Outside the Auditorium Theatre on Monday shortly before midnight, a few Chicago police officers circled a shaggy middle-aged man gripping an acoustic guitar. Lounging in a chair, the hippie had been performing on the Congress Parkway sidewalk. The cops ordered him to pack up and go.
“Aww, maaan,” he growled before reluctantly leaving.
The little dustup was the only moment resembling “unrest” I witnessed at Bernie Sanders’s late-late show in the Loop on the eve of election night eve. The Sanders campaign’s love-in was quite a startling change of pace from the Donald Trump rally at UIC on Friday.
The night that Hurricane Trump was scheduled to blow into town was tense but surprisingly free of violence until the announcement that GOP front-runner was retreating from his own event due to “security concerns.” Moments afterward, it transformed into something out of a WWE Royal Rumble—with Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators ripping up signs, chanting, and shouting insults and epithets during a happening that occasionally escalated into fisticuffs. Sure, the national media overhyped the scope and scale of the violence (dozens of reporters nearly trampled each other to record the few scrums), but there was still plenty of Sturm und Drang that originated inside the UIC Pavilion and spilled out onto the nearby streets.
But if Trump’s rally felt like a political Altamont, Sanders’s event just three days later might as well have been Woodstock. I’m not saying that just because notoriously crunchy Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, was in attendance. Thousands of Sanders supporters, many clad in blue, queued up early underneath the el tracks along Wabash. When those in line were told that the auditorium’s capacity of 3,985 people had been reached, some continued to chant “Bernie! Bernie!”
Meanwhile, inside the theater, Berners swayed to the sounds of live folk music and sang along to an a capella rendition of “Lean on Me,” arms locked with one another. Even the angry protest songs performed on stage before Sanders arrived—”When they say they want their America back, what the fuck do they mean?” went the refrain of one anti-Trump song—lacked edginess when strummed gently on acoustic guitars.
Sanders later provided some fire with his standard stump speech, punctuated by some veiled and not-so-veiled shots at Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. “It’s not acceptable that we shut down schools in Chicago while giving tax breaks to Wall Street,” he said. But one of the candidate’s best-received lines was about providing a rhetorical warm hug to Trump’s punch in the mouth. “In the end, love trumps hate,” he said in the manner of a Jewish Yoda, prompting the audience to cheer and stomp in joy.
Was this Summer of Love-style political rally a self-conscious alternative to the tightly wound anger of Trump’s, or just the natural way the Vermont senator’s crew rolls? I’m not sure, but if someone would pass me a joint, we can talk about it, maaan.