And then there was one. *gulp*
With the suspensions of the Cruz and Kasich campaigns, Donald Trump is now the last GOP contender standing for the Republican nomination for President. And while the GOP establishment is busy rummaging in its file cabinet for its Plan J and K strategies (one can only hope), it seems more likely than ever that Trump will be the contender in the general election. With the general election just over the horizon, Trump now has to focus on winning independents and rallying minority voters to his side; however, the minority vote has been difficult to capture for Trump. And no, that Cinco De Mayo taco bowl from Trump Tower Grill didn’t help. That’s why I wanted to see for myself what a Trump rally looked like as an Asian American observer.
Two months ago, I visited a Trump rally to hear what Asian American millennials really thought about the likely Republican Presidential nominee. While I do admit that my flight response was triggered a few times, especially being one of a handful of AAPIs present, the discussions I did have with fellow AAPIs were pretty enlightening.
When I arrived at the rally, I immediately saw anti-Trump protesters. Brightly decorated signs ranging from “Trump doesn’t even go here!” (in reference to Mean Girls) to “Trump is the Emperor!” (with a picture of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars) adorned the field outside the arena. Protesters put a new spin on trademark Trump-isms to spread a more inclusive message.
“Build bridges, not walls!” they chanted defiantly.
“We make America great!”
The mood darkened dramatically every step I took towards the arena. In the distance, I saw a growing line of supporters sporting “Make America Great Again” caps. This line did not have much diversity, which was disheartening yet unsurprising. Trump supporters gave a different kind of welcome for people like me.
“Go back home filthy liberals.”
“You’re all terrorists.”
“You guys are all disappointments!”
There was such a polarizing difference between the supporters and protesters...I still wondered if the fellow Asian American millennials in attendance saw the same thing.
I asked two questions:
1) Why are you protesting/supporting? 2) What message do you have for Millennials like yourself?
One enthusiastic supporter said that he was at the rally because he admired that “Trump was a man who is confident” and spoke his mind. He also reflected that his fellow millennials “need to listen to every candidate and I think Trump is the man who goes by values.”
On the protest side, one college voter stated, “I think Trump represents hate. If you look all around this protest group, there is diversity. Trump calls for building a wall to keep people out, for Muslims to be banned, and people to be kicked and beaten out of his rallies. As a millennial and as an Asian American, this is a step back in what we’ve worked for towards tolerance and equality. Millennials need to get out and vote; we can make the difference!”
As someone who is undecided in this election, my own observations at the rally helped me evaluate Trump on a more personal level. One speaker lamented that foreign immigrants were taking jobs from Americans at Disney. He claimed that these foreigners were not up to par to American workers and didn’t deserve the job. I understand the dissatisfaction of losing a job to somebody, but to antagonize and demonize a worker just because they are “foreign” is not right.
I couldn't help but think of my mother's journey. When my mother came here to the U.S. to work, she had the same skills and determination as any other American worker. She faced the same kind of discrimination other immigrants are facing today. She is still working and is a proud U.S. citizen today. If anti-immigrant xenophobes are the type of people that Trump wants to rally around, it’s difficult for me to see how the Asian American American community can rally behind him.
That being said, whether you’re for or against Trump, one thing was clear- millennials need to participate in the political process and speak their voice. The only way to ensure their voices go unheard is to stay at home. I’m glad I didn’t stay home that day.