Reality tv Essay

What do reality stars look like in real life? All week, he’d been the spectacle looming over Cleveland: on T-shirts and posters, grinning from buttons, the face of the statues I’d seen protesters carrying around town. Eventually, I stood on the floor of the Republican National Convention, surrounded by delegates from across the nation, and watched Donald Trump deliver the longest speech I’d ever heard.

Naturally, I was grateful for the opportunity to experience such a monumental event in our political history; anyone in attendance that week would have expressed the same sentiment. My commitment and work ethic to my high school debate organization (read: some really good luck) had scored me an all-expenses paid trip to Cleveland, along with six other student leaders selected from across the nation.

It wasn’t necessarily a Trump rally – there were speakers like black pastor Mark Burns who reminded us that all lives matter, and Dr. Lisa Shin, the Korean-American who said Hillary Clinton was a “threat” to the American dream – but there was no doubt, from the audience’s fervor, that this was Donald J. Trump’s event.

In person, in front of a wall of digital stars and stripes, his tan is less intense than on television – more of a dull beige – and, oddly, the color of his lips blends in with rest of his face. The overall effect is cartoon-like – he’s essentially a shiny egg with drops of sweat forming on his upper lip. But these people in this arena must have loved omelettes, because they were going crazy for him.

I began my night on the upper tier of seating, high above the delegates gathered on the floor below. But by the time Ivanka Trump had come out to sell us on the idea of her father as a shepherd for a distressed nation of sheep, I had made it to the floor, not far from the Wyoming and New Mexico delegations. As I weaved my way through the crowd, herds of journalists rushed past me; I could practically feel the waves of desperation radiating from the man who raced after a representative from Iowa, shouting, “Representative King, if I could just have a moment of your time to discuss comments you made on racial relations this month!” In the back of my mind, I knew this was the reporter’s chance to gain some temporary recognition during a time when people were becoming increasingly skeptical of mainstream media. With some luck, his headline would be the one trending nationwide on Twitter the next morning.

At this point in the day, I was sweating from head to toe. The summer heat had crept into the indoor arena and settled beneath my black blazer, and my skin had become sticky with salt. The climate reminded me of home: blazing hot temperatures in Houston, Texas, where the humidity in the air is so tangible it’s basically always raining. But despite my familiarity with Republicans and those with opposing viewpoints back in the lone star state, I didn’t feel even remotely at home in the Quicken Loans Arena. The strikingly bright color of the red hats contrasted the image of conservatively dressed businessmen established in my mind for so long. The angry boos and nasty insults directed at Ted Cruz destroyed the ideals of respect and morality I had come to associate with the party. If this was the treatment a lifelong Republican received, how could we expect this rebranded party to represent families hesitant to accept Trump as a role model for their children?

Quite a few white men have attended Trump rallies and been among his fans with the ease that comes from being with people who appear to be like you. It’s the same ease employed out in the real world; why wouldn’t it apply here?

But in that moment, I felt several things. I felt 5 feet and 4 inches tall (at least, according to my doctor). I felt brown as coffee. I felt like a teenage girl and a foreigner. And in the time I spent down on the floor, I did not feel compassionate, kind, or open-minded. I was frightened – and not for my physical safety, which never felt truly threatened, despite one man’s continued shoving. But standing there, listening to repeated chants of “WE LOVE TRUMP” and “LOCK HER UP” and “BUILD THAT WALL” and “U-S-A” fill the air around me, I was scared in a way that made my heart pound, and my head throb.

I suppose I was scared that people could think like this so naturally. I was frightened because it was apparent that people truly believed that under Trump, taxes would be lowered, and that bridges and roads would be rebuilt and jobs would be summoned out of thin air. A border wall would solve all our problems. Guns would remain for everyone who wants them (except law-abiding, gun-toting citizens of color killed by cops, as evidenced by the fatal shooting of Philando Castile a few weeks prior).

I was scared because I was looking around that arena, and it felt like I was at a church; but instead of preaching love and tolerance, the men and women were preaching nonsensical propaganda, built on the illusion of a somewhat charismatic leader and made up of misleading half-truths. Even if Hillary Clinton won the election in a landslide, I was certain this faction of Republicanism would live longer than her four-year term. It terrified me to think that this misguided and passionate resentment would linger long after the chaos of 2016.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the what it means to be charismatic. I realized charm simply plays off of its audience. The person being charmed needs to already have the seed of belief in them for any message to truly establish itself. All around me were men who were probably beloved grandfathers– men with age spots and white hair or no hair at all – whooping like teenage boys, clapping fervently, cackling at crude jokes. The people surrounding me in that arena believed in Donald Trump completely. There was no doubt that his charm had landed.

When Trump talked about knowing the system better than anyone and draining the swamp, an older man behind me turned to his friend, and said “I love him” in the awed tone of voice a young girl might use to describe a member of One Direction. When Trump tried for humility as he thanked the evangelicals for their support – “I’m not sure I deserve it” – another man near me turned and exclaimed, “That was amazing!” There was a dreamy element to all the praise for Trump I was overhearing, a collective “this is our guy.” It was kind of like when your best friend tells you about a guy she’s just met and breathlessly sighs, “I think he’s the one.”

Trump’s campaign team had convinced these individuals they were living in a country overrun by creatures of hell, and he alone could save them. Forget Buffy the vampire slayer, and enter Donald J. Trump, business and real estate mogul. How could you not admire the leader swearing to slay all of America’s monsters?

By the end of the night, my feet were exhausted, my mind was exhausted, my heart was exhausted. When the balloons and confetti came floating down from their metal cage high above our heads, the men and women around me gasped in awe, because balloons make most humans look like fools. Like impulsive toddlers, they pushed each other aside in an attempt to grab for the confetti (red, white, and blue, of course). I made eye contact with another girl who’d been standing nearby all evening, silent like me.

We hesitantly began to laugh: gently at first, then harder, until our laughter felt like something sorrowful.

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