Even post-election, Trump is all spectacle

Last night, after an already busy week ducking national security briefings, cancelling press conferences, and naming Kanye West America’s official “Black Friend”, President Elect Donald J. Trump continued his whistle-stop tour through the parts of the country the Russians allegedly duped into voting for him.

Yesterday’s leg of the trip brought Trump to West Allis, Wisconsin, which as it happens is right in my neck of the woods. So, being a junior snowflake of the evil elitist media bubble, I dutifully logged on and made a reservation for two tickets to the event. Or at least I tried to, twice, but the confirmation number was never texted to my phone. Undeterred, I set out into the cold Wisconsin evening anyway.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, which I’m sure is pretty much all of you, let me take a moment to introduce you to West Allis, or ‘Stallis’ as it’s known in the local parlance. Stallis is a suburb of Milwaukee, sitting east and a little south.

I lived in Stallis for thirteen months a few years back, right next to a gentleman’s club that changed names and management with the same frequency as I change oil in my car. It is a lower middle class, blue collar haven for people who have been priced out of Milwaukee itself, but still want to live close to their jobs of the city proper. Stallis is almost wholly unremarkable, its only claim to fame being home to the Wisconsin State Fair grounds.

It was there, in one of the smaller expo halls, that Trump’s Merry Christmas/Thank You rally took place. My journey to bask in the orange glow of the former host of The Apprentice was more fraught than I had first anticipated. Milwaukee County police, presumably under orders from the Secret Service, had shut down the westbound lanes of I-94, a major artery that cuts through Milwaukee and the primary route to West Allis.

The reason for this closure remains unclear to me, but after five years living in the city, I knew enough alternate routes to make up for it. Regardless, a trip that normally would have taken fifteen minutes instead took close to an hour.

Street parking secured about a quarter mile from the venue, I set out. Along the way, I watched two dimwitted, middle-aged men get the bright idea to take a shortcut by sneaking past a giant temporary fence sporting a restricted area sign. They made it all of ten feet before a spotlight fell on them and shouts of “Freeze!” filed the air from multiple directions inside the grounds.

For just a second, I thought I might see a couple of idiots get shot by SS agents, but cooler heads prevailed and they were turned back with instructions to read the damned signs next time.

At the gate, a small knot of a few dozen protesters held signs, chanted, and swayed along to the performance of one drummer whose enthusiasm outstripped her talents with percussion instruments by a wide margin.

The turnout of protesters was thin, but considering the “Free Speech Zone” was set up outside in single-digit temperatures, hardly surprising.

A smattering of local news vans set up camp just outside the building. There was very little national media presence from what I could see. Once inside, I noticed a pair of protesters in the security line that had decided to ditch the free speech zone and come inside where it was warm. The lines, even as the event had already gotten underway, were quite short and fast moving. 

Metal detectors had been erected to scan for weapons. A necessary precaution, especially in a concealed carry state. To my surprise, no one asked about my reservations. No attempts were made to check anyone for tickets to the event.

I quickly realized why.

Even while Wisconsin Governor and Presidential washout Scott Walker warmed up the crowd, it became obvious why no one was worried about tickets. The expo hall, itself not very big, had dividers erected along its centerline, yet still wasn’t anywhere close to capacity. Fewer than three thousand people were in attendance. Police and Secret Service agents milled about, bored.

Walker finished, and brought up Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit Former Trump aide says he canceled CNN appearance over 'atrocious' Helsinki coverage MORE (R-Wis.), who has never stopped looking like a kid who borrowed his dad’s suit for picture day. Ryan’s speech was a short affair that echoed the same red meat and platitudes we’d just heard from Gov Walker, and he soon handed the mic over to Vice President Elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceLewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Indiana has spent over million on cleanup of failed Pence family gas stations: report What really happened with the breastfeeding scandal in Geneva MORE.

Pence was the only one of any of the speakers whose voice and stage presence could be called professional. He projects confidence and statesmanship in a way completely unavailable to Walker, Ryan, or Trump himself. But, his time out of the kennel was as brief as Ryan’s had been.

Honestly, feature comics get twenty minutes or more to warm up a crowd for their headliner. I mean, only a completely narcissistic diva of a performer would muzzle their warm-up acts to dominated the stage time offered by… oh, right. 

Sorry, I forgot who we were talking about for a second. Pence finished with the promise that his new boss was “[G]oing to make America great against so fast, you won’t even believe it.”

On that point, we agree. I certainly don’t believe it.That’s when Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE took the stage to the joyous adulation of the diminished crowd. Trump thanked them for swinging Wisconsin his way, then immediately started to gloat about the results of the recount, which had only been announced the previous day. He danced around Dr. Stein’s efforts and a waste of millions of dollars and thousands of man hours, saying “I’m not going to call it a scam, so they (pointing at the press) can’t report that I called it a scam.”

Sure thing, Donald. He didn’t call it a scam. And I didn’t remind everyone around me that he settled a lawsuit against his scam University for twenty-five million dollars.

He went on to crow about the extra one hundred and thirty-one votes the state recount had turned up for him, observing just how important “[C]ounting every vote is.” 

Uh huh.

Except for the votes in MI and PA which he sued to block, or the three million popular votes that he lost by. From there, Trump moved on to talk about the ‘honor’ of being chosen Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year,’ but expressed dismay that they’d changed it from ‘Man of the Year.’

He’d tried this line before to a small crowd in Ohio, blaming those mealy-mouthed politically-correct editors at Time for the unforgivable sin of recognizing that more than half of human beings don’t have male genitals. He polled the crowd, asking first if they preferred ‘Person of the Year.’

Murmurs of agreement. Then, ‘Man of the Year,’ and the crowd went nuts, including the women who were specifically being excluded by the patriarchal language.

From there, Trump went into all of his old hits. He was going to Build the Wall, and criticized the people who said he wouldn’t after the election, conveniently overlooking the fact he was one of those people.

A brief round of ‘Build the Wall’ chanting broke out, but couldn’t sustain itself for long. He was going to Drain the Swamp! Nevermind that he’s draining the swamp using a siphon that dumps all of its contents directly into his cabinet and White house staff. His promise to repeal Obamacare was met with a wave of applause, including from an elderly, obese woman in an electric scooter complete with an oxygen tank who cheered for the death of the ACA in between coughing fits.

Indeed, the only hit single missing from the playlist were any calls to Lock Her Up. I guess that one’s been taken off his wish list.

It was at this point that I started getting bored and began looking around at the other people who had, for their own reasons, chosen to spend a perfectly good Taco Tuesday surrounded by, well, the sorts of people who voted for Donald Trump. Most were either older or working-class.

A few younger, college crowd types hung around, but their faces and lack of enthusiasm told me they were there for the same reason I was, reconnaissance. But, the most conspicuous thing were the minorities in attendance. And by in attendance, I mean nowhere to be found.

The only black people I saw were either on-duty police, or working concessions.

Milwaukee is a majority-minority city. White people are outnumbered by everybody else. Not by a great deal, but still. We’re also a city of festivals. Summerfest, German Fest, Polish Fest,

Festival Italiana, Bastille Days, Jazz in the Park. At all of these, the multiculturalism of our city is on full display in the rainbow of attendees. You have to work at it not to see any black people at an event. I mean, Garth Brooks selling gluten-free kayaks levels of deliberately not appealing to black folks is necessary. It was the whitest crowd I have ever seen. And I went to a KISS concert. In the 2000s.

Which is the lasting impression I was left with as I walked away from the sea of red MAGA hats and star-struck true-believers. Absent was the sense of a victory rally for the most powerful man in the world as he prepares to ascend his throne. Instead, it felt like the last leg of a fading rock star’s farewell tour.

Dwindling crowds of fans turning out more from a sense of duty and nostalgia than genuine excitement. One last chance to see their favorite performer, hear the Greatest Hits and sing along with their favorite lyrics. Yet it had become a hollow experience, a rote, mechanical pantomime of the rituals they’d all come to follow.

Even as Trump continued to drone on, the already small crowd began to thin out, with people of all walks of life peeling away quietly as Secret Service agents looked on impassively.

If I could pick a single word to describe the mood of the attendees, it would be melancholy.

Trump’s popularity has already crested. Now, the tide is pulling back even before he steps into office. How long, I wonder, before the silence of those dwindling crowds and the weight of his duties pile on? How long before he’s staring at himself in the dressing room mirror as his makeup is being applied and realizes all of the fun is already in the past?

Patrick Tomlinson is an author and regular contributor to the Hill on state, local and national politics. Follow him on Twitter @stealthygeek.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.