Michael Frobouck, a middle-aged man from Addison who wasn’t politically active this time last year, might seem like an unlikely organizer for the Chicago area’s lone publicly advertised inauguration party for supporters of Donald Trump. But someone had to host a local iteration of the "Deplora-ball"—the pro-Trump celebration held in D.C. and elsewhere last Friday night—and Frobouck saw an opportunity for his nascent group.
As founder of the DuPage Deplorables (the name borrowed from a Hillary Clinton gaffe on the campaign trail, when she called a portion of Trump’s supporters “a basket of deplorables”), Frobouck sees the group as a sort of next-phase Tea Party that will support Trump’s policies and each other in a region that's been hostile toward the new president. “People were worried, if they put a Trump sign up, that people would do something to their home or themselves,” Frobouck says of why he wanted to start his own organization.
It’s true Trump supporters are in the minority here: in DuPage County, voters chose Clinton by a 15-percent margin. The gap was wider in Lake County, and wider still in Cook. In deep-blue Chicago, voters turned out for Clinton more forcefully than it did for Barack Obama in 2012, and protesters were taking to the streets even as the Deplora-ball began. Though their party had won, the local Republican party, the Young Republicans group, and the Cook County Republican Party did not hold public events for the inauguration.
That’s how about 100 Trump supporters found themselves ponying up $30 each Friday night to enjoy dinner, re-watch President Trump’s inauguration ceremony, and listen to fiery speeches inside an Elmhurst banquet hall. Sparsely decorated save for a few Trump yard signs pinned to the DJ booth and some mood lighting, the event could have been mistaken for a civic luncheon.
Frobouck, who acknowledges that he’s a bit of an outsider—when he attended his first local Republican committee meeting, “there was a judge, there was a precinct captain, and here is me, a bankrupt contractor!” he said with a laugh—was the first to speak. He told me he wanted talk about Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, though some might consider his remarks “conspiracy” theories.
“This man stopped World War III. I know so!” he said of Trump, who he believes is keeping a friendly relationship with the Russians in order to deter nuclear war.
“Do we have any civilian defense in this country? None,” he said. “But the Russians have 40 million people protected with fallout shelters, [gas] masks, food, medicine. Do you know what would happen to us [without Trump]? We’ll be nuclear ash! Worse, we would live to die of nuclear radiation.”
This grim picture, first painted by Trump himself during his inauguration speech, permeated the other speeches as well. The die-hards gathered at the Deplora-ball—overwhelmingly older white people dressed in business casual garb—reminded each other that there are still many threats to the country, still battles to win. Their preferred candidate had just become the most powerful man in the world, but they were not especially in the mood for partying.
It was no surprise that when the DJ asked who was ready to dance, virtually no one got up.
Like Frobouck, the event had an anti-establishment bent; the only elected official to speak was a DuPage County Forest Preserve Commissioner. There was a plea from Frobouck’s co-organizer to join the DuPage Deplorables to provide grassroots support to Trump—much to the chagrin of local Tea Party reps, who reminded attendees that they had been organizing for years already.
“Who could unite us?” asked Jeff Johnson, a DeKalb-area entrepreneur who was there selling poster-sized copies of the Constitution with Trump’s and Mike Pence’s signatures included among the founding fathers’. He seemed gloomy even about Trump’s prospects at effectively governing the whole country—and he had an idea of why it is such a hard task.
“We’re too diverse,” Johnson said. “Look at China. They’re like 90 percent Chinese, working toward a common goal.”
The anti-diversity sentiment was shared by a few in attendance.
“I’m all for immigration,” said Mike, a 26-year-old who lives in Lakeshore East in Chicago. “Diversifying communities has done nothing positive. I don’t believe that diversity is a strength.”
Mike and his friend, Brendan (both declined to provide their last names), were asked to lead the pledge of allegiance after one of the speakers mentioned that it was “striking” that only two millennials had shown up. A teenaged boy was also there with what looked to be his mother—he asked Mike and Brendan for a photo later in the night.
Asked why they thought there weren’t more young people at the event, the friends assured me there is a network of young Trump supporters, but “we have to be underground,” Mike said.
Why did the group have to be underground? Why did the lone public Trump event in the region have to be held in one-half of a banquet hall in a strip mall in Elmhurst?
For a lot of reasons, the young men said. Mostly, it’s traditional media, which has branded their views as obscene and social media where people are quick to condemn them without hearing them out.
“Everyone can call us racist all we want,” Mike said. “The meaning of the word has been totally watered down."