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Commentary: Campaign rally energizes Trump base and crowds of protesters alike

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A protester carries a flag at the intersection of West Superior Street and South Lake Avenue in Duluth. He told the Dispatch he was struck in the left eye by a Trump supporter during the course of the day. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 7
Spectators look on from their seats in Amsoil Arena, Wednesday, as they wait for President Donald Trump to give an address. Many had been waiting for four or more hours in hot and confined conditions. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch 3 / 7
Gary Heyer stands on a table to invite the crowd to check out "QAnon"-- a website ran by an individual called "Q" who has proliferated a number of controversial theories regarding figures like former candidate Hillary Clinton. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 7
Protesters gather at the corner of West Superior Street and South Lake Avenue in Duluth to protest the arrival of President Donald Trump. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 7
Thousands raise their smartphones and cameras to capture the entrance of President Donald Trump into Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Trump had a campaign rally there on Wednesday, June 20. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch6 / 7
Some protests banded people of varying and -- as some admitted -- sometimes conflicting viewpoints, aside form their opposition to Trump. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch 7 / 7

DULUTH—It was about three-quarters of an hour into his address that President Donald Trump dropped what might be the most eyebrow-raising comment of the day.

"You ever notice they always call the other side 'elite?' The elite!" Trump told thousands of supporters gathered in Duluth's Amsoil Arena for a campaign rally Wednesday, June 20. "Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I'm smarter than they are. I'm richer than they are. I became president and they didn't."

Speaking with Trump supporters, many were excited to see the famously unapologetic president in person—one, Courtney Carlson, of Warroad, said he hoped to see "vintage Trump." And, boy, did they get vintage Trump.

This, from a former candidate who ran on an anti-establishment platform, who spoke after a virtual carousel of prominent Republican figures including Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minnesota state Rep. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, running for U.S. Senate—all of whom railed against the nefarious, encroaching greed of liberal elites to the detriment of everyday working-class people.

And so the president, yet again, took the widely cherished and orthodox—even his own orthodoxy—and turned it on its head.

Addressing Amsoil Arena in the midst of more heated controversies swirling around his presidency—this time it was his zero-tolerance border policy and its effects, less so the Kim Jong Un summit—Trump didn't come across cowed or unassured in the least. Defiant. Frenetic. Playful. Unapologetic. Gregarious. Caustic. Vintage Trump.

He blasted the usual people—Hillary Clinton, the Mueller investigation, FBI agents Jason Strzok and Lisa Page (who were removed from the Mueller team after texts came to light that indicated a compromising bias against Trump), Democratic legislators and the politicos of Mexico and Canada.

He faced his latest controversies head on—iterating his desire for a border policy granting citizenship based on merit, while retaining twin pillars of strength and compassion. He dismissed those who decried the Kim summit as pessimists who thought he couldn't do it and couldn't bring themselves to admit what was accomplished in Singapore.

He lent his support for local candidates like Housley and 8th Congressional District hopeful Pete Stauber, emphasizing his administration needs to maintain Republican majorities in the Legislature to enact his vision—then, almost immediately, writing off much of the issue by saying, majority or no, they'd "do it anyway."

And all the while, he promised more jobs and sustainable futures for Minnesotans—pointing to low unemployment across the nation and a booming stock market—while he expressed his support for the mining industry and reaffirmed campaign promises to renegotiate contracts like the North American Free Trade Agreement in a way that fairly rewards and protects the U.S.

No matter which way you slice it, it's not business as usual in the White House. In an age of polarized politics, is there a politician who can engender more passionate responses—whether it's vitriol from his opposers or affirmation from his supporters? Take any 20-word phrase from the man and there can be found reactions from all across the political spectrum—few, if any of them, seem measured in tone.

Trump's supporters may look at the speech as an expression of rugged individualism—a trademark showing by a champion for disenfranchised "deplorables," standing in opposition to a corrupt establishment that takes advantage of the silent majority and sweeps their concerns under a rug of paper-thin political correctness.

On the other hand, Trump's critics might point to his address as more evidence of self-absorption to the point of narcissism—self-fixated and self-serving antics that serve not only to upend political and social norms, but undermine the democratic institutions of the United States.

As evidenced among his supporters in Amsoil Arena, or the protesters arrayed across the Duluth harbor front, or media coverage of the event—whether it energizes his base or incites his detractors, when Trump's words enter the conversation, they tend to electrify it. Wednesday was no different.

Trump supporters

By the thousands, Trump supporters traversed a gauntlet of difficulties ranging from closed freeway exits, to congested parking, to power outages to see the president. They came from just down the road on Duluth's waterfront or hopped out of their cars after a five-hour drive across state lines, hailing from far and wide.

They waited—many of them for more than four hours—in humid, 80-degree conditions, packed together like canned sardines in the confines of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which lost power for a couple hours.

In conversations with the Dispatch, these visitors often said they were simply there to see their president in person—though, in general, they brought with them concerns for rural folks, blue-collar workers and disenfranchised conservative voices.

Dressed in American flag clothes and a cowboy hat, Gloria Olesia, a resident of Mahtowa, said she came for deeply personal reasons. If given the chance, she noted, she would ask Trump to support the military, of which many close family members currently serve.

"I wanted to tell him 'Take care of our troops,'" said Olesia, who described the potential encounter as an honor. "I have four grandchildren in the military and my oldest grandchildren, Camille, is deployed in the Middle East. That's the main thing."

Trump protesters

Protesters popped up across Duluth—rallies of opposition in Leif Erickson Park, at the Duluth Civic Center, along the harborfront at the Blue Wave event in Lake Place Park and more.

Brainerd resident Cheryl Fields told the Dispatch Thursday, June 21, during a phone interview Trump's administration represents a failure of basic human decency by the American people—typified, for example, by the way officials refer to incarcerating illegal immigrants in animalistic terms like "catch and release."

"I think our country is taking a very dark turn. Trump is always demonizing something—it's always the Democrats' fault, it's never his fault for his lack of communication," said Fields, who took part in the Blue Wave rally Wednesday. "So I think this is going to be a very dark part of our history, this Trump era and the division he causes, the division he leads."

In Duluth, a protester who would only identify himself as "Anonymous Brother" said he was there to oppose Trump and the administration's support for oil pipeline initiatives like Enbridge's Line 3 proposed to be built across the northern portions of the state.

"Water is life. We are gathered here as a brothers and sisters because we don't like that Trump is in town and he's for big oil," Anonymous Brother said. "He wants to hurt Mother Earth."

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