Part Two: Collective Mentality


“From one dog all the dogs bark.”
Marty Rubin

 

Please read Part One: Opposition or Enemy first. I believe it will help you to understand my train of thoughts as I venture into the twilight zone in Part Two.

After six long hours in the brutal heat, the line was moving again. This time, I noticed people depositing their lawn chairs on the side of the road, or carrying them back to their cars. Earlier in the day, Ron went dumpster diving and returned to the line with his treasure…a lawn chair! It now dawned on me why people were leaving their lawn chairs behind. The doors had opened into Freedom Hall and lawn chairs were not permitted inside.

The crowd was subdued and we were all anxious to get a reprieve from the heat. The air-conditioned building was only a few steps away! As we stood in line to have our belongings inspected and pass through the metal detectors, a large screen flashed images of the 2016 election results, along with the faces of Hillary, Pelosi, and President Obama.

Then, the collective chanting began…”Lock her up! Lock her up!”

I laughed to myself. The election was over. Trump is the POTUS. “Lock her up for what?” I asked myself.

People were chatting about fake news, and laughing about a protester in a wheel chair who was allegedly arrested by the police because she dissented outside of the assigned protest area. “She can walk,” one Trump supporter said. “Yeah,” responded the chanters. “She can walk. She can walk.”

There was an announcement over a loud-speaker. If a protester was spotted in the protected area, people were to point at them and yell Trump, Trump, Trump and the police would come and remove them.

I looked around suspiciously. Did anyone suspect that we were the opposition? Did we stand out among a sea of red MAGA hats, Trump 2020 t-shirts, and Finish the Wall signs? Would people yell Trump, Trump, Trump and point their fingers in our direction?

I began to feel tinges of uneasiness, but I brushed them off as silly. How did our friendly line neighbors feel about us? They offered us pizza! They offered to drive me to a bathroom so we wouldn’t lose our parking space! They lent me an umbrella to protect me from the harsh sun!

“Silliness!” I reassured myself!

Yet, the large screen kept flashing propaganda, inciting the crowd, encouraging them to mob together in a collective mentality of anger, revenge, and an ‘us against them’ mindset.

We passed through the check point and metal detector. The security officer inspected everything in my backpack… my camera was taken apart and all my credit cards were removed from my wallet and inspected individually. When he pulled out the large plastic bag at the bottom of my pack he asked, “Why do you have a plastic garbage bag?”

Wisely, I knew not to make any wise cracks, but oh! there were so many answers I had on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I politely responded that the grass was wet, and I used the plastic bag to sit on.

The capacity of Freedom Hall is 8,500 people. We ordered our tickets a week in advance and I had my phone ready for them to scan our tickets. Surprisingly, no one asked us to show our tickets or IDs. Nothing! We were told to go to the sections behind the podium and find seats. The problem with that was that we had been in the hot sun for six hours waiting to see POTUS and the seats were behind Trump. I wanted to see him from the front of the podium.

We found another section closer to the front and convinced the aisle attendant that we were told to sit in this section. Later, we realized that they wanted the seats packed behind POTUS, if there were empty seats in the auditorium.

It was fascinating to watch the crowds file to their seats, the technicians line up the cameras, journalists perfect their commentary, and the Secret Service and local police inspect every detail to insure the safety of everyone.

A wave began! Ron joined in the fun, while I prepared my camera. The crowd was enthusiastic and Freedom Hall was at capacity. I expected the venue to be packed. We live in a very red state.

Yet, when Trump arrived, the dynamics of the rally changed. At first, we were excited to see POTUS. We respectfully clapped and stood when he entered the arena. Up to this point we were feeling comfortable. We had nothing to hide. We never felt like we were enemies. We were here to be a part of history. No agenda, no fear!

Trump was feeding off the energy of the crowd. Maggie Koerth-Baker pointed this out in a fascinating piece at FiveThirtyEight. “The technical term is “emotional contagion,” the same kind of effect that occurs at big football games, comedy clubs, and political rallies.”

I never considered the difference between individual and collective mentalities. But, she makes some interesting points in describing what we perceived at the rally. People tend to mimic the behavior of the group. Ron described it as a mob psychology. In the late 19th century, an anthropologist named Gustave LeBon came up with the idea that “being part of a crowd turned civilized people into barbarians.”

Trump used the Johnson City rally to attack three potential Democratic rivals in the 2020 presidential election. “They got some real beauties going,” Trump said of the potential Democratic field. He criticized Cory Booker, called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”, then went after the former vice president, describing him as “1 percent Biden” until former President Barack Obama “took him off the trash heap.”

He defended Kavanaugh and asked us to pray for his family. I questioned his lack of empathy and understanding for all the victims of sexual abuse and Dr. Ford’s heart wrenching testimony.  Why not pray for them, too? Is praying polarized now, too?

The crowd roared. They booed at the mention of the word Democrats. They chanted “Lock her up!” “Build that Wall!” For me, it was a horrifying display of a crowd gone mad.

Do people lose their will, control, and ability to reason when they become part of a crowd? Have my new friends in our six-hour line lost their minds, too? What about my friend who is an avid Trump supporter? She arrived at 6 am to be sure she and her husband got front row seats in the rally. Was she chanting and booing? Does she think I am the enemy?

“People don’t lose control, but they begin to act with collective values,” says Stephen David Reicher, a sociologist and psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has studied violence among modern-day soccer hooligans, race rioters, and, this year, Trump supporters. “It’s not your individual fate that becomes important, but the fate of the group.”

That sense of collective identity describes why the crowds were subdued while standing in line. Until Trump incited the collective mentality of hatred, intolerance, and division, the people we met were polite, respectful, and friendly. He is a master of manipulation and deceit.

When Trump said, “The Democrats are the party of crime” that was the last straw. I shook with anger and an overwhelmingly profound sadness for our country. We left the rally with a sense of hopelessness and fear for the direction our country is headed.

The Trump rally taught me a lot about relationships. Individually, we can be kind and helpful  to each other as long as we don’t broach the topic of politics. I don’t know if we will ever to be able to talk politics with our friends. Trump has polarized us. The United States has become a place with a sense of fear and anger…fear that what we value will be taken away. Trump incites this fear at his rallies. He shouts that what we value is under threat and will be taken away, that in order to make America great we need to exclude those who threaten our values. Anyone who opposes him becomes the enemy.

His rhetoric amplifies the collective mentality. In their eyes, I am now the enemy, one to be shunned and feared because my beliefs and values do not sync with the crowd. For me, it is a dangerous path to go down. I see no light at the end.

Finally, I have never been to a Democrat Rally. We wonder if we will see the same division and hatred. Probably so! The world is mad! Character assassinations exist on both sides. It truly saddens and repels me. We should all be insulted by politics and lousy corrupt politicians with vested interests. I ache for my country!

Part three is my interview with my friend who is an avid Trump supporter. She has graciously allowed me to ask questions about her perception of the Trump Rally. I trust her and she trusts me. I told her I would not use her name, but I want her honest opinions and I know she will help me understand how we can begin to heal our divisions.