Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Donald Trump doesn’t like to be criticized. Time and time again, he has lashed out at those who dare utter an unkind word about him – be they members of Congress, the media or even late-night comedians.
But now Team Trump apparently has a new demand: Enthusiastically cheer Trump or be banished.
That’s the lesson that 17-year-old Tyler Linfesty, now known as “plaid shirt guy,” found out at Trump’s campaign rally last Thursday in Montana. Linfesty, a high school senior, was positioned directly behind Trump during his speech. But, a short time into the speech, a person involved with the rally approached him and stated: “I’m gonna replace you.”
Had Linfesty been booing? No. Did he heckle Trump? Negative. Did he hold up a sign that mocked Trump? Once again, that’s a no. Though he was never given a formal reason, Linfesty believes his “misconduct” that merited ejection was his lack of fanatical devotion to Trump, the beloved headliner.
Linfesty didn’t attend the rally planning to protest Trump. He’s simply a young man who wanted to see the President of the United States speak in his home state. And, as fate would have it, he was randomly chosen by the Trump campaign for “VIP status.”
Next thing you know, Linfesty is being seated behind Trump for his speech. But not before he says he was told the rules by a person working on the event: “You have to be enthusiastic, you have to be clapping, you have to be cheering for Donald Trump.”
Well the problem for Team Trump is that Linfesty is an intelligent young American who questions statements he hears from politicians. You know, the way we all should. So, during the speech, Linfesty, as he explained to CNN’s Don Lemon, applauded the parts of Trump’s speech he agreed with, such as when the President “railed against NAFTA.”
But when Linfesty didn’t agree with what Trump stated, he didn’t cheer. “I had to be real with myself. I’m not going to pretend to support something I don’t support,” the high school senior explained.
And as a person with critical thinking skills, Linfesty expressed his sentiments through subtle facial gestures. For example, when Trump brought up the 2016 election results (yes, it’s 20 months later and Trump clearly still hasn’t come to terms with Hillary Clinton drubbing him by nearly 3 million votes in the popular election) and claimed it’s harder to win the electoral college than the popular vote, Linfesty looked skeptical.
And when Trump shared his strategy of how he could’ve easily won the popular vote with the line, “you go to three or four states, then boom-boom-boom … you win,” we could see Linfesty subtly turn to people near him and mouth, “What?”
Again, at no time did Linfesty heckle or try to interrupt Trump’s speech, but apparently Linfesty showing the slightest bit of independent thought in a sea of Trump supporters was just too much of a threat. Who knows what happens if others in the audience saw a person not conforming and actually questioning the outlandish claims and lies of Trump? That’s how revolutions start!
Okay, maybe a few subtle facial gestures wouldn’t actually spark an uprising, but it did get Linfesty booted from his seat. And even more troubling was that Linfesty was then detained by the United States Secret Service: “Some Secret Service guys escorted me into this backroom area, and they just sat me down for 10 minutes.” According to Linfesty, after being held in custody for simply not cheering enough for Trump, he was then released by the Secret Service and told that he should not come back.
The idea that a United States citizen was thrown out of a rally that was headlined by the President, simply for not cheering fanatically enough, and was then held in custody by the Secret Service, should alarm anyone who cherishes freedom of expression. It conjures up rogue nations like North Korea, where political dissent is met with swift government action to silence it.
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In fact, on Thursday, we saw a startling development involving North Korea and Trump. On Thursday morning, Trump took to Twitter to thank North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong Un for saying he had “unwavering faith in President Trump.” But that same evening, a young American was ejected from a rally for failing to show “unwavering” support for Trump.
The good news is that Linfesty will soon be 18 and able to vote. The hope is that he and others like him who refuse to accept the prospect of a nation where we must cheer our leader – even when he lies – or face consequences, will make their voices heard in the election booth.
That is still one place from which Trump can’t banish us.