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for people who care about the West

Political theater


I really enjoyed Elliott Woods’ detailed and perceptive account of the July Donald Trump rally in Great Falls, Montana (“Montanans sightsee at a political circus,” HCN, 8/6/18). Great piece of reporting and analysis of the spirit behind these rallies, which are nothing if not repetitive, reductive and as habit-forming to our president as any opioid.

I agree with Woods that the rallies have a mob appeal not unlike the blackest of events in history: witch trials, lynchings, public executions. It’s not about politics, but political theater. As Woods noted, Trump spoke very little about politics or the candidates he had come to endorse; it was mostly about himself and his crowds, “Crooked Hillary,” the Russian “witch hunt” and the “horrible” mainstream media. In other words, the same tropes Trump brings to all his rallies. The louder the applause, the more he goes off-script.

Trump is moving into the territory held in history by Huey Long and George Wallace, but without their eloquence, if that’s the word. But those at Trump’s rallies fear the changes taking place in the country, and in him they see a loud and bombastic champion railing against the coastal elites — a notion that has obvious resonance in a rural state like Montana.

Perhaps the most sanguine note in the piece was the sense that many seemed to come essentially for the show and weren’t likely to become zealots as a result of it. Indeed, the messenger doesn’t have much of a message. But still they’ll come. The circus will soon roll into a new town, and the carnival barker will be basking in the cheers again.

Jeffrey Marshall
Scottsdale, Arizona