Joel Tooley, a Melbourne Florida pastor went to Facebook to write down his narrative of attending President Trump’s political rally where he finds that our worst nightmares about Donald Trump and his cult are worse than we had imagined. The Donald has not grown into the job but rather has turned the job into a endless campaign promotion of all things Trump.
What I am about to write and what you are about to read may make some people very uncomfortable, if not angry.
That is not my intention nor is it okay with me to cause anyone to stumble. That being said, what I experienced tonight was so dramatic that I cannot help but reflect on it and share what I experienced.
A few days ago, people across the United States heard the news that our newly elected President would be visiting Melbourne, Florida – our hometown. It is no surprise to many that I do not support many of the objectives and “campaignisms” of Donald Trump. I know many people who voted for him – friends, family, church people who all voted for their own reasons. The point of this experience is not to relay all of the reasons why I think he should not be the president. Those points are moot – he IS our President.
Now, I am enough of a sentimentalist that when I found out THEEEE President was coming to town, I got online quickly and reserved two tickets.
The tickets were being given away by the Trump-Pence campaign; I found it odd that the tickets indicated that this was not a government/White House event & that this was a campaign event. I have, of course, posted a joking post about that earlier. What I discovered was that by hosting this as a campaign event, Mr. Trump could determine who was and was not allowed in the venue. If he came on an official visit, they could not prohibit anyone from entering and he couldn’t sell his campaign merchandise.
So, in essence, he was only allowing his supporters in the room. Well, with a few exceptions…
I talked my 11-year-old daughter into coming with me. After all, how many times do you get to see the President of the United States in person – let alone in your hometown? I was eager for her to have this experience. It has to be a pretty cool thing, as a kid to see Air Force One, the President and the First Lady.
The event started at 5 PM; we got in line at the venue shortly after 2 PM and the line was already pretty long. There are several mini stories to be told about that experience but don’t need to be told for this post. Suffice it to say, it is always an intriguing sociological experience to be surrounded by people in line for something for which they are fanatics – whether it is for a movie premier, a live concert, the release of the latest beanie baby or Cabbage Patch kid. Fanatic people are fascinating to me.
While I am not a fan of Trump, I certainly did not want to come across as a vigilante protester while standing amongst some of his most adoring fans. I truly wanted to see if what I was going to witness in person was any different than what I had observed on TV.
The entry into the event was very impressive. I have always admired the professional posturing of the Secret Service, including those from our own local law-enforcement who were on duty serving in this capacity. These are women and men who should be highly commended for placing their lives on the line.
We entered the venue at 3 PM, two hours before the event started. As we entered, everyone was being handed pom-poms and Trump campaign signs. The hosts made sure everyone had a sign in their hand. Someone shoved one into my hand and gave pom-poms to my daughter.
I felt like a sheep in wolves clothing.
Music was playing loudly throughout the venue as it filled up with hundreds of people. I would guess there were eventually at least 3000 people in the room. It was nowhere near full, but there certainly were a lot of people there. From my view, the crowd was 99.9% white folk. I did see a row of about 10-12 supporters who were black, wearing T-shirts that said, “Trump and Republicans are not racist” – they were positioned in the seating area directly behind the podium.
We were about three rows of people from the very front and had a very good position to view the President and the platform. As people were coming in, there was a lot of excitement and a strong sense of patriotism. Approximately every 15 minutes, the music would be a little more enthusiastic and party-like. I posted my play-by-play feedback of “God bless the USA!” in an earlier post…it was almost church-like. People sang along, raising their hands and were emotionally moved by this anthem. It was intriguing to watch.
People were being ushered into a deeply religious experience…and it made me completely uncomfortable.
I love my country; I honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and I respect our history and what we stand for, but what I experienced in that moment sent shivers down my spine. I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the song per se – it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal.
You might liken it to the experience fans would have after their favorite team won the Super Bowl – faces painted, banners flying, confetti in the air and celebrating.
But this – this was deeper.
A couple of local politicians got up to bring greetings followed by state representative, followed by one of our Congress representatives. A soloist sang, “God bless America” and there was a strong sense of patriotism in the room. A pastor got up to pray and repeatedly prayed throughout his prayer, “Thank you for making this the greatest nation on earth…in Jesus’ name.”
Uh-uh. No. No way, josé.
Pastor, this is not the greatest nation on earth. The greatest nation on earth does not exist. Are we a great nation? Definitely. But there are many other great nations as well. Pastor, you have your eyes on a different kind of “greatness” and certainly a different kind of kingdom. Shame on you for praying those words in Jesus’ name!
Suddenly, the music changed from the pep rally theme to something that seemed more Star Wars themed. The crowd went crazy and turned towards the opening of the airplane hangar that was the venue, just as Air Force One pulled up.
What a magnificent sight! That enormous airliner is absolutely breathtaking. The crowd was going wild; signs waving in the air, people cheering, and every cell phone was positioned to take photos and video. As the First Lady and the President emerged at the top of the stairs, the air was electric! It really is a magnificent image to see in person!
As they entered the venue and walked to the platform, there was terrific celebration. I have been in the room when other Presidents were in a similar mode – it is always such a meaningful experience to be that close to them, regardless of whether or not you view them with adoration. Theeeee President of the USA!
The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer.
I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative.
People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, “be the glory forever and ever, amen!” As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, “USA! USA! USA!”
Just as the President begin to speak, a short grandmotherly lady in front of us asked me if I would help hold her walker – the kind that has a seat built into it. She said, “I need to climb up on it and hold something up.” Such an odd request at such an odd place at such an odd time. So, I helped her.
She held a pillowcase that had something written on the front of it, words I could not see. She climbed up onto the seat, wobbly-legged and held the sign up above her head. People in front of her turned around and started jeering and yelling at her. After holding her sign up for about 10 seconds, she climbed back down and thanked me. I asked her what her sign said – it read, “You had your chance, now resign!”
The very first words out of the President’s mouth were the words of a bully. That is not simply one person’s perspective, it is factual. He immediately began badgering and criticizing the media; like a bully inciting a crowd.
Now, do I think the media needs to be held to a high standard and be able to be held accountable? Absolutely! The media as a whole has become sadly non-journalistic and more entertainment, in my opinion.
Call it what you will, but I was completely dumbfounded as the most powerful leader in the world began his speech by badgering the media. The crowd began screaming angrily at the entire press corps that was present.
He could have said something inspiring and worthy of a Tweet or Facebook post, instead he emerged as an overly powerful bully. Literally, everything that he began speaking about evoked this angry response from the crowd. Immediately following the words of prayer that Jesus taught his followers…
It was then that I heard two ladies off to my left chanting, not yelling or screaming but chanting, “T-R….U-M-P; that’s how you spell – bigotry!” They repeated the rhyme over and over.
Two ladies in front of them began seething and screaming in their face while shaking their Trump signs at them. Another couple standing behind them started screaming at them as well. One of the chanting ladies had her eight-year-old daughter on her back; the other had a severely disabled child in a wheelchair in front of her. As they continued chanting, the people around them became violently enraged. One angry man grabbed the lady’s arm – that’s when I went into action. I barged through the crowd and yelled at them to back off. My heart wasn’t racing; I just instinctively became a protector.
I didn’t actually want a Trump sign, but one of the volunteers had shoved it into my hands as I walked through the door earlier; “Make America Great Again!” That sign probably saved someone from getting hurt. I held the sign close to my chest as I positioned myself between the chanting protesters and the angry mob. My 11-year-old daughter was clinging to my arm, sobbing in fear.
The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, “F*#% YOU!” Repeatedly.
I calmly responded, “No thank you, I’m happily married.” Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.
I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.
I raised my voice and calmly said, “These ladies have the right to do what they are doing and they are harming no one; this is America and they a right to express themselves in this way. They are harming no one.” A couple of other people around me stepped in and supported me in protecting them as a barrier, as well.
My daughter was shaking in fear as she clung to me. The one man behind the protesters shoved himself forward, grabbed the lady by the arm and screamed with multiple expletives, “I’m going to take you out! This is my president and nobody has the right to disrespect him and nobody has the right to keep me from hearing him!”
I wish I could have captured the expressions of that man on camera. I will never forget him.
The little girl on her mother’s back was crying, completely frightened. I leaned forward and reassured her in her ear, “Your mommy is being brave and we will not let these people hurt you. You are afraid because these are angry, awful people. We will not let them hurt you or your mommy. You are being so brave and your mommy is doing something very brave.”
That’s when another lady screamed in my face that what I was doing was un-American. I just chuckled and responded, “What I am doing is completely American – I’m standing up for people who are being bullied – it doesn’t matter if I agree with them or not. You came here to see the President, now ignore these ladies, turn around and enjoy the show.” Without explanation, they calm down and turned around to hear what Trump had to say.
The two protesters then moved towards the back and left the building. I got a couple of high-fives and “thanks for stepping up for them” from bystanders . I wanted to say, “Thanks. Where were you when the the demons were screaming and fists were getting ready to start swinging?”
Once again, the environment reminded me of some church experiences I’ve had. Bystanders.
I have no clue what Trump was saying at that point – draining the swamp, vetting refugees, and other things. Oh yeah, I heard people chanting, “Build that wall, build that wall!”
I realized then that we were not listening to someone presidential, we were listening to someone terribly powerful.
My kid was shaken – she had just seen some of the worst of humanity. We edged ourselves away from the front of the room to the opening of the hangar so we could get a clearer picture of Air Force One. I wanted to give her at least one positive presidential memory.
The crowd was much thinner at the back of the room, people were leaving by the hundreds. Outside, there were two jumbotrons set up for a potential overflow – there really wasn’t a need for them. There were maybe a couple of hundred people outside watching on the big screens.
Not too far behind that group was a large group of protesters.
Inside, Trump had rallied the group by giving a little bit of attention to the “paid protesters outside.” Now, I can’t speak for all of them, but I asked a few where they were from and why they were there – every single one of them were from different cities in Florida and could quickly articulate why they were there. They were not paid protesters – not the ones I spoke with.
I’m trying to separate how I actually feel about this man and his campaignisms. I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.
Now, not everyone in the room was a part of the angry mob mentality – I looked around the room and saw many people who could quite easily be folks from my neighborhood, folks from my church, folks who were planning to go grab a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel afterwards. Folks who truly wanted to see America “great.” The people who support the Republican Party want to see some needed changes in the government – the people that were there for that reason, are by and large good folks. But those are not the people the President was inciting – they are not the people he was leading. He was rallying the angry, vigilant ones.
As we began to leave, I knew my daughter could not possibly care less about Air Force One or the fact that she saw the President of the United States and his wife, in the flesh. I truly had hoped that she could have had that sentimental experience.
What she WILL remember is the angry, violent man screaming demonic vitriol at a child and her mother. She will remember the two ladies screaming at her Dad, her pastor – flipping the middle finger and using the F word repeatedly.
Now, I know there are people who are convinced that I am jaded and cannot fairly give this man a fair chance. Perhaps that’s true. But please remember, especially those of you who know me well, I am a student of culture and human behavior. I am not a stubborn, close minded individual who likes to stick to the status quo. I know there are people who long for me to see the good things about this President and to talk about THOSE things. I know there are people who want me to realize that not everything he is doing is bad and that every President has their strengths and weaknesses and…
I know there are people who, when they see these words and hear my thoughts will feel badly because perhaps they can’t like me as much as they once did because they don’t agree with me. They want me to like the President that they like – they want me to see him the way they see him.
I’m sorry. I cannot. You see, the angry, F-word-spewing man is what has been depended on throughout this campaign and is the one who is still being counted on to sustain the message. I tried.
As we left the room, these words were echoing in my mind, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”
At the end of the day, I’m a citizen of a nation – I have a leader who God is very aware and who has tremendous responsibilities. I MUST and will pray for him. I’m a citizen of this world and I must continue to see beyond my own limited world view to seek ways to obediently serve Christ. But greater still, I am a citizen of a different kind of Kingdom – the Kingdom that strives for peace, mercy, kindness and a love-relationship with the King of kings.
May God have mercy on me.