Political Rallies Should Belong to the People

We should have seen this coming. Political rallies are becoming scripted stage plays. We saw an early version of this strategy play out in Eugene over a decade ago. Since then, things have gotten progressively worse.

Last weekend, Rose Hamid, a 56-year-old flight attendant, was expelled from a South Carolina political rally for Donald Trump for standing in silent protest. A week ago, Trump kicked out a protester in New Hampshire with these words to his security detail: “Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat. You know, it’s about 10 degrees below zero outside. No, you can keep his coat. Tell him we’ll send it to him in a couple of weeks.” The audience laughed. Trump on Monday ejected one of his own supporters for heckling, “This is boring.”

Protester expulsions have become part of Trump’s strong-man act. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote, “If protesters didn’t show up, Trump would have to hire actors to play those parts.” Attendees are invited into the drama, using a coded chant if they spot a dissenter.

The charade builds the narrative that drives Trump’s campaign. He will handle anyone who disagrees with him, not bound by comity or so-called political correctness. If you wish you could act that way without suffering any consequences, get close to him. Trump will make you great (again).

I remember nothing at all about the first political rally I ever attended — except the security, such as it was.

My mother allowed me to take a half day off from first grade to see Richard Nixon’s campaign stop at an airport near our house. I remember two things from that cold Chicago afternoon. I remember trying to keep the waving man in the center of a diamond-shaped frame, as I peered through the chainlink fence. And I remember not knowing whether the fence was there to keep us out or to keep him in.

Candidates stopping in airports is nothing new, but the rules are being rewritten.

Perry Patterson heard that Dick Cheney was planning a quick campaign stop at the Eugene airport in 2004. She thought it odd that the event would require a ticket, and odder that the tickets were available only at the local Republican campaign office.

“I thought it was a city-sponsored event,” she told me this week.

The event location moved a few times, she recalls, but eventually everyone with a ticket was bussed out to Monaco Motor Coach’s hangar on airport property.

Cheney’s speech included this line, referring to the Iraq War’s toppling of Saddam Hussein: “This administration has made the world a safer place.” Patterson describes her reaction as an out-of-body experience.

“I just said, ‘No!’ I may have said it more than once,” she recalled. “I was feeling like everybody was being led to a slaughter. You just want to stop that.”

Patterson, who hadn’t attended the event with any intent to disrupt it, was quickly surrounded by security personnel. She had a ticket just like everybody else, but was charged with trespassing. Charges eventually were dropped, but only after more than a year of legal headaches.

Some would like to see publicly financed political campaigns, but maybe that’s asking for too much. As long as money and speech are equated, money will find its way into political campaigns, however circuitous we make its path.

What we really need is publicly financed campaign rallies. People want their voices heard by the candidates seeking their vote. Isn’t that the deal? If the 2004 event had nonpartisan security, Patterson’s interruption of Vice President Cheney’s speech would have been handled appropriately by local authorities.

Allowing candidates to marginalize protesters hurts everyone. Dissent and compromise are scripted out of campaigns, leaving voters and candidates alike ill prepared for the rigor of divided government.

Patterson doesn’t watch TV, but she did see a Youtube clip of Hamid’s protest. Things have gotten worse since 2004. Security personnel overreacted, but none of the people around her expressed any anger toward her. But Trump’s events seem to encourage a mob mentality.

Patterson sighed, “We have to keep our humanity.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.