On Wednesday I went with three other old white men to my first Trump rally, fully expecting to exemplify the demographics inside the Cross Insurance Center. That was our first surprise. The crowd, which grew towards 5,000, included many younger people, women, children and entire families. All were handed Trump posters to wave, and the atmosphere was more festive than angry. We were all white people, however, which isn’t surprising in a state where African Americans and Latinos each comprise 1% of the population.
We were warmed up by a series of speakers, ranging from the Freeport Flag Ladies leading the pledge of allegiance to Gov. Paul LePage. (Both Republican Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Bruce Poliquin had other priorities.) The speakers trumpeted the familiar themes. Hillary’s name drew lusty catcalls. The wall and Second Amendment were the biggest applause lines. And the periodic expulsion of protesters is now ritualized political theater.
The short list of villains, beyond Hillary, Elizabeth Warren (but not Bernie), the “stupid people” negotiating our trade deals, illegal immigrants and China, demonstrates how far Trump has shifted the GOP: big banks, financial elites, Wall Street (except Trump endorser Carl Icahn). Ronald Reagan’s name was mentioned once, to tepid applause, and I didn’t hear anyone lament George Will’s recent exodus.
The old rambling broadside of insults has become a tighter narrative focused on trade and jobs (“Americanism not globalism”), which are presented as two sides of the same coin: “We make it so easy for countries to come in and steal our companies, steal our jobs, steal our money.”
Trump’s argument is simple: The jobs that have left the country are our jobs, and I am going to get them back. If there are a finite number of jobs, then there must be winners and losers. And we are losers. It’s an argument that resonates with those who lost those jobs or fear losing the ones that are left.
After the rally a man came up to us in the parking lot, with a T-shirt he had designed featuring Trump’s face on the $20 bill. If they’re going to get rid of “Old Hickory,” he said, we should have Trump on the bill and not Harriet Tubman. Not the $100 bill – but the twenty – because “Trump’s for the working man.”