Donald Trump’s trip to PGH marked by fear, excitement
Confirmed physical object and presidential candidate Donald Trump held two Pittsburgh events last Wednesday: a taped town hall at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum and a rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The unease around both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon campuses prior to both events was palpable. There was a protest that took the form of a sit-in on the lawn at Soldiers and Sailors. It was advertised as peaceful and attendees were encouraged to not harm or interact with Trump supporters. A counter-protest had a decidedly less peaceful tone, as people were encouraged to open carry weapons such as AR- and AK-style semi-automatic weapons to “prevent roadblocks.” This scared quite a few people away from attending the earlier Trump event.
The rally downtown also had a designated protest area that was filled with mostly college students, but inside the actual event were thousands of Trump supporters.
Doors opened hours before the event, leaving us to survey the convention center floor. Supporters were donned in everything from suits and ties to shirts that read “Hillary sucks but not like Monica,” a reference to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and anti-bullying advocate Monica Lewinsky. The shirts were being sold outside with other inflammatory gear including a sign that said “finally someone with balls” alongside the regular “make America great again” hats associated with the campaign.
The Trump campaign’s choice of pre-show music ranged from the epic (Giacomo Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”) to the frightening (Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”) and the fade-out of every song was met with chants of “USA!” or “Build that wall!” until, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, an opener came on for Trump. He focused on veterans issues and running the country like a business to a lot of indifference and occasional fanfare when he said he didn’t like Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX).
After the opening speaker and a few minutes of anticipation, a voice came over the loudspeakers informing us that Trump loved the First Amendment as much as he loved the Second Amendment. That seemed to be a bizarre way to describe how Trump feels about free speech, but the voice clarified. They revealed that the designated protest area was provided by Trump himself and that he was not required to allow protesters into a private event. Attendees who witnessed a protester were encouraged not to touch or harm the protester (an image the Trump campaign is trying to shake) but instead to “raise [their] signs over [their] heads and chant ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ until the protester is escorted from the venue by security.” The scene felt like something out of The Giver and really would not help with people who came in feeling Trump was a fascist with dangerously loyal and mindless supporters.
Trump then came on stage to 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” adding to the celebratory atmosphere.
The Republican frontrunner did not get off to a great start. He spoke about his connection to Philadelphia before saying he was going to bring back embattled and also dead Penn State football coach Joe Paterno before remembering he was in Pittsburgh and scrambling to say something about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Trump recovered quickly however, railing on his message about how free trade deals — the North American Free Trade Agreement in particular — have destroyed Western Pennsylvania to raucous applause. He went through his usual shtick about Lyin’ Ted, the national debt that requires a businessman, and the dishonest media focusing on the failed deals he made 18 years ago and not his successes.
Trump then went on a bizarre tangent claiming that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un must be smart to have taken over North Korea at such a young age despite the ruthless generals that could have conspired to stop him. It’s unclear if Trump understands how cults of personality or the North Korean government work. To be fair to Trump, he was not saying Kim is a good leader, just that he must be smart to have been given North Korea as his inheritance.
After the rally and before we left, I caught up with a few Trump supporters to ask about their feelings on Trump and the rally. Local high school student and fake name creator extraordinaire Dawson Creek told me that he felt it was important to have someone who knows money pay off the national debt. Other local Trump supporters, like Lynn Tambellini and Amy Williams, echoed this sentiment. They added on that it resonated with them when Trump talked about building the military back up.
Both also claimed their favorite part of the rally was when Trump said “Ted Cruz holds up the Bible and then he lies,” indicating appreciation for the occasionally negative tone of Trump’s campaign.
As I left the arena, police in riot gear on Fort Duquesne Boulevard were separating Trump supporters and protesters. I passed a clash between a protester in a car holding a “F–k Trump” sign and a supporter yelling “Oh I know, they must be on welfare!” to which the protester replied, “No, you’re just f–king stupid.”
It was about par for the course in the aftermath of the rally.
Trump is the latest in a string of candidates to hold events in Western Pennsylvania as the Pennsylvania primary approaches on April 26.