President Trump recently came to Milwaukee for yet another rally — to the delight and dread of people in the area. There were protests, as has become the custom. And there were the familiar faces of the “Front Row Joes,” the group of mostly retirees who go from one Trump rally to the next, like Deadheads with a political bent.
The scene itself has become familiar over the past few years, but journalist Sarah Kendzior says these events are anything but politics-as-usual.
"Theoretically, rallies are used during times of campaigns when they need to get the public's attention, when they need to get the public's approval. With Trump it's been different because the rallies from the campaign never stopped, and I think that that has to do with Trump's drive to dominate the news cycle at any cost," she explains.
Kendzior is an expert on authoritarianism, which has become useful in covering President Trump. The president publicly expresses admiration for dictators around the world. His belief that the Constitution gives him "the right to do whatever [he] wants as president," is a key attribute of authoritarians, and Kendzior believes his rallies are an extension of his authoritarian inclinations.
She says the rallies "need to" continue, "because Trump has based his movement, his cult, basically, around the kind of motivations that any demagogue has, where he always has to be in a battle. He always has to be in the process of vanquishing an enemy because that's the sort of action, the vengefulness and spite, that fills his movement."
Kendzior says these rallies are also a way for Trump to control the narrative around his presidency and his campaign. In fact, she believes these rallies are as much about galvanizing support among his fans, as they are for getting the attention of his critics.
"Trump came out of reality TV, he came out of tabloid media. He’s always been good at winning over an audience and the audience that he’s best at winning over is the coastal media, is the New York media, because he’s a creature of that world," she explains.
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