I recently dated a Trumpster from Colorado for 19 months. Besides owning a flip phone and sporting a mullet, his biggest giveaway was white-culture preservation. “I live in Weld County, and everyone here is right wing,” he said. “We don’t tolerate anything else.”

To impress him, I sheepishly went to the rally in Duluth featuring Vice President Mike Pence. I also wanted to get a fair look at which Republicans lurked in the tucked-in shipping-containers district of the port terminal. I had no press credentials. I had attempted to apply for a free online ticket the night before but all I got was an invitation link to donate to President Donald Trump’s re-election.

While I was waiting in line, a lady dressed in Melania Trump-style wear charged up to me with a thermometer gun, handed me a wristband, and said all she needed was my fahrenheit digits. No one double-checked me for an online invitation.

People 40 to 60 years old at the event looked like they were dressed for the Fourth of July but during Halloween. Red, white, and blue sparkle blinded my eyes, set against a grey-hued backdrop of the cloudy day. I was guided through a narrow security gate at which a lady examined everything inside my purse, from my Mentos to a business card of an NAACP chapter. They eyed me up and down because I had a folder in my hand and a reporter’s notebook. I wore black.

The first person I ran into inside was a Democrat who ran for public office several times in Duluth. A lady in front of me had Trump socks. On them, the president sported the same grimace he does for most photo-ops, but his face was stretched across fat ankles, amplifying the grin.

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U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber got up first and gave the standard speech about mining, jobs, hockey, and Trump Country. His was a hollowed-out voice from a former Iron Age, but he only spoke in five-sentence soundbites, as he didn’t seem to think the crowd could ingest more.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, a former congressman, leaped on stage next, literally hollering about his growing chances to overtake Democratic Sen. Tina Smith. He seemed extremely confident about his prospects.

I was standing by the speakers and had to keep shifting to get away from them. A buff Secret Service guy kept eyeing my moves, and I almost sat in the seat up front that Stauber took after his speech.

Pence finally took the stage, like a rigid soldier on the advent of battle. He downplayed the negative effects of the soybean farmers and severity of the virus and up-played the future mining industry that has been staggered by lawsuits regarding safety.

Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. of Virginia joined the vice president to read a statement from the leaders of five Iron Range cities and Two Harbors endorsing Trump. His undertone was the sense of displacement he felt from the culture wars and the wish that the Democratic Party could re-embrace the working class.

Spotting Superior Police officers on the roof of a warehouse and Trump campaign team members below, I began to feel like the outsider I was. Although I don’t dislike Pence at all, being that I was a Southern Baptist for 30 years, the phony stench of the massive “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” sign in the background overshadowed the true mood of our nation.

We didn’t need Pence on the stage. We needed a cultural icon like Hunter S. Thompson describing the cleavage of Trump’s attitude toward COVID-19 or an ancient echo of Bob Dylan coming off the shores of Gitche Gumee. This was a shrouded post-Fourth of July party with many patrons casting suspicious eyes for non-compliers.

I heard one lady, wearing a pink Trump cap, say, “Well, at least there are no protesters here.” Her shoes were as pink as her hat. She used fine accessories but abated a mask. She moved on to the next person she could persuade.

I found the protestors lining the Goodwill store on Garfield Avenue, and I gave them a holler on my way home.

Jane Hoffman of Duluth has a master's degree in political science.