now president-elect carried it by eight points, he decided to make it – specifically Cincinnati – the first stop on his “Thank You” tour.
No president has ever went on a “Thank You” tour after winning the presidency. One, because it’s so incredibly egotistic that no one would ever think to; and two, because they’re usually busy focusing on finalizing their cabinet before inauguration. I had been to a Trump rally before prior to him even becoming the GOP nominee just to see the spectacle. Maybe things would change after winning the election. I went down on Thursday (December 1) to find that nothing has changed and not only did I not fit in, I got a firsthand look into the dark world that is really possible in the coming four years.
Walking up to U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincy, a group of about 40 protesters, mostly defending pro-choice ideals in the wake of Donald Trump’s Entertainment Weekly comments, surrounded the entrance. Signs reading “no mandate” and “keep your hands and laws off my p***y!!!” were met with boos and taunting as supporters filed in the arena. Police then pushed the protesters further away from the entrance.
I entered the arena from the bottom section as my attempt at gonzo journalism was thwarted by the Trump campaign’s lackluster website, which wouldn’t give me an RSVP. I went as media and that caused even more impending discomfort. Several people who saw my media credentials badge asked me what outlet I worked for. One man, who was clearly inquiring so I would potentially interview him and ask his thoughts about Trump, wondered who I was working for. When I told him, his jaw dropped and he began to stutter. “It’s, it’s great [BET is] hiring white people now,” he said clumsily before stumbling away. Clearly he knew nothing about the makeup of our company.
Conservative speakers then began to grace the stage with their hate. Josh Mandel, Ohio’s treasurer who alluded to voters in 2010 that his opponent was a Muslim, said America was founded on “Judeo-Christian values” and that the country should “double down” on that rather than be “watered down.” At this point, I began to fall asleep.
The crowd was age and gender diverse. Race-wise, I saw one Black person. He was a protester holding up one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” signs with the edit, “When was America ever great?” It’s a question that generally hasn’t had a definitive answer from Trump supporters even though we all know what the slogan means.
Prior to Thursday, Trump had softened his tone on some of his biggest campaign promises. He said he would keep some elements of the Affordable Care Act and backed down somewhat on his infamous plans to build a Mexican border wall. That all went out the window after the billionaire businessman took the stage.
The tired and insecure chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” and “lock her up” constantly interrupted Trump’s boastful speech. "The bottom line is we won!" Trump told the crowd – his Election Day victory being the focal point of yesterday’s message. He also called the media “very, very dishonest people,” alluding to their coverage of polls, which, for the most part, predicted a Clinton victory prior to Election Day. A man about 10 feet away from me kept screaming “fake news” and said media was “disgusting.” Around that time, a Hillary Clinton supporter was escorted out of the arena after yelling out at Trump. "They're mad they lost two weeks ago," he said after the crowd booed the protester out of the arena.
Perhaps the most ironic and scary part of the whole “Thank You” rally was the crowd’s silence when Trump mentioned that everyone should come together. The irony being that his campaign has been anything but unifying, which is why his supporters backed him. They’re tired of seeing this country’s demographics being changed, their white privilege being challenged. Unity and inclusion is far from what these people want — even after the election’s over.
I left Cincinnati tired and disheveled, but perhaps mostly worried about our future. It’s easier to marginalize when you’re in your own bubble. Do you realize, though, that white supremacy is in full swing? This is the tour that could mark the official beginning.
Paul Meara is a staff writer at BET.com and has penned features for Billboard, Complex, OkayAfrica and others. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara.
(All Photos: Paul Meara)