Trump speaks in St. Charles
The president's speech lead to demonstrations of passion both inside and outside the Convention Center
“No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
Those entering the Convention Center in St. Charles on Nov. 29 were greeted by the chants of protesters gathered on the street outside, wielding American flags and homemade signs as they continue chanting to the beat of a single drum. “Liar!” their signs read, “Impeach Trump!” “Black Lives Matter.” Only a few feet away, the signs change drastically to the Trump and Pence campaign signs held under American flags colored blue for the Blue Lives Matter movement. Regardless of which side they are there to support, however, they all anticipate the same event: the arrival of President Donald Trump later that afternoon to give a speech on tax cuts.
Police guard every side entrance to the Convention Center, with emergency vehicles – both police cars and ambulances – sitting in the parking lots nearby. Inside, Secret Service, dressed in all black, stand by the doors, checking bags and waving metal detectors over everyone who enters. They work hurriedly, attempting to get everyone through while still doing a thorough job of checking for weapons.
Inside the hall itself, as of around 12:30 pm, the seats and risers surrounding the podium are mostly empty, save for a few people who have already arrived. The press section, however, is bustling with activity as reporters set up laptops, figure out which angles will be best for their bulky camera equipment, and mingle with each other. For many, this is not a particularly exciting event; they’ve covered every presidential speech for the past 30 years. They reside behind barriers separating the press from the guests, who were all handpicked to be invited to this event. Rows upon rows of seats are surrounded by risers on either side, all facing a stage in the center of the room. Onstage, the podium sits in the center of two flags and Christmas trees, set symmetrically to each other, as well as a giant red sign on either side proclaiming “Merry Christmas!” As of now, the podium is empty along with the majority of the seats. Slowly, guests begin to trickle in, finding their places in the hall.
Outside, the crowds of protesters are growing larger much more quickly, adding another group further down the road, barely visible from those set up directly in front of the building where President Trump will soon be.
Eventually, riot police arrive to clear the streets, and the protesters oblige, choosing a side of the street to stand on, where they gather on the curb to continue chanting, now confined to the sidewalk and adjoining grass by police officers in riot gear. “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!” they shout before once again taking up the same chants as earlier. Both sides are together now, though they appear to exist relatively peacefully – no fights, no violence, no arrests. The crowd consists of all ages of people, from teenagers to women holding signs with oxygen tubes in their nostrils, and it is probably half people of color – a stark contrast to the ballroom, which is filling up with a crowd of primarily older white people. Regardless, they are all waiting – waiting for the President to arrive to deliver his speech.
The anticipation builds both inside and outside as the time ticks closer and closer to the President’s arrival. Outside, the protesters wait for the motorcade while the guests inside listen to a playlist that switches from Adele to Elton John to Aerosmith. Eventually, the last chords to “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles plays and the music disappears, replaced by a voice on a microphone announcing:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
The audience stands, raising their cell phones over their heads to capture President Trump as he enters through a blue curtain, waving as he approaches the podium.
“I told you we’d be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again!” he proclaims into the microphone, and the crowd cheers. House of Representatives member Kathy Conway revels in seeing the President speak live for the first time, noting how unique it is from watching him on TV.
“I found that he is much warmer and personable than he can sometimes come across on TV,” she said.
For the next 40 minutes, he waves his hands in his signature way as he discusses tax cuts for the small businesses of Main Street St. Charles as well as his own accomplishments as president over the past 10 months, all to the enthusiastic cheers to the crowd as he mentions building up the military, building the wall, or creating jobs, and choruses of boos as he discussed Claire McCaskill, Democrats, and, of course, the press – or the “fake news” – standing in the back of the room. The crowd follows his every word, applauding enthusiastically, waving “Make America Great Again” baseball caps and cowboy hats in the air. Conway applauds alongside those surrounding her, partaking in their excitement.
“There was a real energy in the room,” she said. “This was a group hungry to hear their thoughts and opinions expressed and it was clear they appreciated his comments. It was a very respectful and enthusiastic crowd.”
To the accompaniment of the cheers of the crowd, President Trump finishes his speech with a flourish, once again shouting, “I told you we’d be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again, and we are! And this year for Christmas, we’re getting tax cuts!”
The crowd went wild, shouting as he waved and stepped off the stage to greet friends in the audience before leaving the room entirely, leaving the audience audience to begin funneling out of the seats through the single door open for them.
Outside, the protest had died down, no longer awaiting his arrival. The Convention Center quickly returned to its normal state, full of people milling around, the Secret Service and multitudes of police officers gone, the ballroom with its blue curtains and American flag decorations empty once again, the decorations the only evidence the president had been there that day.