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Opinion: What I Learned From Attending a Trump Rally

Spark Public

Opinion: What I Learned From Attending a Trump Rally

Millennials are stuck supporting the nominee they hate less.

September 2, 2016

Last week, the Trump campaign made its way to Washington State for the second time.  Thousands of Washingtonians flocked to Everett’s Xfinity Arena to pledge their support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Weaves of people sporting red “Make America Great Again” hats and anti-Clinton T-shirts filled the streets. Police and news crews stationed themselves on every corner and — just blocks away — anti-Trumpers were readying to protest.

I had never been to a presidential rally before, so attending a Trump rally as my first one was intimidating. Trump supporters have earned a reputation for being hostile, particularly when it comes to their interactions with the media. I wasn’t sure what I’d be walking into.

The Trump supporters

Observing the crowd, I noticed that the predominant demographic of rally attendees was — unsurprisingly — white voters over the age of 50. But I wasn’t there to talk to those people. I was there to seek out millennials.

I fall into the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket myself and wanted to learn what it is about Trump that attracts younger voters. As an unaffiliated voter, I usually land somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, seeing compromise as the most practical approach to solving our country’s problems.

I was curious to hear what might spark someone from my demographic to support a such an extreme presidential nominee, one who has succeeded in offending and marginalizing entire groups of people. From the beginning of the election trail, Trump has drummed up media attention through hateful speech and controversial sound bites. Whether you love or hate him for it, I was having a hard time believing that a large portion of millennials could be subscribing to Trump’s message.

It all comes down to who you hate more; Trump or Hillary?

For the most part, millennials grew up being taught about tolerance and equality. We grew up watching a lot of cheesy TV shows, designed to give you all the “feels” with their formulaic messages of love and celebration of diversity. From The Fresh Prince to 7th Heaven, intolerance was the enemy. I recognize that — as a diverse society — we are still far from being entirely tolerant, loving, or equal. But I think most millennials at least believe in those principles, even if our country as a whole is not practicing them.

So who are the millennial Trump supporters in Washington? Do they actually like what the guy stands for? For example, do they truly want Trump’s notorious wall to be built? Do they genuinely want to keep out all Syrians and Muslims? Do millennial Trump supporters really believe that these are the best solutions?

Or could it possibly be that the young Trump demographic just really hates Hillary Clinton and her proposed solutions? Once Bernie Sanders was out of the picture, did this election become nothing more than a battle of the lesser evils for the millennial vote? I hoped I’d find answers.

As I suspected, millennial attendance was pretty scarce. And the few under-35 types I did encounter really did not want to talk to me about their Trump affiliation. I’d anticipated some pushback; I concede that the media has not always painted his supporters in the best light and Trump hasn’t always had kind words for the media. Still, the rejection had me feeling like a girl who couldn’t get a date to the school dance. Aside from a few folks who flat-out laughed in my face and told me to get lost, I couldn’t get a sense of whether these people were anti-media, shy or just rude. Either way, I think they missed an opportunity to promote their cause.

To my relief, I did eventually find two young men in my demographic who were willing to talk to me. Not a very representative number, but better than nothing. 

Zach Kaczcmarek, 29, believes Trump will put Americans first.Zach Kaczcmarek, 29, hails from Puyallup, where he works as a drywaller. He says he’s not a Republican. He was a Libertarian in the past, but with all of the recent problems he feels our country is facing as a result of immigration, he now identifies as a Nationalist. He admits it took him a while to warm up to Trump, but he believes Trump will put Americans first.

“I believe in keeping jobs here in the U.S. and not importing cheap labor,” he says. ”All of these companies can just import workers from overseas and that takes jobs away from Americans and drives wages down.”

Like most millennials, jobs and livable wages are at the top of Kaczcmarek’s list of concerns.

“I didn’t go to college — I didn’t have the money to go to college — and I didn’t want to have $80,000 in student-loan debt to go to college, so I went the route of the trades.”

Vadim Blysh, 19, believes Trump will make the economy better.


Vadim Blysh, 19, also chose not to attend college. He says he plans to vote for Trump.

“One thing I know for sure is that [Trump] will make the economy better,” says Blysh. “There’s no doubt.”

Blysh didn’t say why he believes Trump will help the economy, but he did make it clear that he’s not a fan of Clinton.

“She’s a criminal. You don’t need any more evidence than there already is. I would want someone [in office] you would feel safe with and [for me] that would not be Hillary,” explains Blysh.

Kaczcmarek echoes Blysh’s sentiment

“I think she’s probably one of the worst candidates for president ever. It’s just been scandal after scandal and she’s obviously guilty,” he says, referencing allegations that she broke federal law.

Kaczcmarek is also an ardent proponent of gun-owner rights. So are many of his friends.

“A lot of my friends that I’ve talked to don’t like Trump or Hillary. But a few of them actually have come around and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to vote for Trump because he supports the Second Amendment and Hillary doesn’t.’ That’s the only thing they like about Trump.”

“It all comes down to who you hate more,” says Kaczcmarek. “Trump or Hillary?”

While Kaczcmarek and Blysh have chosen to hop on the Trump train, many millennials are hoping to derail it.

The Trump protesters

Just a few blocks away from the arena, Trump protesters were gathering in preparation to march through the streets. This lot was much more accommodating to media inquiries.Protesters gathered a few blocks from the Trump rally.

Jamie Santos, a 19-year-old student at the University of Washington, was among them. She found out about the protest on Facebook and was eager to join other people who share her views regarding Trump.

“When you look at a presidential candidate — somebody who you want to be the leader of your nation — I think they should be somebody that you look up to. And Trump definitely isn’t someone I look up to.”

Jamie Santos, 19, believes the president should be a worthy role model.

Santos also doesn’t agree with Trump’s lack of concern for the environment.

“Environmentalism is really important to me and Trump denies global warming and climate change and I feel like that’s totally wrong… if we have leaders like that then we won’t make as much progress as we would with people who are concerned with climate change.”

Santos tell me she will vote for Clinton or Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson — but only because she feels they are slightly better than Trump.

“Clinton, I feel that she has a lot that she’s hiding, but she isn’t as outlandish and rude as Trump is,” she says.

What about Johnson?

“He’s not Trump,” she quips.

Ava Keating, 24, was also protesting the Trump rally, as well as promoting Green Party nominee Jill Stein as an alternative to both Trump and Clinton.

Ava Keating, 24, promoting the Green Party as an alternative to Trump and Clinton.

Keating says a growing number of young people in the country want to see independent parties have more power in government.

“We are the 99 percent in this country, and you see it with our participation in Bernie’s campaign and other things like Occupy, for example. People are fed up — especially millennials — because this is not the future we want for ourselves. This is not the kind of world we want to live in,” she says.

I think Keating is right about one thing; this is not the kind of world most of us want to live in. Most agree that change is needed in this country. The argument is — and has always been — about what the change should be and how it should happen.

Between a rock and a hard place

In this election, it seems, millennials feel they have to fight against the world they don’t want, rather than focus on creating the world they do want.

Kaczcmarek and Blysh don’t want to live in a world where Hillary Clinton is president. But they don’t emote hatefulness and intolerance, despite how Trump supporters might often be portrayed.

Santos and Keating aren’t super excited about any of the presidential nominees. But they both believe that keeping Trump out of office is the best option for the country.

It seems Trump and Clinton supporters have more in common than they realize; the votes these millennials plan to cast are not necessarily a reflection of who they believe is best for the job, but who they believe will do the least harm.


Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

More stories by Jen Germain

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<p>&nbsp;I am disheartened by the absolute lack of research and sorry to say downright political naievte of Vadim and Zack. Do they honestly believe that a man who has gone bankrupt four times, hires illegal aliens himself and then doesn&#39;t pay them,sent his own businesses overseas,spouts racism and condones violence and torture is the person they want as their president? The amazing lack of critical thought involved in this bizarre ,convoluted choice for their candidate&nbsp; is not only stunning me but the rest of the civilized world. I hear from Americans that if you are not American your opinions don&#39;t matter.&nbsp;Well. WAKE UP AMERICA. What&nbsp;you&nbsp; decide in this election has repurcussions for the whole world.&nbsp; Trump admires Putin, a man who has invaded his neighbors, threatens all of Europe and wants&nbsp;Russia to return to its&nbsp; brutal sppression&nbsp;of freedom. Anyone voting for any candidate at face value should not be allowed to vote. The internet is a great tool. Learn how to use it.</p><p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

What it comes down to is this ~ Do you like things the way they are, or are you hoping for something better?  Will you readily drink the poison set before you, rather than risk the glass that may or may not harm you? Is the 1% Annual GDP growth the best the US can do?  Are regular attacks on US citizens something that should just be accepted?  Is voter fraud by  major party agains it's own supporters just "something to get over"?  Those are the questions each voter must ask themselves. It seem to me that the Trump supporters know exactly why they support him.  To throw rocks at them because you don't like their decision is not fair. 

The millennials who voted for Trump now have all the proof they need. They voted Trump because they are actually less informed than their moron president-elect is. And that isn't easy to do.