On Monday morning we woke up and said to each other “let’s see the President today.”
After learning the leader of the free world was to host a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, only an hour away from our small college town, we cancelled all evening plans. Despite failing to get approved for both press passes and entry tickets, we took off for the state border.
The lower Michigan and upper Ohio heartland featured droves of yard signs, billboards and murals declaring support for Trump and his vice president. On the approximately hour and fifteen minute drive, no property had thrown their hat in the ring for his opposition, former Vice President Joe Biden.
When we took the exit for the Toledo Express Airport, however, we were dumbfounded at the lack of security just one mile away from the rally. Located in the small town of Swanton, Ohio, the single road leading up to the airport where the event was held made for an easy drive. Prior to hosting Trump, the largest event in the Toledo suburb was an annual Corn Festival.
While swerving around the crowded coach busses barreling down the Ohio Turnpike, we saw our first cop car. Less than a minute later the scene changed entirely, revealing the power of a Trump rally to utterly transform a town.
The shoulder of the street was a mile-long snake of parked cars, many of which flew campaign flags. Trump fans were forced to take on the trek from their vehicle to the entrance, along which they were met with people trying to pedal various Trump-themed products. A group of men sat in a tent selling Trump merchandise, and a family put up a garage sale of harshly used toys in hopes that Trump supporters would stop by. One man had set up a folding chair and an Our Lady of Guadalupe poster for people to view as they passed his car.
There were police and secret service patrolling the area, but security seemed to be lacking — we were never asked to show tickets or any form of identification. The event staff took temperatures and passed out free disposable masks to guests at the first checkpoint. These were soon replaced by MAGA cloth masks which were handed to visitors following the second security checkpoint. The majority of rallyers, however, quickly removed the masks in favor of freedom of breath as the novelty of the MAGA decor wore off.
Some kept masks on for reasons entirely different than health.
Many Trump supporters refused to talk to us and wore a mask, hat, and sunglasses to totally conceal their identity.
Reasons for such concealment varied: one supporter was an attorney who feared he would lose his job if his identity was printed. Another group of young supporters said they were members of a college football team and their coaches didn’t permit them to attend the rally.
Most, however, were very proud supporters. Despite her age being over 65 and therefore among those considered most at risk of death from COVID-19, Former Wood County Commissioner Marilyn Baker set up a folding chair at the rally to show her support. Unlike many other attendees who shied away from recognition, Baker rattled off a list of her most important policy issues.
“I’m a big Trump supporter. I want to save our democracy,” she said. “I am extremely concerned about the people who are pushing the Democratic party into socialism. In my opinion this is the most important presidential election of my life.”
Baker was joined by a cadre of her friends donning an array of homemade Trump attire. The group mingled with Trump supporters in the surrounding area and even ran into several people they knew from previous campaign events. The constant “hellos” and offerings of bottled water highlighted the friendly camaraderie between supporters, making the group feel almost like family.
Mostly Midwestern men, women, children, and dogs of all shapes and sizes milled about with whole pizzas and freshly fried funnel cake. On a scale of respectful older gentlemen who took off their hats as Air Force One landed to 16-year-old boys who flashed double peace signs and proceeded to ask for our phone numbers following our interview, the crowd varied.
A mix of 80s hits and morale-boosting patriotic tunes blasted throughout the lot. Songs ranging from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Tiny Dancer” to “House of the Rising Sun” blared from the speaker system, making conversation difficult.
One young supporter whose phone was waving in the suddenly dark sky said he made the trip to the rally so he could show his support of Trump’s America first attitude. Although not old enough to represent his support through voting, 16-year-old Garrett Swank displayed himself as a proud supporter of the administration in his MAGA mask, t‑shirt, and bucket hat — only a few of his spirit items. At home he said he has two additional masks and two flags.
“I’m rocking a Trump flag off the back of my truck too,” Swank said, eagerly. “And what do I love about Trump? He’s all about the people. He does what the people want to see.”
Paula Dionyssion, a small business owner whose local family-run restaurant chain boasts six locations, also said it is Trump’s America First policies that attract her. Rudy’s Hot Dog has catered to Toledoans since 1920, and Dionyssion said the president fights for small businesses.
“Why do I like Trump? Because he’s for the American people.”
After she proudly handed us her business card and generously offered us a deal for free hot dogs.
Once the Air Force One was in sight, crowd members who weren’t able to get one of the coveted seats lined up against the fenced-in parking lot erupted with applause and chants. Amid the 4th of July-esque picnic seating of some in the overflow section on the rest of the parking lot, attendees all competed in reaching their phone the highest to catch a glimpse of the president descending the airplane steps and onto the constructed stage.
One thing rang certain in the minds of all those who we spoke to, however, and that is Trump’s chances come November. To sum it up, one Indiana resident, Kyle Biggs, perfectly described the crowd consensus.