When unscripted incidents enliven a tedious political speech they can be more memorable than anything the candidate is saying. Take, for instance, Tyler Linfesty, the 17-year-old high school student standing behind President Trump at his Billings, Montana rally last Thursday.
The young man had sought a pass to attend just to meet the president up close. He isn’t a Republican supporter; he supports Democrat Bernie Sanders.
Wearing a blue plaid shirt borrowed from his brother, Tyler stood in the VIP section directly behind Trump with three friends who were wearing the red MAGA hat, one of them a girl with a dark curly mane. Tyler opted not to wear Trump’s hat.
Prior to being allowed into the arena, Tyler, his friends and other attendees had been coached on showing enthusiasm for Trump’s words. They were expected to clap with vigour, cheer wildly in agreement, and whoop it up with the rest as though they were there for The Price is Right.
But as the hour long rally got going, observers took note of Tyler’s facial reactions in response to Trump’s extravagant claims. At one point he turned to his curly-haired friend to ask, “Is that true?” when he suspected Trump’s boast was an outright lie. The single time I saw Tyler clap Trump had criticized NAFTA.
Throughout his face conveyed his reaction to everything Trump said. His dark eyebrows projected his feelings with no need for words. He frowned quizzically when he doubted Trump’s truthfulness. That happened countless times. At other times he tilted his head as if to say, “I doubt that.” When he asked the girl, “Is that true?” she shook her head.
Besides the general TV audience captured by his shifting expressions, friends watching at home texted him to let him know he was getting as much or more attention than Trump himself. They dubbed him Plaid Shirt Guy. Promptly, he began going viral on social media. Even news reporters took note and spread the word about him.
Trump’s rambling self-congratulatory speech stretched to one hour and 18 minutes. By then even his hardcore defenders were yawning as he blathered on, praising himself, faking humility and skipping from one partial sentence to the next topic oblivious to how he was proving the content of Bob Woodward’s about-to-be-published book, “Fear”, as well as the criticisms listed in the anonymous op-ed published by The New York Times.
At 50 minutes Tyler affixed a rival party sticker on his shirt, tapping it several times for good measure. Trump’s handlers took note of Tyler’s scene stealing and his obvious support for a rival party. Shortly afterward a young woman arrived and he was asked to swap out, as were two of his friends, who were also replaced by attractive young women ready to clap on cue. Secret Service escorted him to a back room, inspected his I.D., and held him for ten minutes before inviting him to exit the arena and not return.
Next day Tyler was interviewed on several TV stations including CNN. He will turn 18 before the U.S. midterm elections in November and is looking forward to casting his first ballot. He has shown his ability to think for himself, to question what a politician says despite the wild cheering and clapping all around him.
We will have our own civic elections October 20 and before that we will have a chance to sit through hours of campaign speeches that may prove more numbing than enlightening. I look for a Tyler or two to spice them up.