Politics & Government

‘You need to speak out.’ Hundreds in downtown Lexington protest Trump visit for Bevin.

Hundreds of people gathered along Lexington’s Main Street on Monday to protest President Donald Trump and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in the hours ahead of the former’s Rupp Arena rally for the re-election of the latter.

Although some in the crowds flowing into Rupp Arena for the rally occasionally shouted at the protesters or made jokes, there was no violence. Police officers kept a watchful eye outside the downtown courthouses, where throngs cheered a large Baby Trump balloon, and in Triangle Park, across the street from the Lexington Convention Center.

Eric P. von Wiegen of Lexington carried a sign with pictures of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin emblazoned, “Stop Commies.”

“When I went to Vietnam, it was to fight the communists. Trump stayed home because he had bone spurs,” von Wiegen said.

“And now he’s leading us down the road to totalitarianism,” von Wiegen said. “He goes after the news media, he goes after the academics, the scientists. Anyone who has an independent thought, he belittles them, he demeans them, he tries to destroy their credibility so nobody will listen to anyone but him. That’s what dictators do.”

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Baby Trump balloons at Courthouse Plaza in Lexington. Matt Goins

Three Lexington women greeted Trump’s conservative supporters with protest signs outside the entrance to Rupp Arena. One man spotted Kit Anderson’s more locally oriented sign — “Bevin betrays teachers” — and strode over to tell the women that he agreed with them on that much. The man said he likes Trump but he’s ready to vote Tuesday “to dump Bevin. He’s got to go.”

The women smiled and thanked him.

It can be difficult to get Kentuckians interested in elections at the statehouse level, said another of the women, Kimberly Spencer.

“I think the problem is that Kentucky politics is just basically corrupt,” Spencer said. “The language in these ads on TV — ‘the radical resistance,’ ‘the socialists’ — this is the language they use to describe people who are concerned about the health care coverage and the civil rights of others. Are we really so self-centered that we only care about ourselves?”

Many protesters said they were drawn downtown Monday because they wanted to show their opposition to the Trump Administration’s policies. They cited immigrant children detained in unsafe lockups, a push to cut affordable health care access and dismissal of climate change as some of their top concerns.

But more than any one policy, they said, the Republican president’s crude, hateful bluster has put Americans at each other’s throats. Trump doesn’t talk about his “opponents,” they said, he talks of his “enemies” who must be destroyed.

“The president is damaging this country. He is damaging our basic constitutional ideals,” said Rena Wiseman of Lexington. “I think he is a really serious threat to our democracy.”

Little in the way Trump speaks or acts shows respect for his office or his fellow citizens, Wiseman said.

“No other president has acted this way,” she said. “I very much disagreed with George W. Bush. But I wasn’t scared about the future of the country under him. That wasn’t the way he conducted himself.”

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Demonstrators gathered to protest President Donald Trump at Triangle Park in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 4, 2019. Matt Goins

Mary Rouse, trading polite greetings with Trump fans in the Rupp Arena parking lot, said anyone who expected Trump to be a reformer must be disappointed by the large number of people in his campaign and administration who have been indicted or otherwise driven from office by scandal.

“Trump said he was gonna drain the swamp, but he just filled it with his own swamp critters,” Rouse said. “He’s a mafioso wanna-be. He runs the country like it’s his own criminal syndicate.”

Gathered with sign-waving friends at the Baby Trump balloon, Aja Gray said she simply didn’t want Trump’s visit to her city to go unchallenged.

“I’ve lived in Lexington for about five years,” Gray said. “I’ve noticed that we’re sort of a passive people here. We just want to get along with each other in Lexington. And that’s fine most of the time, but you need to speak out when you see something wrong.”

John Cheves is a government accountability reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the newspaper in 1997 and previously worked in its Washington and Frankfort bureaus and covered the courthouse beat.
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