By John Grinvalds
Frigid and fascinated, I attended Tuesday night’s Omaha Trump rally as a member of the press. I covered the momentous event, which ended in seven hospitalizations from the cold, for my capstone journalism class.
The day was full of many spectacles and stories. At 4:00 p.m., about four hours before Air Force One touched down in Eppley, I was set loose in the gathering of eager Trump supporters. I spoke with a few attendees, walked around for a while, and then returned to the press section. Torn between the desire to interview more people and the fear of COVID-19 in what was probably a seething cesspool for the virus, I resorted to people watching.
Elderly couples sauntered between carnivalesque food trucks. Groups of young men—sporting Trump hats, scarves, and flags—joked and laughed. One father beamed over his kid, who had donned the costume of a tiny Trump.
I saw a woman who looked to be in her late teens or early 20s. She was alone, wearing a backwards red hat and an unzipped coat. Her pale, ungloved hands quivered in the biting cold of sub-freezing temperatures.
Her eyes wandered from one titanic display to the next, from the two large screens emblazoned with the phrase “Make America Great Again” to the towering scissor lift flooding light onto the stage. But then she shifted her gaze to the people around her. Never still, her eyes darted desperately from one rally-goer to the next. She was looking for something. She was looking to be seen. She was looking for recognition in the mass of the crowd.
We all want, need, recognition. Recognition is the foundation of identity. American sociologist Charles H. Cooley put it well: “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” We see ourselves as we assume others see us.
I suspect that the woman’s motivation for attending the rally on her own—at least, to some extent—was that desire to be seen. And who can blame her? Trump brands himself as the all-seer, the one who recognizes the plight of Americans left behind by a globalizing economy and fragmenting society. But does the man who’s spent his life on golden toilets really see us? Did he see the thousands of his freezing supporters who were left stranded in the cold and dark as too few buses bumbled through traffic jams and road closures? Does he see seven people who were hospitalized from the cold?
Thankfully, there is one who recognizes us, and God is no negligent father. God sees us; God knows us. God calls us each by name into discipleship and love of neighbor. God goes with us into the world and never casts us out.
We should not look for recognition in our political leaders; we should not wait and hope on their every word. No cultish infatuation with a single politician can pull us from the depths of despair. Thinking a strongman will save us is nothing short of idolatry.
We are seen and recognized by God. Now, we must see and recognize our neighbors. We must work and fight for a more just world. We must struggle together for an equitable society beyond the iron cage of modernity. Loving one’s neighbor is a radical act in a world dominated by profit and fragmentation; thank God Jesus was radical.