The Trumpistas

Greg Marinovich, 2016
A Donald Trump supporter Matthew, who said he was a Harvard Business School student, dressed in the American flag that reflects Trump¬í’s ‘Make America Great Again’ message, Manchester, New Hampshire, 9 Feb 2016.

 

2016, a vintage year for even armchair political observers as U.S. politics continues to hold world stage.

The Republican Party primary to choose a presidential nominee has been a bracing rollercoaster¬†ride, providing endless entertainment yet also sending a shiver of apprehension across the globe.¬†In 1966, the great writer John Steinbeck pulled together his thoughts on his country in ‚ÄúAmerica¬†and Americans‚Äù. He dedicated a chapter to politics, ‚Äú… it takes a special man to run for public¬†office, a man with armored skin and a practical knowledge of gutter fighting.‚Äù

Entertainer and real estate mogul Donald Trump’s uncouth, racist, misogynist, sometimes funny, yet always weirdly on the money , populist outsider rants found a receptive audience. They struck a chord with mostly white conservative Americans who feel disenfranchised from the political mainstream, or angered by their perceived loss of influence over the nation.

 

So who just are these Trumpistas?

 

As the race progressed and the seventeen Republican wannabes dropped out one by one, it gradually dawned on the party elite that registered members of America’s right wing party were not that into endorsing one of the establishment politicians. Even the most hated Republican in Congress – Ted Cruz Рslowly became acceptable to some of the elders as an alternate to Trump.

But not all thought Cruz was okay; the former Republican House speaker, John Boehner, called the Texan senator ‘Lucifer in the flesh’ and said that he “had never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Trump’s personal attacks on his Republican opponents – many on Twitter or at rallies across the country electrified the campaign. Trump dubbed Cruz Lyin’ Ted and live on Fox Television, Trump referred to a particularly weird National Enquirer story that claimed Cruz’s father was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F Kennedy in 1963. Cruz took out his frustration ahead of the do-or-die Indiana primary by calling Trump a serial philanderer and a pathological liar.

Not that Cruz had much left. The odd social media trend that likened his face to the drawing of the notorious Zodiac Killer kind of doomed his nakedly ambitious campaign. In the last days of the Cruz candidacy, after Trump had trounced him in Indiana, Cruz managed to punch and elbow his wife in the face as he went to embrace her and his father on a podium.

It was clear to anyone except the Republican grandees and media pundits that their voters were in the mood for change. They had been ever since Newt Gingrich began his campaign in 1978 to push the Republicans to the far right; to delegitimise anything the Democrats did or might do. Norm Ornstein, a self-described centrist told Vox, “(Gingrich) tribalised the political process. He went out and recruited the candidates and gave them the language to use about how disgusting and despicable and horrible and immoral and unpatriotic the Democrats were. That swept in the Republican majority in 1994. The problem is that all the people he recruited to come in really believed all that shit.”

And that anger and resentment has spread throughout the party, setting America up for a clash of civilizations, between the self-satisfied liberal elites and those who burn with rage that a black man with a Muslim name could have been a two term president.

 

On her jacket she had pinned an American flag pin and a Trump button, and she later added the nametag ‘Coach’.

 

So who just are these Trumpistas? One corner of the U.S. where Trump is unlikely to win is Boston, Massachusetts. The city was the base of assassinated president, John F. Kennedy, and is profoundly Democratic. The Republicans are outnumbered, but gamely fight on.

On a chilly Saturday in February, a handful of local Trump volunteers heeded a Facebook group call to attend a rally in the neighbourhood of Dorchester, which is inhabited mostly by African Americans and immigrants with darker skins. It seemed a pretty unlikely place to drum up support for a man who wants to build a wall to stop migrants from Mexico, ban Muslims and refuses to distance himself from supporters within the Ku Klux Klan.

The driving force behind the event was Dianne Ploss, an energetic middle-aged woman with dark wavy shoulder length hair and flat shoes. She was dressed in business attire, a dark, knee length skirt, with a matching dark jacket over a turtleneck. On her jacket she had pinned an American flag pin and a Trump button, and she later added the nametag ‘Coach’.

She left no doubt who was in charge; she coaxed and guided the volunteers like they were slow-witted children. Yet the task of selling Trump in Dorchester seemed beyond even her brittle positivity. The gallery walls had many paintings that reflected on the black experience of slavery in America, and a portrait of Martin Luther King loomed large. The absurdity of using this space to canvas for a racist, xenophobic candidate seemed lost on, or ignored by, the Trump volunteers. The receptionist, a young African American woman, did her best to disappear behind her desk and eventually walked out.

The Haitian immigrant owner of the art gallery professed to be a fan, speaking out against immigration, even though he was a migrant himself. He even took to standing on the sidewalk with a Trump placard, together with his one-eyed sidekick, despite the insults shouted out from passing cars. At this time, in early February, Trump’s candidacy still seemed like a fool’s errand, and only good for providing comic fodder. But Trump went on to take the majority of Republican votes in Massachusetts, with 49% of the state vote.

 

After hustling arriving voters to take the campaign material from her table, Ploss gathered the volunteers to pledge a showy allegiance to the large American flag before heading into the school hall to wage battle.

 

The next time I saw Ploss was two months later. By then, Trump was the front-runner to run for president of the world’s most powerful country, but was crying foul, claiming the Republican establishment was trying to cheat him of the nomination.

It is true that the party does not like Trump, and don’t want him, but there has, until now, been no cheating. The trick is to get your supporters voted in as the delegates – the minions of democracy, if you wish. Every of the U.S.’s 50 states, each have a slightly different way of going about this, and the novice Trump campaign machine initially failed to comprehend this. If Trump did not win outright on the first round, there was a chance that delegates who were not loyal to him would thwart him.

Trumpistas like Dianne Ploss were among those volunteers who wised up and started to take the caucus delegate business seriously. She had arrived early at the middle school where the Massachusetts Republican caucus was to take place, parking her Trump branded motorhome right at the entrance. Other volunteers planted dozens of blue, red and white placards along the path leading to the doors. The campaigns for the other surviving candidates, Cruz and John Kasich, were pretty insipid.

After hustling arriving voters to take the campaign material from her table, Ploss gathered the volunteers to pledge a showy allegiance to the large American flag before heading into the school hall to wage battle.

Trump’s supporters overwhelm all of the Massachusetts districts, except the one for Boston, despite Ploss’s efforts. As much vile fun as it has been up until now, we can only shiver with anticipation at the spectacle ahead, when Trump campaigns against a Democrat, most likely Hillary Clinton.

Steinbeck promises us that, ‚ÄòOnce the nominations are completed, the campaigns for election begin¬†– hurtful, libelous, nasty, murderous affairs, wherein motives are muddied, names and reputations¬†beshitten, families tarred and tawdried, friends and associates mocked, charged and clobbered… the¬†rules of nonsense are suspended during a Presidential election, as well as memories of honesty and¬†codes of decency.‚Äô

 

Greg Marinovich, 2016
Trump volunteer, Peter Gray Wellman of Natick at the rally in Dorchester, Boston, Feb 27, 2016.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Dianna Ploss, centre, and other volunteers for the Donald Trump campaign set out snacks at an art gallery in Dorchester, Boston, ahead of the rally and tele-canvassing event.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Residents of Dorchester (left and centre) quizz Dianna Ploss and Peter Wellman about the Trump campaign activity at the art gallery.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Trump supporters outside the rally in the Boston neighbourhood of Dorchester.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Keene, New Hampshire, Feb 9, 2016. Martha Ladam at the table for undeclared voters to change back to being declared. One has to ‘declare’ for a party to vote in its primary.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Voters cast their vote in the New Hampshire primary Feb 9, 2016.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Trump supporters enjoy breakfast at Lynda’s Diner in Keene, New Hampshire after voting in the New Hampshire primary Feb 9, 2016.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Ron Paul supporter and Republican caucus delegate Tom Leonard who ran and was elected as a delegate on the Anti-Establishment Liberty Slate looks at an ironing board being used as a table at Randolph middle school where the 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts Caucus was held Saturday 30 April, 2016.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
A man stands on a path lined with Trump placards outside the Randolph middle school ahead of the caucus.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Republican caucus delegates raise the U.S. flag ahead of the caucus opening.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Trump supporters pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag ahead of the caucus.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Republican caucus delegates try to persuade fellow GOP voters to choose them.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Dianna Ploss whispers with a fellow Trump supporter ahead of her successful attempt to be elected as a delegate.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
GOP voters cast their ballot.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Republican establishment stalwarts chat nervously at the stage (left rear) as caucus delegates and voters observe the vote for delegates being counted.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Republicans, including two Trump supporters at the left foreground, wait for votes to be counted.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Dianna Ploss (centre) and daughter Vanessa Carey (right) wait for the Republican district committee to decide on Carey’¬ís eligibility to stand as a convention delegate.
Greg Marinovich, 2016
Walter Collings, Trump supporter, Manchester, New Hampshire. Trump won the nation’s first primary with 35% of the Republican vote, Feb 9, 2016

 

Greg Marinovich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is the co-author of The Bang Bang Club, a nonfiction book on South Africa’s transition to democracy that has been translated into six languages. He spent 25 years covering conflict around the globe, with his writing and photographs appearing in magazines and newspapers worldwide. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2013/14 and currently teaches visual journalism at Boston University’s Journalism school and the Harvard summer school. He is the author of Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Account of the Marikana Massacre.

 

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