At moments, I was genuinely afraid.
Not of the thing in my closet this time but of a group of ordinary people like myself. Ordinary people of a singular mind crammed into one tiny room like ammunition in a magazine. Explosive. Big dogs on leashes that have frayed down to nothing.
Political rallies have always made me uneasy. The person who spoke quietly about the weather moments ago has transformed, before my eyes, into a fist-pumping, teeth-grinding frame of fury. His eyes have gone dark. He grips a tattered campaign sign like a Viking grips his battle ax.
Riled by the candidate, the crowd becomes a single organism, one whose sole ambition is to do no less than change the world. They scowl when he does. They chant when he gives them the cue. They shout and hiss and hang on his every word. For that hour or two or three, the men and women at the rally are every bit as transfixed as a child mesmerized by the musical stylings of Charlie Waffle.
He can drive them into a rage or fill their hearts with hope. He can make them laugh or make them spit out the names of his rivals. For as long as the candidate delivers his message, he controls the room. Normally staid housewives will reach levels of anger they did not know they possessed. Mousy men will find themselves roaring like lions.
When a single person vows to protect your freedoms and share your ideals, you will embrace him like a tire tube in rough waters. When 200 or 500 or 1,000 are there, you can feel the power of it. It radiates heat like a house fire. And there are the moths swarming furiously to that fire, battering each other as they go, prizing that glow above all else. It makes them crazy.
And frankly, I want to go hide in the men’s room until it’s over.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never felt that kind of passion for anything political. Certainly, I’ve never felt it for some strange man or woman with either a mule or an elephant as a mascot.
Maybe one day I’ll start to understand my own ideals enough that I’ll be more concerned about keeping them safe. And then I’ll find myself in a roiling mass of human bodies thrashing like ants on a dropped bit of candy. And become so enamored of one potentially great leader that I’ll scream myself hoarse along with the rest of you.
Until then, it just freaks me out. Best I can guess, 75 percent of the people who attend political rallies don’t just “agree with a lot of what this guy has to say.” They LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THE MAN AND WILL SET THEMSELVES ON FIRE IF IT WILL HELP SEND HIM SOARING INTO THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!
For the entire campaign season — which is, let’s face it, always — they will live this way. In all capital letters where their party or their candidate is concerned.
None of this is dependent upon party. Zealousness is zealousness, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a Druid, or whatever. And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. You go all in or you don’t go at all. If you don’t screech until your throat bleeds and pump your fist until your arm is empty of blood, you’re not doing enough.
It just unnerves me, OK? And I’m not alone. After a recent rally, I got this message from a local woman: “Am I the only one that thinks political rallies are creepy? I get this feeling that after the thunder of applause they could start passing out Kool-Aid and everyone would be on board!”
Is that too strong? Beats me. I just know that for the hour or so that I was in that room, it felt like a rock concert without the music, acid and lovemaking in the bathroom. It felt like a barely contained revolt, a powerful thing tottering on an invisible wall dividing peace from chaos. It felt just a few steps shy of torches and an angry march through the streets.
There was this beefy, younger kid who kept pacing in circles like a cat getting ready to lie down. His mouth kept moving like he was chewing something distasteful. He would stop briefly as the speaker hit upon a vital point and his eyes would go wide. Then he’d begin to pace again, grunting what sounded like “Uh huh! Uh huh!” deep in his throat. All night long while the great man stood at the podium.
There was a pretty, athletic woman who held a young girl up high for a better view. Whenever the really big stuff was addressed on stage, and applause exploded like a round of firecrackers, she’d shake the girl and hold her up even higher, like an offering.
Every one of these events feels, to me, like the precursor to an ugly, world-changing event. Like something that might be captured in blurry, unsteady video footage to be played over and over on the History Channel.
And it creeps me out, in case I haven’t mentioned that. Which is quite likely an overreaction. Remember, I’m the guy who runs shrieking whenever he sees an ice cream truck.
Ah, now I’m thinking about ice cream trucks. All in all, this has been a fairly horrifying week for me.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can easily scare the bejesus out of him at firstname.lastname@example.org.