The strange sweetness of the “Let’s Go Brandon” festival

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A somewhat haunted-looking older man from Farmington Hills – who came to the event on his own – described how every Tuesday at 7 Mile and Farmington Road in the nearby town of Livonia, he and a group of friends come together to wave flags and show their support. for the former president. But… especially for going out and drinking.

“We’re probably around 25 or 30, and then we go to the bar across the street and it’s really fun,” he said. “When people go by, I can’t believe how many people are honking their horns and all that. “

Two middle-aged men, one from nearby Lake Orion and a native of Brandon, huddled under a huge “thin blue line” flag on a ridiculously tall flag pole. I approached them because the latter, who identified himself only as “Sean”, was wearing a cap with a message on which I could not help but start a conversation: “Everything that woke up is spinning. to shit.

Sean described his concern about the issue as stemming from “the newspaper, seeing what was going on and a lack of confidence in the current administration.” But when it came to his own children’s schools, he was considerably more optimistic.

“My son is going here in Brandon [public schools]. I’m really happy with Brandon’s schools, couldn’t be happier. … I graduated from Brandon High School; I don’t think that’s happening here in Brandon, ”he said. “But I’m still concerned about all the other communities where this is happening.”

Her children were doing well. But how could you pass up the opportunity to reunite with like-minded people and transmit your Brandon-ness into the ether for all those who fight the good fight in less comfortable environments?

Although I proclaimed my status as a boy from my hometown, or quite close to it, it was not easy to get suspicious attendees to the event to familiarize themselves with the rare national political reporter coming to of the region. (It didn’t help, realizing that I had worn my normally tweed outfit, I tried to indulge myself by slapping on a Detroit Tigers cap that was in the back seat of my car – which didn’t help. ‘had the effect of making me look like some sort of Michael Moore, a millennial hipster.) So I was especially grateful when an intense looking man I had noticed when watching me earlier complimented my sneakers as he walked past with his wife. He introduced himself to me as Mike Steger, a self-proclaimed “activist” and former Democratic House candidate who had moved to Kalamazoo six weeks previously from California.

I quickly learned that in addition to being a welcome conversation oasis of familiarity, these The vaguely hip, urban young people were rare birds in the political world: the honest LaRouche-ites, acolytes of the late eternal and eccentric presidential candidate whose movement has become conspiratorial and at times violent in its history. The Stegers, however, couldn’t be further from this; they were kind and engaging as they described their journey from Bush-era anti-war activists in California to true Trump supporters in Michigan.

“The first one [Trump] The rally we went to was in Phoenix, and what was most striking was the type of people that were there and the sacrifice that those people were making. They had that feeling of something deeper, and they had a lot of a conservative style and kind of a nihilistic streak, but what’s under it was really substantial, ”Steger said. “There’s not a lot of ideology out there, it’s a lot of one-issue things, or if it’s not, they’re actually concerned with: what are their little ones? -children are going to have for their way of life? “

As unexpected as it might be, meeting a pair of LaRouche-ites there in the wild seemed fitting. Steger and I discussed how Trump confused mainstream politics, coding what was once anti-imperialism on the left as “conservative” and state control over medical decisions as “liberal.” The attendees of the “Let’s Go Brandon” festival were not there because of an unwavering commitment to the Reagan revolution or their desire for a vermuele-ian diktat of the “common good”. They chose their motivating causes à la carte: some held up placards protesting against critical race theory, some Covid blockades, pure cultural animosity towards Democrats. They came because that was where their people were.

***

It was shocking to consider that the real purpose of the event was, in reality, as rigidly partisan as possible: to ensure that Republicans never lose a competitive election again.

The Maddocks, who founded the MCC, led groups from Michigan to Washington on Jan.6, as did current MCC president Rosanne Ponkowski, vice-chair of the Oakland County Republican Party. Former State Senator Patrick Colbeck bragged on stage about his PayPal ban and was instrumental in the cancellation of Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show for its aggressive trafficking in 2020 election conspiracies. Apocalyptic rhetoric was all the stranger coming from a politician with his particular brand of awkward daddy anti-charm.

“I worked for the past year investigating what happened in the 2020 election, and all the evidence points to Brandon should not be occupying [the White House]”Colbeck said to cheers and shouts.” Our lawmakers should do a full forensic check. … I’m sick of people putting on a good show during campaign season and then not doing what they want. said they would do after they take office. We can’t afford it anymore. Too much is at stake. “

Colbeck encouraged attendees to learn more about his “Electoral Integrity Force,” which has led a tireless effort to reverse Trump’s loss in Michigan and thus obtained legal threats from Dominion Voting Systems.

People seemed excited, but not enough to dissuade them from eagerly patronizing the hot dog stands or the makeshift bazaar selling “F — Joe Biden” hoodies. As the weather deteriorated, with light snow turning to sleet and then freezing rain, the crowd slowly subsided after Colbeck’s pep talk, especially as an eccentric radio host spoke endlessly of conspiracies. covering everything from the Kennedys to something impenetrable about the IRS and Quonset Huts in Alaska. (Obviously, the warmest reception of the afternoon was for “Ricky Bobby” – who, red-faced and laughing, mostly expressed dismay at leaving the sunny confines of Daytona Beach for mid-Michigan. in November.)

With still an hour to go, the crowds subsided and the main area of ​​the park was populated by only a handful of true believers, including two men in Proud Boys outfits presumably asserting their manhood by weathering the elements. I approached a mother and her teenage son who, like me, seemed to linger on the sidelines of the event, pacing the crowd for an entrance.

“I just wandered here from down the street,” said the mother, who pulled the fur-lined hood of her coat against her face against the cold. The two requested anonymity to speak to a reporter. “I’m not really political, but you know, it’s a conservative area, so I’m not surprised. … I didn’t vote for Biden, but honestly I feel like it’s a little embarrassing.

Against the backdrop of an ambulance sporting the slogan “Trump Save the USA”, I could see where it came from. His son described himself as a Trump supporter, but he seemed somewhat baffled by the festival’s “f — your feelings” spirit, although he sincerely shared his concerns about the ballots with me. postal ballot in the 2020 elections.

With a few noisy outliers – like a wild-eyed shaggy man wearing a Gadsden flag, who punctuated Colbeck’s remarks with cries of “they should be in jail”- the general atmosphere was more like a family barbecue or a local radio festival than the harmfulness of an official Trump event. It’s hard to imagine someone like this teenager, or the retiree from Farmington Hills, or the proud hometown, anti-awakening father I spoke to, storming the Capitol or the local center of vote count. But that’s the nature of a crowd: you bring together people who are basically likable, but otherwise unwilling to act, and get them to achieve the goals of a few activists.

The vast majority of the “Let’s Go Brandon” festival attendees were there because they were sympathetic to its central and humorous cultural vanity, or because they were turned on by a pet problem. Its organizers presented the event because they thought it might help them grow their petition or mailing list. Even during the Tea Party era, this could have been aimed, for example, at upholding Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge or continuing the pipe-dreaming effort to uncover former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. . Today, the goal is to elect Republicans at all levels who seem openly hostile to democracy.

“I don’t think people are angry,” said Steger, the LaRouche-ite-turned-Trumpian. “They just want to see politicians who will actually do something.”

A binary political system requires Americans to fall into one of two tribes, and their choice is based primarily on cultural affinities. I happen to know this community very well, and despite the growing extremism of the Trump-era Republican Party, the other side isn’t going to win anytime soon. So while cultural appeal remains static, the “something” that the chiefs of each tribe aim to effect changes, tilting in increasingly extreme and, in the case of some Republicans, undemocratic directions.

This is an unexpected and disturbing lesson from an event apparently based on a NASCAR-related joke slogan. But considering that even the people I spoke with who thought the event itself was a joke didn’t vote for Biden, it’s worth considering. “Thanks, Brandon” probably isn’t going to cut it off as a rebuttal.

As Thanksgiving approaches, the Assembly of Brandonites could offer a grim political lesson to Democrats that has been evident to families for years, especially in our polarized times: Deep and uncomfortable grievances can always be the catalyst for a strong enough community bond. In the spirit of the event, and to quote an anti-PC cultural cornerstone: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas.

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