Featured photo: Hundreds of attendees watch President Trump from a Jumobtron at the Winston-Salem airport on Tuesday. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)
Ryan Baysinger cut a striking figure: a Black man dressed in a Trump shirt skateboarding down North Liberty Street as charter buses, tractor trailers and gleaming new pickups flying Trump flags trundled alongside him.
As someone selling buttons, he held an advantage over the vendors selling flags and T-shirts in that he could take his wares up and down the line outside Smith Reynolds Airport, where people waited to get inside.
After most of the crowd had settled into the hangar, but before the president touched down in Air Force One and a second wave of supporters filled a parking lot where a Jumbotron was set up, business slowed down and Baysinger wandered over to look at a small protest.
Patrice Zeal and Ladybug Williams, two Black women, held a banner reading, “Lying Trump is a racist fraud.” Baysinger pulled out a camera and took a photo of the women. Zeal asked Baysinger about his Trump shirt, and he replied, “I’m making money. I’m making a thousand dollars a day. You a broke n*****.” (Zeal responded in kind, yelling across the street to another Black man wearing Trump gear: “You’re about a dumb n*****. Police are shooting Black men in the street. But you’re a dumb piece of shit and you’re going to wear that hat.”)
Later, in an interview, Baysinger acknowledged that $1,000 a night was more like what he wished he was earning.
He started following campaigns in 2016, selling Bernie Sanders merch, but this year he switched to the Republican circuit to hawk Trump pins. Before the COVID pandemic, he was making $1,000 or $2,000 a night, he said, but with the smaller crowds at socially-spaced events now, he’s only getting $300 or $400.
“This was supposed to be a good summer,” he said. “I missed $50,000 to $100,000 because of COVID. I think that’s all because of the Democrats shutting things down.”
He has a baby coming in December, his first, and with it, additional pressure to earn money.
Baysinger said his outward enthusiasm for Trump isn’t just about making the sale, but he increasingly leans more Republican, saying that he finds anti-Trump protesters more abrasive than their counterparts who protest against Democratic candidates. He thinks Democratic supporters are more guided by emotion than reason. And he doesn’t like the assumption that just because you’re Black you should vote Democrat. He said he debates whether to wear a Trump shirt. On one hand, Black people antagonize him for it. On the other hand, it engenders goodwill among white Trump supporters.
“It’s a fairly tough balance,” Baysinger said.
Trump’s 76-minute speech in Winston-Salem on Tuesday was peppered with COVID skepticism and shutdown resentment, with barbs tossed at Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democratic politicians.
“But you just take a look at what’s going on in North Carolina,” he said soon after taking the stage. “They want to open. They want to open in Michigan so badly…. They want to have football. They want to have their schools open. And it’s a shame what’s going on. And I’ll tell you what: On November 4th, every one of those states will be open. They’re doing it for political reasons.”
Later, he promised: “Next year will be the single greatest economic year in the history of our country, and probably in the history of this state, if your governor ever opens up.”
North Carolina has taken a more cautious approach than other southeastern states like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Under Phase 2.5, which began on Sept. 4, gyms, bowling alleys and skating rinks can open at 30 percent capacity, but theaters, indoor music venues and bars remain closed.
The Trump campaign performed temperature checks and handed out masks at the gate, but many supporters refrained from wearing them inside the venue.
Dennis Hodges, another vendor, who wore a “God, Guns and Trump” shirt, went even further than Baysinger, saying, “COVID is nothing but a scam by the Democrats to scare us. They couldn’t impeach this president. Democrats are selling fear so they can control us.”
The COVID pandemic is a verified phenomenon tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization. In North Carolina, 2,942 people so far have died as a result.
Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, assailed Trump’s handling of the pandemic in a statement issued ahead of the president’s visit.
“Today, North Carolinians will not hear President Trump discuss how he plans to get this virus under control, nor will they hear plans to safely restart our economy or provide much-needed relief to struggling workers, parents and small business owners,” Biden said. “President Trump’s mismanagement has cost too many North Carolinians their lives and livelihoods, with communities of color bearing the brunt of devastation. He has looked away from North Carolinians in need of a lifeline, even as his wealthy corporate donors get ahead.”
By 6:35 p.m., when Trump’s plane touched down on the tarmac, the protest started by Zeal and Williams had grown to 17. When Trump’s name was announced from the stage, they banged on pots and pans and yelled, “Liar!”
“We feel so strongly about the things he’s saying,” Williams said. “If it’s not white and rich, then you’re considered an outcast. If you’re Black and Brown, you don’t get no points. Everything Trump says, the factfinders prove him a liar.”
Zeal added, “I have a fear about the Post Office and [Postmaster General] Louis DeJoy, and suppressing the vote. I’m losing confidence in our democratic system, and that’s not good. It makes me angry. It makes me worried.”
Trump’s speech, which was amplified loud enough to carry to the protesters on North Liberty Street, sought to undermine confidence in the outcome of the election, particularly in North Carolina, only recasting the villains as Democrats.
“They’re gonna send out millions of ballots to you, people that never really thought of it,” Trump said. “Sending out millions of unsolicited ballots. Make sure you send it in, and then go to your polling place and make sure it counts…. Because the only way they can win is by doing very bad things.”
The state and local election offices do not mail out unsolicited absentee ballots. Voters must fill out an application — which includes a warning that fraudulently or falsely completing the form is a Class I felony — in order to receive an absentee ballot from their local board of election.
Trump carried North Carolina by almost 4 points in 2016. Only twice in the past 50 years has the Democratic nominee for president put North Carolina in the column — Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008. If Trump loses North Carolina, his firewall, this year, it likely means he will also lose critical battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin, making his path to re-election all but impossible.
“Got to be careful with those ballots,” he riffed conspiratorially during his rally in Winston-Salem on Tuesday. “I don’t like it. You know, you have a Democrat governor. You have all those Democrats watching that stuff. I don’t like it. I look at these crowds. And if they’re going to cheat, crowds are meaningless. Really. If they’re going to cheat, these big, beautiful crowds — you can have 15,000; you can have 50,000. Watch it. Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.”
Around 7 p.m., about 40 people — part of a coalition that included many who have protested against police brutality since the death of George Floyd — enlarged the small protest across the street from the airport. They chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” and, “This is what democracy looks like.” Some of the chants ridiculed Trump, such as, “Hands too small, can’t build a wall.” They threw back the words that Trump reportedly used to describe members of the armed services who have died in combat by yelling, “Losers” and “Suckers” at his supporters as they streamed out of the rally. Trump’s supporters responded by chanting, “Four more years.” Some yelled, “Go home and find a job,” and, “Quit living off the government.”
Trump continued a theme from the Republican National Convention by pledging support for law enforcement.
“We will hire more police, increase penalties for assaults on law enforcement, surge federal prosecutors into high-crime communities and ban all sanctuary cities,” he promised.
But the president drew some of the loudest cheers of the evening in remarks about school curriculum and heritage that promoted a sanitized view of American history while conflating the Confederacy with patriotism.
“We will restore patriotic education in our schools,” Trump said, apparently referencing his threat to have the US Department of Education investigate the use of the New York Times 1619 Project in schools. When the crowd erupted in applause, Trump told Sen. Thom Tillis: “This is a very sophisticated group, Thom. You know what I’m talking about. Patriotic education.”
“USA, USA, USA,” Trump’s supporters chanted.
“The first thing they want to do is take your history away,” Trump said. “That’s why the monuments and statues — they want to knock them down.
“They take away your guns,” he continued. “They take away your heroes. They take away your great generals. They take away your past.
“We’ll teach our children to love our country and honor our history,” Trump concluded, “and always respect our great American flag.”