WASHINGTON — Two Arkansans — one a Republican, the other a Democrat — woke up in the pre-dawn hours Thursday, eager to mark the day of President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech.
Jonathan Barnett, a big Trump supporter, began his journey in Siloam Springs.
“I left the house at 3 o’clock this morning,” he said, not long after arriving in the nation’s capital.
Barnett, the state’s Republican national committeeman, had been given an invitation to attend Trump’s late-night address, and was eager to accept.
“When you get invited to go to the White House, generally speaking, you don’t say no,” Barnett said. “You don’t get those opportunities a lot in a lifetime.”
Arkansans understand it’s important to continue Trump’s leadership, Barnett said.
“His policies are all going in the right direction and we’d like to see those policies continue,” he said.
For Barnett, Trump is a defender of American values who will steer the nation clear of socialism.
“We don’t want more government control over our lives. We don’t want more restrictions and more regulations. We want freedom. We want liberty,” he said.
If Trump allies were up early, so were Trump foes.
Adam Baron, a Hot Springs native now living in Washington, got up at 4:10 a.m. and headed to the National Mall.
His goal, as an anti-Trump Democrat, wasn’t to hear the president’s words; it was to deliver a message of his own.
As part of the Covid Memorial Project, he planned to help display 18,000 4-inch-by-6-inch U.S. flags on a patch of land not far from the Washington Memorial.
Each flag represented 10 U.S. lives that have been claimed by covid-19 this year.
Baron’s efforts were undone, however, by members of the U.S. Park Police, who showed up en masse, emergency lights flashing, before 5:45 a.m.
Unless memorial project volunteers could produce a permit, they wouldn’t be allowed to place the flags on federal turf, Baron and his fellow activists were told.
Under the gaze of four uniformed officers, Baron and three dozen other activists ultimately opted to stand on the lawn and hold the flags themselves.
All of the activists wore masks and, for the most part, remained 6 feet apart.
The group included Anne Haley of Little Rock; she stood in silence, greeting the dawn.
A rabbi blew a shofar, a Protestant minister prayed and a Catholic nun called upon the Lord, while a half-dozen photographers snapped pictures.
Haley said she wanted to call attention to the mounting death toll and pay tribute to the dead.
“They certainly aren’t being honored elsewhere this week,” she said.
She faulted Trump for his leadership during the crisis.
“He’s not what our country needs right now,” she said. “He’s actively destructing the basic tenets of our democracy. And that, specifically, in this instance, cost people their lives.”
Baron expressed dissatisfaction with Trump’s presidency, “the total disregard for norms of governance and society and just decency.”
As the protesters dispersed, preparations for the final day of the Republican National Convention were ramping up.
In the distance, a fireworks display was being prepared; Republican officials had applied for and received the necessary permit days in advance.
While the protesters lamented Trump’s triumph, other Arkansans were delighted by the opportunity to cheer for a man they say is keeping promises and making America great again.
“It’s going to be a great event with good weather and an enthusiastic crowd,” said state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb.
“Certainly, I believe he deserves another four years when you look at the accomplishments. His promises made, promises kept. The low unemployment, record employment, tax breaks, the good feeling that is in the nation, and I believe the convention has been helping to set his record straight.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said enthusiasm is high.
“People are still very energized and they’re excited to be here in support of this president,” Rutledge said.
She predicted Trump would deliver an “incredible, uplifting” hope-filled speech.
“This president is so optimistic and loves America so much. His patriotism is unmatched and I am excited to be here in person to witness history as we prepare to elect Donald Trump for a second term.”