Amid a tense and angry presidential campaign, a devastating global pandemic and a bitter reckoning over American race relations, a curious journalist might want to interview people, ask questions and listen to their answers at a serious political rally.
But how could you do that safely and responsibly at the Donald Trump, Jr., show Monday night in Harrison Township alongside the Clinton River near Lake St. Clair in famously pivotal Macomb County?
The Covid-19 pandemic has killed almost 200,000 Americans. Two good ways to avoid it are to wear a mask and to practice six-foot distancing, especially if you are of a certain age.
But few of the perhaps 3,000 spectators did any of this Monday while gathered around a stage-barge at the Bumpers Landing Boat Club to hear Donald Trump, Jr., speak and Kid Rock sing for Trump’s father, the president.
If you were to engage Monday’s spectators in conversation, airborne droplets from their mouths might, literally, kill you.
So, instead, you wear your mask and try to keep your distance, two techniques that immediately make you feel conspicuous, like a poorly disguised narc at a frat party.
This particular event on a cool and breezy evening features only a 15-minute speech from the quite conservative junior Trump and a four-song set by the right-wing Mr. Rock.
And you try to watch and listen and pick up on the not-too-subtle messages all about you as Trump’s dad tries to win re-election on Nov. 3 against the Democrat, Joe Biden.
You hear the sounds. A truck across North River Road plays a new song called “MAGA,” the initials standing for the Trump slogan “Make America Great Again.”
It’s adapted from “YMCA” by the Village People, with new lyrics. (“Just remember, we’re all in the same boat . . .")
People dance in front of the singer. This sound truck also offers Dixo-American nostalgia tunes like “Sweet Home, Alabama” and “All My Exes Live in Texas.”
► Related gallery: Donald Trump Jr. and Kid Rock Stir Loyalists in Macomb
From the water channels closer to the stage, you hear horn blasts from big yachts, summer toys for rich kids. Welcome back to Dumbkirk.
You read the T-shirt messages, too, including “Jesus is My Savior, Trump is My President;” “America: Live It, Love It or Get the Hell Out;’ “Donald Fuckin’ Trump;” and “God, Guns and Trump.”
You see a guy waving a flag that shows a picture of President Trump as Rambo, with bulging muscles, a torn shirt and a large gun that begins at his lower torso and extends outward.
You see another guy waving a Confederate flag with the word “Redneck” proudly superimposed . He slaps a high-five with an admirer. It isn’t clear if they sanitized their hands beforehand.
Both are behind fencing that divides the up-close seats from the parking lot, which is further back, toward the street, a dumping ground for the media the Trump handlers refuse to admit.
Among this group are Bikers for Trump, the names "Vigilantes" and "Renegades" on their backs. On different type of spectator back -- a football-style jersey -- the numeral "2 " is displayed with "AMENDMENT" above it where the player's name usually goes
So you stand in the lot as it fills fast with people mingling in a mood not unlike that of The Dream Cruise on Woodward or a tailgate picnic at a football game.
The view from back here is distant but direct and the sound loud enough. The stage is backed by a big American flag. Behind it move patrol boats with flashing blue lights.
Among the parking-lot group is a guy wearing a blue sweat shirt with the presidential seal. He walks around with a 12-pack of beer, selling individual cans for $3 or two for $5.
'Best Is Yet to Come'
Introducing young Trump is Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality who is young Trump’s girlfriend since his divorce.
She speaks in a voice loud enough to be heard across the lake into Canada.
“The best is yet to come!” she says, and here comes her boyfriend, casually dressed in blue jeans with a wide belt and an open-collar checked shirt because, down deep, he’s not a Fortunate Son, he’s just a reg’lar workin’ guy just like all you blue-collar, white folks this side of Eight Mile Road and out here by Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
His face shows a short, salt-and-pepper beard, Guilfoyle stays near him, smiling and cheering. At one point, he jokes about her.
“I gotta check with Kimberly,” he says. “I gotta ask her `How’m I doin’, baby?’ She goes `Good.’ That’s funny.”
Before the gig, only Detroit’s Channel 2 – a Fox station – got access to interview Trump with his girlfriend alongside him, mugging for the camera, as she did so well in her Fox era.
But rather than toe the Fox News parent network line and toss softballs to young Trump, reporter Roop Raj of the local Fox affiliate asks a pointed question about masking and keeping social distance for health and safety at this rally.
“I think people have sort of gotten over some of that,” Trump says. “You also have to get back to life.” Then he quickly changes the subject to the economy which. he said, is good.
As the president has been criticized for under-estimating the virus, it has become a point of pride among supporters to shun masks.
Many insist the virus is a hoax, as the president did early in the year.
So reporter Raj persists.
“When you see these rallies and you see the number of people who don’t wear masks and almost kind of mock the people who do, when that happens, what do you say to people as a leader?” he asks Trump.
Trump answers Raj with “I don’t mock anyone as a rule. I wear it most of the time and I think most people do. And I think there are some times when you want to relax and let up and live life.”
But, during his speech, Trump mocks Black Lives Matter protestors and downplays the virus to do it.
“If you want to loot and riot, that’s OK,” Trump says. “You can’t catch Covid if you’re looting and rioting. That’s OK. You get an exemption.”
Turning to the racist immigration issue, Trump warns that Biden will raise taxes by $4 trillion and that he will spend it on “Free health care for illegals! Free education for illegals! Free lawyers!”
On foreign policy, Trump says Biden’s arguments are unconvincing.
“Is anyone that stupid?” Trump asks, as if they would believe Biden.
On another topic, Trump muses “You can’t make this crap up!”
But observations like these can cut two ways, if you change the context and apply these words to the four-year reign of an American demagogue.
Another occurs when Trump concludes by asking his father’s cult members to encourage their friends to join the “Trump Army.”
“We need you as part of this viral movement,” he says without irony.