Well, I've finally attended a Trump rally.
I thought I was showing up for Tuesday's State of the Union address, but as soon as Donald Trump refused to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand, it was clear that even basic protocol would elude this impeached president.
Trump's leash of propriety, already threadbare, has snapped in two. After the spectacle of Tuesday night on the House floor, it's clear his Republican enablers have decided to feed the beast.
I sat in the gallery, surrounded mostly by white male Trump voters. A handful of people nearest me were black, and silent. It is one thing to watch white men repeatedly stand and bellow in the gallery — another break with protocol — but it is something far worse when they act oblivious to the fellow Americans in their midst who have every reason to feel targeted by this presidency.
Soon upon his arrival in the House chamber, Republican members led Trump fans in a cheer of "four more years" — again, in a chamber of Congress — and their loudest applause was for Trump's glee over cutting food assistance for Americans living in poverty. A close second was the thunderous reception for his racist attack on undocumented immigrants.
If you watched this on live television, or online, you likely found it disturbing. In person, it was soul-jarring.
Sitting in the room made me wish Democratic candidates' most ardent supporters were there, too. Feeling that rising heat of hatred for the people for whom we fight would forge an unprecedented unity among progressives. We can advocate for our chosen candidate, but we should leave no doubt of who we will be come November. Unity is the only way we will end this dangerous presidency.
In another break with protocol, Trump bestowed the highest civilian honor the president of the United States can give an American citizen. On the spot, he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Not to 100-year-old retired Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, who was in attendance and is one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Instead, Trump had first lady Melania Trump drape the coveted medal around the neck of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, whose years of right-wing bigotry and misogyny provided the template for this presidency.
Recently, Limbaugh disclosed that he has stage 4 cancer. I don't wish cancer on anyone, and that includes Limbaugh. This is a frightening time for him and those who love him, and we diminish ourselves if we are unwilling to acknowledge that.
Limbaugh's brand of patriotism has brought him millions of followers and dollars as he sows their hatred and affirms their worst instincts. During Barack Obama's first presidential race, for example, Limbaugh played on his radio show a song titled, "Barack the Magic Negro." In 2012, after college student Sandra Fluke asked for Congress to require insurance coverage for contraceptives, Limbaugh called her a "slut" and a "prostitute." He mocked, verbally and physically, Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease.
This has been Limbaugh's game for decades.
You can see why Trump likes him.
At the end of Trump's version of the State of the Union, Pelosi ripped his speech in half, on camera.
My goodness, the outrage.
"Where's the civility?" Republicans wailed. "What happened to House protocol?" right-wing pundits brayed.
"I wasn't sure if she was ripping up the speech or ripping up the Constitution," Vice President Mike Pence told "Fox & Friends," proving what we've long suspected. If you have a spare pocket copy of the Constitution, you know where to send it.
Early Wednesday morning, CNN's Brian Stelter tweeted this: "Trump has now tweeted/retweeted more about Pelosi's reaction to his speech than about the content of his own speech. Four times more."
As a friend told me years ago, "They don't just push our buttons; they install them." She was talking about children, but still, it resonates.
Tell you what. I am open to criticism of Pelosi's ripping a completed speech as soon as Republicans stand against ripping children out of their parents' arms at our border.
Their cheers Tuesday night made clear that won't be happening anytime soon.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, "The Daughters of Erietown," will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore