Opinion

Even in the Waiting Room, No Escaping Trump Talk

And what happens to all that voter anger if he loses?

Donald Trump supporter at "Rolling Thunder" rally in Washington. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

It could have been a Donald Trump rally . Except it wasn’t. It was a doctor’s office , a place usually associated with quiet visitors minding their own business. But not on a recent afternoon, with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump over the top in delegates and in his rhetoric on the television screen in the waiting room, and a couple of folks loudly declaring their support and amusement. “This is going to be fun,” joked one middle-aged white man to another. I glanced up from the week-old People magazine and said, matter-of-factly, “Not everyone may be laughing.”  

And then the torrent started, for a very long 10 minutes or so, as guy No. 1 started his speech, directed at me in particular and the room in general, until even his comrade-in-yuks inched away.  

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Trump’s messaging has certainly been successful, and his supporter repeatedly brought up the theme of winning. His voice grew louder and louder as he said Trump was a truth-teller who will fix the economy and make America strong. Trump isn’t perfect, he conceded, and can be rude. But he justified that with the JFK defense. “John Kennedy was a sleaze,” he said, “and everyone loved him.”  

He finished by talking about “the illegals” and his belief that Trump will fix what he thinks is one of America’s biggest problems, “illegals who commit half the crime in the country.”  

By the time he ran out of steam, I had read that People magazine cover to cover.  

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It was the second time in a week that I had been treated to loud talk from a Trump supporter. It was similarly impossible not to overhear the high-decibel conversation of four men at the next table in a restaurant during a recent dinner; one complained that America was not the same country he'd grown up in, and said he was sure Trump would fix all that has gone wrong. Since my brother was twice arrested for trying to eat in a segregated restaurant — one not nearly as nice as the one we were all enjoying — back in those halcyon days he was recalling, I harbor no nostalgia for that past. But I didn’t tell him that.  

Perhaps these gentlemen would call themselves truth-tellers, and anti-PC, just like their presidential pick.  But what some call “political correctness,” my mother called manners. Why would anyone want to go out of his or her way to offend and malign individuals or entire groups of people? Some Republican leaders may be asking themselves that after Trump pointedly insulted New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez , the chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, in her home state.  

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It’s not as though people were faithfully practicing decorum before Trump hit the scene. There has been no lack of insults to our president and first family or personal or political opponents. Glance at the comments on any story to get your fill of stereotypes and conspiracy theories. No one, it seems, has been holding his or her tongue. But some people demand the right to say whatever they want, to whomever they want without rebuke or consequence, which is not the way it works in a civil society where we don’t have to agree but we may pay a price when behavior crosses a line.  

How will the new rules, a new form of PC, be enforced? If someone dares say “Season’s Greetings” while surrounded by blow-up Santa figures and silver-plated trees in a department store in December, will he or she be surrounded by a crowd shouting “Merry Christmas” until surrender is complete?  

Conservative Republican friends who have no love for President Barack Obama’s policies have recently expressed affection for his calm style , and his approval ratings are high. Listening to his recent nuanced speech at Hiroshima  — not anti-war but an acknowledgment of the costs of any conflict — it was impossible to imagine a President Trump walking so fine a line. Adult in the room vs. Cro-Magnon man.  

Yet Donald Trump could be the next president. While I realize that fact, my waiting room companion went further, and guaranteed it. “He will be our next president,” he insisted several times.  

And I wondered, not what would happen — to foreign alliances, immigration policy, criminal justice reform — if he wins, but what will happen to all of that voter anger if he loses.  

What if the man who has staked his brand and his self-celebrated manhood on winning can’t close the deal? If Donald Trump comes up short, so to speak, in a race with Hillary Clinton, then what? What happens to the free-floating fury from supporters who see his struggle as their own in a changing country?  

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.