It was a carnival of the bizarre.
As soon as I stepped out of my vehicle, I saw a “F--- Biden” flag flying next to someone’s RV. A pickup nearby had the same message painted on both its doors – with firearms forming each letter.
Then I saw someone walk by wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jesus Christ is my savior and Donald Trump is my president.”
Nearby, a booth was selling bumper stickers that said “FU46” (Biden is our 46th president).
I thought of the words of Jesus who said in Matthew 5:22: “If you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.”
June 25, I covered my first Donald Trump rally.
But it was hardly my first presidential event. I’ve covered rallies for Bill Clinton, both Bushes and Barack Obama. But the Trump rally in Mendon, Illinois, was different.
I’m an evangelical Christian. I’m a rural voter. And I’m a white male who supports limited government and low taxes. Statistically, I ought to be right in the middle of the Trump sweet spot.
Sorry, folks. I’m not there. For the life of me, I don’t understand the obsequious devotion many have for our 45thpresident.
Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow, spoke at the Trump rally of his Christian faith, overcoming his addiction to crack cocaine and becoming a successful businessman. As annoying as I find his television ads, I have to say I find his personal story uplifting. After all, Christianity is about redemption.
But then I saw T-shirts being hawked that read: “Joe and the Hoe Gotta Go.” Why are they calling Kamala Harris a hoe? It’s obviously a racist pejorative too often hurled at Black women. Some might say it’s a reference to her long-ago affair with San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. I don’t condone adultery.
But Trump has had multiple extramarital affairs during his lifetime and his supporters seem willing to look past those. And in the case of Lindell, the forgiveness of his past sins is celebrated – along with his support for Trump.
I thought of Jesus’ words in John 8:7 when a woman caught in the act of adultery was thrown in front of him in the temple court. The religious leaders demanded that she be stoned. But Jesus said, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."
I was perplexed enough by this seeming dichotomy that I asked a Trump supporter about it.
His name is David Blumenshine, and he coordinates GOP gubernatorial hopeful Darren Bailey’s campaign for much of central Illinois. He also was at the rally.
I asked him, as a believer, if he was OK with the “F- Biden” flags all around us.
“My wife and I aren't, uh, real pleased about it, but you know, it is what it is. We have a First Amendment for a reason.”
I agree that Trump and his supporters have every right to say those things. But that doesn’t mean they’re constructive, unifying or good for the country.
Back when I was a college student, then-vice president George H.W. Bush said after a debate, "We tried to kick a little ass last night," in his face-off with Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.
Americans were outraged at the crudeness of the statement and dismayed that such words would come from the lips of a sitting vice president.
In our post-Trump political world, such a statement would hardly raise an eyebrow.
Many in the crowd were ebullient over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings overturning Roe v. Wade and expanding gunowner rights. Trump promised he would appoint justices who supported such measures – and he delivered.
Those are political accomplishments his supporters can point to when explaining their support for the 45th president. All politicians cite their accomplishments, but few have the devotion that Trump draws.
A chaplain gave the invocation for the rally. During the prayer, which was interrupted multiple times by cheers, the pastor expressed dismay at the blurring of lines of masculinity and femininity. Hours later, Trump was critical of the transgender movement.
But in between, the crowd was entertained with such songs as “Macho Man” and “YMCA” by the Village People.
In my more than 35 years in the news business, I’ve never covered an American political rally like this one. The closest I have come was in 1999 in Havana, Cuba.
I had traveled there with Gov. George Ryan, and Fidel Castro held an impromptu news conference. A reporter asked the dictator, who had ruled for 40 years, if it was about time for there to be an election.
Castro walked out of the news conference and stood before a crowd of hundreds, perhaps thousands, who had waited in the heat to see him.
Castro yelled, “Is it time for an election?” The crowd in unison shouted “No! No! No!” And then they chanted, “Fidel, Fidel, Fidel.”
It was unlike anything I have witnessed – until this past week.
As Trump cited his accomplishments, the crowd responded with their own chant, “Thank you, Trump. Thank you, Trump. Thank you, Trump.”
My mind was transported back to Havana, and once again, I thought: “This is a personality cult.”
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].