18,000 in all would make their way with another 4,000 or so locked out due to overcrowding. It was a very impressive turnout given how cold it was and how hard it was to get to the location.
The Trump throng is certainly loyal.
We had been picked up by luxury buses organized by the campaign at Hicksville Station and delivered to the Bethpage venue at the Grumman Studios, the defense contractor's facility about two miles away. On the way there the talk turned quickly to what America needed.
“I’m done with this country. I want an American nationalist party that stands up for America,” said the man opposite, his words meeting with nods of approval.
It's a sentiment we have heard down the generations from the Know-Nothings to the America Firsters during two world wars. Lockdown the borders and throw the keys away.
On the bus and at the rally there were a lot of folks with weathered faces and deep lines who looked disappointed with what life had served up to them.
Now they have put their faith in a billionaire talking their language, the arc of their lives intersecting with his in a strange and remarkable way. They have found their man on a white horse.
“The whole thing is rigged, what about my kids? They are inheriting a swamp,” said my seat companion.
“The Republican Party and the Democrats just steal from the taxpayers, the little guy, that's what we are here for,” he said. Then he laughed, ”I sound like a Sanders supporter as much as a Trump one.”
“Sanders is a communist,” said another quickly. Then ”Obama’s nomination was rigged, we know that. We have the highest unemployment ever.”
The mention of Obama set off the original speaker again, a man of uncertain age, probably late 50s and better dressed than most.
“Michelle Obama hates this country, she said so. She should have stayed in Cuba. Obama is not a Marxist, he’s an Islamist. That’s even worse”.
Then strangely, “You know I feel sorry for the African Americans. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton are stealing from them, just keeping them down. They should wise up.”
We passed the protest camp where 100 or so Trump opponents had gathered. They held a banner high “No Racism, No Sexism, No Trump” it read.
“Vermin,” said a man on the bus
At last we reached the venue and a long walk took us to a massive hangar where thousands had already gathered. To the right was a food line where I paid $2 for a cold coffee and $4 for a stale roll. I doubt Trump ever dines out on rally food.
Inside there was clear evidence of both Trump’s strength and weakness. There were white men of every age, but breaking down into working class older whites, young and excitable 25-year-olds and college kids caught up in the drama and a fair smattering of business suits.
There were far fewer women, most accompanying their men. There were two Blacks that I counted after walking around the floor, no Hispanics and a handful of Asians. It is obvious from the skewed demographic make-up that the lack of diversity will cripple him if he gets to the general election.
There was lots of chest-thumping and yahooing, but the crowd was friendly, non-threatening. I’d have needed binoculars to see the stage, but no one seemed to care. This was Trumpfest time.
The chants began as the usual uptempo music faded and showtime approached. The most popular slogan was “Build that Wall,” a nasty piece of business Trump wants to carry out on the Mexican border.
He now says he will stop the immigrant remittances going back to Mexico to force Mexico to pay for his wall.
It is a dreadful idea. Poor countries like Ireland, early in the last century, survived on what their emigrants could send as Mexico does now.
I often see the Latino immigrants in Walmart and elsewhere sending the money home via wire transfers to keep a family from hunger and give them some dignity. It is the most callous suggestion Trump has made, punishing mothers and kids.
The usual parade of local political nonentities took to the stage, Nassau County is known for its utterly corrupt governance yet here they all were proclaiming a new start under Trump. He could do worse than clean house in Nassau County first.
When his daughter Ivanka was finished with a wind up introduction talking about all his building projects as if that has anything to with being president, the man himself appeared on stage.
Then the music heralding Trump began. Incongruously, it was "Nessun Dorma" (None may Sleep) sung by Pavarotti.
It's a strange feeling when a tidal wave of emotions sweeps a crowd. When Trump, soon into his speech, hammered Mexico the earlier good nature disappeared and I felt like I was at a brownshirts rally in Berlin. For a moment it was downright scary.
That is the real danger of fostering and creating division and Trump is doing it for one reason only – as a cynical exercise to gain power. He is doing it quite deliberately.
He has dragged millions of American along with him, mostly decent people I’m sure, but driven to a frenzy by a demagogue and zealot.
I left halfway through the speech. It was the same laundry list he proposes at every speech. The buses back to the Hicksville LIRR station were chaotic with no supervision as thousands tried to get transport.
It struck me that the Trump people who had carried the huge crowd so effectively to the venue now had no further interest in them once the rally was over. Like Tom Joad in “Grapes of Wrath” discovering his house has been taken by the bank, they were on their own. They are very likely to be left lonely soon again.