At Trump events, the press has to stay inside a pen made of crowd control barricades, starting 15 minutes before the speech gets rolling. Prior to the arrival of DOTUS*, we are free to move about the country.
There were three guys — late middle aged, white — lined up along one of the barricades at the Hartford Trump event Friday night, and I chatted them up. Only two were really talkative. They were both contractors. We had a pleasant, sometimes bantering, conversation. One guy, from Waterbury, kept trying to interview me. “What about you? Do you think It’s time for a change? What are you going to do.” I told them the candidate whose views were closest to mine is Bernie Sanders. That didn’t bother them at all. They didn’t think Bernie could get his agenda passed, but they seemed to think he was a good guy. They regard Hillary Clinton as the spawn of Satan, but that’s another story.
Those guys were pretty typical of the dozen or so Trumpians I spoke to on Friday night. They were pleasant. I didn’t have a nasty conversation all evening. (This is a reminder of how much nicer people are in person than they are on social media.) I made it a point to seek out black and Puerto Rican people in the hall, although they are not easy to find at what is, demographically, a Pat Boone concert with signs. People said the same things over and over. They’re working hard but feel like the country is losing ground; they want a change; this guy is not a politician; he’s the only guy who could go to Washington and not instantly become a new manifestation of the same old beast.
They were not Cult of Personality people, although if I had burrowed my way to the densely packed front of the room, I surely could have talked to people who were. The closest I came was a young black man from Massachusetts who said he had “grown up on Trump.” Some of them were almost process of elimination supporters. Nobody else makes any sense to them.
I want to emphasize one last time how pleasant all of my encounters were because of what comes next.
Mid-way into DOTUS’s speech, he regularly whips the crowd up against the press, pretty much the way Billy Joel**, mid-way through his set, plays “Uptown Girl.” It’s a hit. People expect to hear it. From his place on the Hartford stage, Trump pointed to all of us in the press pen and shouted, “These are the most dishonest people in the world!”
Immediately, several thousand heads swiveled toward us and several thousand throats opened up with lusty boos. Including my contractor guys. My guys! We had been having such a nice time! The journo-phobic section of the speech went on for many minutes, with some digressions. (A Trump stump speech is like the “before” in an Adderall commercial. Thoughts begin in one spot and then, like kites in an updraft, go skittering through space. Pitch, roll, yaw.) Trump even pre-accused us of misreporting the crowd size. OK, I’ll play along. I think I’m pretty good at crowd-guessing. I’ve been doing it a long time. I would have said 3500. I’ll go up to 4000, but that’s my limit. Certainly not the 6000-7000 of the official police guess. (On the other hand, as we all departed, late and luckless people were still trying to clear security and get in.)
Trump’s speech was almost entirely about process — that is, the process of running. The press, the other candidates, the protesters, the delegate allocation, the escalator [it came up twice], the crowds he gets, the forces arrayed against him. The only moment that struck me as chilling was his statement that, if he is not nominated, many Republicans will not vote. “Hopefully that’s all,” he added. That seemed to be a variation on a Trump trope of being the one who plants the idea of mayhem in the streets while appearing to disclaim it. He didn’t start the fire.
There were many promises of days to come when we will win again, but startlingly few — even for Trump — specifics about how this will come to pass. Except for The Wall, tangible proposals in a Trump speech are needles in a smokestack. Demanding substance would be like yelling “Where’s the beef?” in a vegan restaurant. It’s beside the point.
Random observation: I was struck anew by the degree to which vocal folds are destiny for the kind of politician who thrives on whipping up big crowds. Trump doesn’t have a nice voice, but he’s good yeller. He sounds like an especially appealing version of himself when he’s yelling, and he appears to be able to do it with very little vocal hangover. It’s like what Vonnegut said about big penises. You never know who will get one.
We should learn something every day, right? On Friday night, I hope I learned to listen less patronizingly to Trump supporters. Many of them have poured their hopes and resentments into a badly cracked jug. The shoddy condition of that amphora is not necessarily a comment on the people and what they feel. You know the guy doing work on your house? The two guys installing a new garage door? The owner of the small business who resurfaced your driveway or worked on the stone wall next door? Nice people, right? You always smile and wave at them, and they wave back. They’re Trump guys.
- * Donald Of The United States
- ** Billy Joel played at Donald and Melania’s wedding.