Where am I?
That was my first thought when Republican front-runner Donald Trump started his speech at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh. I had to wait more than an hour in line with hundreds of other people to get inside the venue. Some 2,200 people made it there. “Not a bad start,” I thought then.
But I wasn’t prepared for what I’d witness.
Trump sat on the stage with Fox News television host Sean Hannity and outlined how he would bring back Pittsburgh’s steel industry that was once bread and butter for the city’s economy.
One of my biggest interests as a reporter is politics, so it’s great luck for me to be here in America during this epic presidential campaign (which is how most of Americans I talked to refer to it). I’m used to spending lots of time covering parliamentary issues in Ukraine as a Kyiv Post reporter, but what I always wanted to see is how Americans participate in primaries, what do they do during caucuses and how this election process shapes up.
I thought a straight-talking candidate like Trump would put on a show once he took the stage. I was right.
He mentioned ISIS, migrants and Hillary Clinton’s hair. When Trump started talking about his proposal to build the Wall along the Mexican border, the crowd burst into applause and cheers. Apparently, this is something that will “make America great again.” (as Trump’s slogan suggests). I was curious to see what else he had planned for the show.
As Trump predictably asked who will pay for the wall and got the standard answer — “Mexico!” — I started doubting that I know anything about the U.S. at all. Sitting in a hall packed with thousands of Trump supporters made me nervous, not because I was afraid of provocations of any kind, but because the audience (many of whom could be migrants themselves) believed and supported such ideas. Crowds of people of different age, most of them quite young, seemed to be interested in such events not because they want to learn more about the presidential candidate, but rather to enjoy the spectacle.
The economy hasn’t delivered for many Americans who are frustrated and desperate. Some believe that illegal immigrants prosper more than an average American. Maybe that’s how Trump’s mottos match with its supporters, but I’m not the one to judge.
However, our election campaigns in Ukraine totally lack a character such as Trump.
I spotted a group of guys waving a Mexican flag from a balcony as they were leaving their seats. The gesture didn’t catch Trump’s attention, though. Neither did a young man in his 30s carrying Soviet Union red flag. He was saying; “I’m going home.”
This was my biggest cultural shock in America, even though I prepared myself for this political carnival. The crowd was yelling and chanting “Build that wall” when suddenly a group of university students broke into the hall swearing and carrying anti-Trump posters. It was a bit of excitement. Still, no one threw anything and security guards didn’t attack the youngsters. The students shouted a bit and left the hall, as many of their friends had been protesting outside the building. The show was going on.
My major takeaway: Americans care more about their politics than Ukrainians. At least, that’s the feeling I have. The fact that so many young people participate in such events signals that they will be ready to cast votes and they feel they could have an influence. They could make right or wrong decisions, and learn from it the hard way. This is way better than avoiding the voting booth, as many young Ukrainians do because they don’t believe casting a ballot actually makes sense.