When I saw a convoy of City of Salem SWAT vehicles and canine units headed down Interstate 5, I knew I was headed for trouble. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was scheduled to appear at the Lane County Convention Center in Eugene, Oregon, at 7:00 p.m. The fantasy scenario I’d written up months ago was becoming reality, though with a slight adjustment. Trump would visit the home of the University of Oregon Ducks, not Portland.
When I arrived at the venue with my press credentials, I was waved through to parking, and after the last Secret Service sweep of the building, the press lined up for body searches. Equipment-laden reporters and photographers were given a good sniff test by bomb-sniffing dogs, but I sailed through. When you’re mostly doing think-pieces, you travel light.
The nice thing about a press credential is that you’re cordoned off and have more personal space than you would among the general admission crowd. I even found a chair, and a perfect view of the podium. The bad thing about a press credential at a Trump rally is that you have to wear the badge, and I knew he was going to call out the press corps as dishonest, horrible people. It’s become an integral part of Trump’s live show — a riff about the deeply embedded distrust conservative and traditionalist citizens have for the news media. It’s enough to engender doubts about whether the unabashedly leftist media bias is going to be effective this cycle.
As the convention hall filled up, a serious-sounding voice came over the public address system, asking Trump fans not to touch any protester who manages to infiltrate the event. Rather they should point at them and chant “Trump!” until security can eject them.
One thing that struck me while waiting was the heavy rotation of Rolling Stones songs on the campaign soundtrack. “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Heart of Stone.” Earlier in the week, the Stones told Trump to stop using their songs. He may owe the Glimmer Twins some royalty payments.
There was a crush towards the front as the moment of arrival drew near. A woman came out of the scrum covered in sweat. Leaning on the press barrier, she told me she’d given up her place at the edge of the stage because she felt she was going to faint from the heat. Moments later, a young man staggered out of the crowd — and literally collapsed at my feet.
He was quickly tended to by other patrons, who put damp napkins on his head and got him off the floor.
If you’ve ever seen a Trump speech, you’ve seen a variation on the speech he gave on May 6 — but with one important distinction. Having dispatched the competition, this was Trump’s victory lap night, and the gathering took on the aspect of a celebration.
The biggest cheer of the evening came when Trump explained how, with his rivals vanquished, these final primary campaign stops had become, strategically speaking, unnecessary. After Trump asked his staff about venue arrangements and how many supporters had indicated interest, he followed through on the visits despite having presumably sewn up the nomination.
Another hearty cheer came when Trump extolled the virtues of unpredictability, how being unpredictable can be a good thing. A few protesters had gotten inside and raised their typical ruckus, enabling the people to point and chant, and Trump to utter his now famous “Get ‘em out.”
Trump did call out the press — three times. He castigated their dishonesty while the assemblage provided a low, sustained “Boo!” With a few exceptions (I couldn’t help but laugh) the media took this condemnation glumly. By any political playbook it was good stuff. The crowd of 4400 loved it.
Many more people stood outside, barred by the fire marshal from admittance. Eugene is a bastion of progressivism, but the suburbs and rural areas of Lane County are Trump country.
After the speech, I jumped into the knot of younger supporters at the edge of the stage, and got a good look at the man I intend to vote for in November.
Once outside, I saw that Salem’s SWAT convoy had been necessary. Protesters had shown up, hundreds of them. Some of them were violent, and some were blocking the main gate. To exit the parking lot, Trump fans had to take a circuitous route out the rear gate and into the restive progressive neighborhoods.
Driving back to Portland with the radio set to an ’80s station, I found myself thinking about the recently departed Prince and his hit “1999.” Trump supporters had partied like American jobs were no longer being leeched away by globalist corporations and manipulative foreign interests. They partied like America’s border was secure, like laws were being enforced to prevent immigrants from entering the country illegally.
They partied like Common Core was toast and the Iran nuclear deal was shredded. Like the wages of the War on Terror had gotten a whole new appraisal, especially with regard to the safety of the American people. They partied like Hillary Clinton, who Rush Limbaugh now predicts could lose to Trump in a landslide, was already defeated.
They partied like it was 2017, and Donald J. Trump was already president.