Donald Trump's rallies are increasingly
resembling the authoritarian Republican presidential candidate's rhetoric.
No dissent, even silent or symbolic, is tolerated. Hostility to the press is manifested by the construction of gated pens, which effectively prevent reporters from actually speaking to the people in attendance. And plain-clothed private security forces, as well as the Secret Service, are rooting out undesirables, sometimes violently.
Ben Schreckinger wrote about these developments in Politico:
In the past, the press pens at most rallies have opened directly on to the floors of venues, giving members of the media access to crowds. But Trump's aides -- and more recently Secret Service agents – have long worked to prevent members of the media from exiting press pens to document protests and scuffles while Trump speaks.
The more frequent use of the restrictive press pen design — which had been deployed sporadically in past months — comes in the days after a Secret Service agent was caught on video choke-slamming a photographer for Time Magazine at a rally in Virginia late last month. The photographer, Christopher Morris, had been attempting to leave the pen to document a Black Lives Matter protest and shouted an obscenity at the agent before he was thrown to the ground.
Donald Trump makes members of his Orlando crowd raise their right hands and swear to vote in the primary. pic.twitter.com/EVenRilJrV
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 5, 2016
Then there's the matter of loyalty oaths, which Trump has been beginning his rallies with for some time, but the optics of which (including outstretched hands) have only recently begun raising eyebrows.
The former director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abe Foxman, told The Times of Israel, "It is a fascist gesture" and called it "about as offensive, obnoxious and disgusting as anything I thought I would ever witness in the United States of America." Foxman added:
He is smart enough — he always tells us how smart he is — to know the images that this evokes. Instead of asking his audience to pledge allegiance to the United States of America, which in itself would be a little bizarre, he's asking them to swear allegiance to him. (italics in original)
Trump's main rival for the GOP nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tx.) seemed to agree with that sentiment, saying he would only ever take an oath to the people and would never ask his supporters to "pledge loyalty to him like subjects to a king."
Here is the full text of one of Trump's recently-demanded loyalty oaths:
I do solemnly swear that I no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions if there's hurricanes or whatever, will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for President.
After the crowd complied, Trump admonished them once more, "Don't forget you all raised your hands. You swore. Bad things happen if you don't live up to what you just did."
In the interest of context, this is what passes for light-hearted humor from Trump. As creepy as the whole enterprise is, he's clearly joking when he says "bad things happen" and even while administering the oath it's done with a loosey-goosey mock-seriousness.
In an interview on the Today show this morning, Trump defended the use of the oath at his rallies, saying, "Sometimes we'll do it for fun, and they'll start screaming at me, 'Do the swearing! Do the swearing!' I mean, they're having such a great time."
Trump claimed in the phone interview that "until this phone call, I didn't realize it was a problem" and that I'll certainly look into it because I don't want to offend anybody. It's been amazingly received."
This kind of a response perfectly epitomizes what Trump told Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon last year about why he never apologizes, "I fully think apologizing's a great thing, but you have to be wrong."
Watch a recent clip of Trump demanding the loyalty of private citizens below: