A Wegman’s truck. A Friendly’s restaurant. Fall foliage in bright sunlight. A crisp chill in the air.
It’s late autumn in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
On the last Friday before Election Day, Donald Trump came to town for one of his massive rallies.
The mainstream media and the political establishment have relentlessly slandered these rallies as a congregation of the great unwashed—dumb and uneducated white people; racists, sexists, and xenophobes.
Yet, tens of thousands continue to show up at each event. When the Trump supporters begin cheering for their candidate, it is explosive and emotional—and deeply touching.
For Trump, the connection with his most ardent supporters is genuine, instinctive, and seemingly unbreakable. In Iowa over the weekend, he spoke glowingly of himself, as he always does, but also of the historic political movement he leads:
There has never been anything like this in our country. I say it all the time. [Fox News anchor] Bill O’Reilly said…. in his lifetime, this is the single greatest political phenomenon that he’s ever seen. It’s huge. I’m the messenger. I’m the messenger. It’s you. It really is—I’m a good messenger, you have to say, right? But it is you.
Eight years ago, when then-Senator Barack Obama made his historic bid for the White House, he displayed a different mindset. His supporters referred to him as “The One,” and his wife informed the country that, when her husband became the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, was the first time that she was proud of her country.
That is not the Trump narrative, and no one knows that better than Trump’s supporters. In Hershey, they were out in full force. They packed into the halls of the Giant Center, a 10,500-seat arena. Many had lined up well over four hours before official starting time. Some 7,000 people couldn’t even get in.
The atmosphere in line and inside the arena was jovial and festive, much like a rock concert without the drugs. One supporter’s T-shirt summed up the sentiments of other rally goers: “Obama calls me bitter clinger. Clinton calls me deplorable. Terrorists call me infidel. Trump calls me American.”
Before Trump arrived, his rally attendees repeatedly booed Hillary Clinton and chanted “Lock her up!” when her face appeared on the Jumbotron. They appeared to enjoy even more, chanting “CNN sucks!” each time the on-site CNN reporter went on the air.
A young woman and her mother, attending their second Trump rally, noted the friendliness and warmth of everyone they’d met.
A young couple from Baltimore (he’s white, she’s black) said they had watched every one of Trump’s rallies online.
Elderly veterans, some who could barely get in and out of their seats without assistance, proudly waved “Veterans for Trump” signs.
A lady with a ready smile and a mild Southern accent had driven up alone from Gettysburg. She thinks Hillary Clinton is a congenital liar and believes the Justice Department, having been politicized under the Obama administration, should not be a de facto part of the executive branch.
When Trump finally strolled onto the stage to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, the arena went wild with cheers and applause: The love fest had officially began.
Trump talked about the issues that have become familiar in this year’s campaign: better trade deals, building a wall, creating opportunities for black Americans trapped in inner cities, defeating ISIS, honoring America’s veterans, and winning.
It was clear to those in attendance that this egomaniac who loves to talk about himself, whose bombast and bravado is rarely muted, is humbled by the faith they have placed in him. They know he is deeply flawed, but they do not care, not just because he speaks for them, but also because they do not doubt that he loved America before he began running for office. As their messenger, he is the one who must deserve them.
By the time Trump exited to the sound of the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, it was easy to believe that if given a chance to try, he might just get Americans what they need.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, someone far removed from the campaign trail, might understand the Trump phenomenon better than much of the political chattering class. At a recent address at the Heritage Foundation, he discussed his love of visiting small towns across the country in his own 40-foot coach, and sounded like he was speaking of a Trump rally. He remarked:
This, first of all, is a wonderful country, and we fly over most of it. You see the citizens of this country. An RV park is very, very democratic, with a small “d.” It is some of everybody there…I love it all…everything about it, I love it. This is a great country; [my wife and I have] done about 40 states…. It shows you the constituency for the Constitution. It shows you it’s not [Washington], it’s not all the people who are doing all the talking and the prevaricating. It’s just a person who’s camping out of the back of his motorcycle, who wants to be left alone, who wants to enjoy his country, who wants to raise his family or her family, and they’re just friendly.
Trump—instinctively—knows that the constituency for the White House, much like the constituency for the Constitution, is not Washington or those who do the talking and the prevaricating.
They are the people who pack into his rallies in Hershey and all across the country, and they are just friendly, and they just want to enjoy their country.
Their messages are by no means pitch perfect, and for that they have been roundly condemned, ridiculed, and deemed beyond the pale. But the Trump movement has offered a potent reminder that average Americans should not have to speak in the same way as snotty Ivy Leaguers, establishment politicians, or the mainstream media in order to have their concerns and wishes taken seriously.
In this chaotic election, millions of Americans who have no access to wealth or a fancy education have found their voice, even if it is less than pitch perfect. Whether Trump wins or loses, giving a voice to so many of his fellow citizens may be the biggest achievement of his political revolution.