KEVIN LEININGER: Double vision: Trump opponents blast ‘hate’ while thousands of his supporters pray and chant ‘USA! USA!’

President Trump filled the Coliseum inside and out Monday as part of what he billed as the "greatest political movement in the history of our country." (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Laura Wheeler and her 11-year--old son Ryan made their feelings known before the Trump rally. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Shelley Mansker isn't a trump fan, but thinks both parties should stop yelling and start working to solve problems. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Signs and hats were plentiful at the Coliseum Monday, but this one probably spoke for many. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
The Coliseum arena was packed with more than 12,000 people, with thousands more watching on screens in the Conference Center and even outside. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
The chilly night air didn't keep people who couldn't get inside the Coliseum from watching the president's speech outside. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

The political chasm that threatens to split America in two was on full view in Fort Wayne Monday, as a relative handful of people gathered to protest the presence of President Donald Trump and, apparently, at least some of the 17,000 people who cheerfully crowded the building to capacity or stood in the cool darkness to watched the rally on a screen in the overflow area outside.

But it was more than a mere political divide; the two events represented competing views of reality.

On the north side of Coliseum Boulevard, in a grassy area set aside for protests, stood Shelley Mansker and her “compassion not hate” sign. A noble sentiment to be sure, but what did she mean, exactly?

“Obviously, I don’t care for (Trump),” she said. “I was a Republican my whole life, but now I’m an independent. We all want to keep our kids safe, health care and secure borders. We need to help people who want to come in (to the country), to help people who need help but not those who want to do us harm. But we can’t have a civil discussion.”

Mansker at least blamed both parties for being more eager to yell at each other than solve problems. Laura Wheeler and 11-year-old son Ryan displayed no such ambivalence: “USA not KKK” read her sign; his sign offered a clever if not very complimentary twist on that old Mary Poppins tune, substituting “super callous fragile racist sexist Nazi potus” for the movie character’s far more benign sentiments.

“I see how people are treated unfairly, how they’re scared, how they don’t want to be who they are,” said Laura, who said that because she is half Filipino she is especially aware of what she perceives as troubling signals sent by Trump and some of his supporters. “Not all Trump supporters are KKK, but KKK members are Trump supporters, she said.”

“I don’t like what (Trump) is doing. He thinks ‘other’ people are the problem. You can’t deport all Mexicans.”

I mean no disrespect to Mansker or the Wheelers and commend their interest in the political process. But I was packed into the Coliseum with thousands of Trump supporters like a bunch of sardines Monday, and nothing I saw or heard could even remotely be labeled hateful — unless a prayer or chants of “USA! USA!” strike you as dangerously jingoistic or xenophobic.

Even before the rally began the crowd was alerted to the possibility of demonstrations within the arena but was told not to harm or confront the protesters. “Chant ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ they were advised — and they had at least three chances to do so.

Jesse Reeves drove in from Warsaw because he believes Trump is “for the American people, not full of BS. He does what he says he will do.” And although Reeves isn’t happy illegal immigrants are filling jobs in northeast Indiana, he correctly resists the notion support for border security is somehow racist.

If you disagree, the crowd’s enthusiastic “build the wall” chants probably confirmed your worst suspicions.

Trump had an impressive opening act, including U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, Sen. Todd Young, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz (politics, like sports, is “all about winning” and former Fort Wayne resident and State Auditor Tera Klutz, who got thousands of people to remove those red “Make America Great Again” hats by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Then it was Trump’s turn. Calling what has happened since his victory two years ago “The greatest political movement in the history of our country” — a bit of a stretch, but whatever — he hit on some familiar themes: economic growth, border security and, of course, “fake news.”

Democrats, he said, are “putting illegal aliens before Americans. If you want more caravans and crime, vote Democratic.” Trump also dared those in the large media gallery to point their cameras at the huge throng, “but they never want to show the crowds.”

The resulting “CNN sucks” chants, while not exactly hateful, also did nothing to unite. But then, Trump made it clear that was not his intent. At least not yet.

Trump introduced Mike Braun, locked in a close U.S. Senate race with incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, by saying that a “vote for Braun is a vote to keep your jobs, wages going up and your family safe.” Although many of Donnelly’s ads tout conservative beliefs, Trump said, “on Wednesday (after the election) he’ll turn against us.”

“Send Joe Donnelly to the early retirement he deserves,” Braun insisted.

Some don’t like Trump’s bombastic style and, obviously, his rhetoric has at times been, well, hateful — as Mansker correctly noted when she recalled how Trump expressed support for bodyslamming opponents. But Trump was right, too, when he reminded the crowd how some recent leaders have been good at apologizing for America, while he wants to stand up for it.

“I do eventually want to unite (the country),” Trump said.

That’s not hateful, just overdue. But how is unity possible when so many people seem to sense evil where so many others see only common sense? More important, what do we do about that?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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