If there’s one thing I’ve learned from following Donald Trump across the Carolinas it’s that people appreciate someone who tells it like it is.
Yes, Trump has inspired me.
By tearing down the wall between locker rooms, Twitter and reality television, Trump freed an entire generation of writers from the constraints of objectivity. When the entire system is “rigged” and the media is “biased,” suddenly everyone has as much credibility as the Washington Post, which hasn’t received credentials to cover Trump since the spring.
Being credentialed comes with a caveat, however, as reporters and photographers are limited to the confines of the media corral.
When I first saw the corral half a dozen Trump rallies ago, I scoffed at it. I went to the corner stairwell of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and asked the police officer there if I could walk up to the catwalk for a photograph.
“Not unless you’re Secret Service,” he told me.
That was February. Trump’s rallies even during the primary were run almost completely by Secret Service personnel. Ask a local law enforcement officer how many are in attendance, they defer to the Secret Service, which defers to the campaign.
Stepped up security has been a big part of the smoke and mirrors of the Trump campaign, which is rightly playing cat-and-mouse games with a media too busy using free Wi-Fi in the corral to get an actual estimate of crowds. The campaign has aimed to separate the media from its supporters long before Trump began blaming the press for ailing poll numbers.
Fuzzy numbers about attendees are made all the more confusing by venue selections, which have ranged from the 2,300-capacity Duplin Events Center to a hangar at the Kinston Jet Center.
Tickets are useless for Trump events, but the issuance adds another metric to the number soup. In Kinston, more than 8,000 tickets had been claimed more than 24 hours before Trump’s plane landed. Venue officials announced attendance of 4,000 at the hangar, which could have held many more, and another 4,000 or more who were turned away. When Trump arrives, the Secret Service shuts everything down and those waiting are sent home.
Trump complains news coverage doesn’t show his rally numbers, but the campaign’s control of the media is what causes that void, which he exploits.
It’s a carousel of misinformation akin to telling people in select states throughout the south that you need photo identification for voting for a few years. After a while, people who have been voting for years without ID suddenly yearn for the safety of voter suppression.
PSA: FRAUDULENT VOTERS DON’T GET CARDED
One woman warned me about voter fraud last week, telling me all anyone needs is my name and address to take away my ballot.
It pains me to hear people talk about voter fraud like it’s people walking to polling places and casting ballots for others, not only because North Carolina has some of the most open public voting records in the nation (You can see I voted in-person and Republican in June) but also because I’m one of a handful of reporters in the United States who has actually reported on voter fraud.
In the Rio Grande Valley, voter fraud through mail is an industry. Politiqueras, usually women, arrange voters for local candidates like union bosses. It’s community organizing, to an extent, but there are many documented instances of voters casting more than one ballot, usually through the mail.
Texas Secretary of State Spokeswoman Alicia Pierce said any concerns about widespread voter fraud in the state are without merit, if for no other reason than the 254 individual counties all have their own election boards who handle local races.
“It’s decentralized,” she said.
Indeed, races when politiqueras are most active (most arrests) are runoffs, like the 2012 runoff where votes were in high demand in a new Congressional district in a state infamous for low turnout. Authorities arrested six women charged with 35 collective voting violations following that election, including Margaret Osuna, who pleaded no contest to voter fraud charges once before in 2013 over violations in 2010.
So yes, voter fraud happens, but to suggest photo ID solves it is as irresponsible as suggesting the election is rigged.
What is also happening, though? Voter intimidation.
I have no idea why some white men about my age were out tooling around Kinston with the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia flying from the bed of their pick-up truck.
Was it a warning to non-whites? Were they just cruising around, checking out damage from Hurricane Matthew and sharing a harmless homage to this area’s treasonous past?
I choose to believe the current political climate empowered them as much as I, which is why I’ve received warnings in public and private after drawing attention to the Confederate flag issue in this town, where a full-size replica of an ironclad flies the second national flag of the Confederate States of America just blocks from my home.
It’s not enough to explain that artists I’m recruiting to live in this part of the state don’t have time for a history lesson when it comes to their safety: other white men have told me to steer clear of the issue completely, and that’s just because I posted a picture on Facebook!
Trump wouldn’t stand for that. Trump would hear someone say something was off limits and devote three rallies and a midnight tweetstorm to it.
But Trump doesn’t have to walk past a replica boat with the flag of the KKK emblazoned on a white background that its designer said was no accident when he created it mid-war as a way to galvanize sympathizers behind the battle flag associated with General Robert E. Lee’s victories on his historic march north to Gettysburg.
William Thompson wrote: “As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”
Even traitors in the 1860s felt the “stainless” version looked like the flag of surrender and two years later the Confederate States of America had another focus group discussing one more rebranding campaign that led to a red stripe on the end of it. The Confederate “navy,” however, kept the “white man’s flag” and white men in Kinston are still flying it today.