What I Saw at Trump’s Pennsylvania Rally

By | 2019-05-22T23:22:06-07:00 May 22nd, 2019|
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President Trump on Monday paid a visit to north-central Pennsylvania, where he addressed a MAGA rally in a hangar at the Williamsport Regional Airport. As a Western New Yorker, I had only to drive a short distance to partake. Given this happy circumstance, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the man in the flesh. I’m glad I did.

For those who have never been to a Trump rally, you should know that sour-faced liberal protesters are almost entirely absent. A carnival atmosphere prevails, and overwhelmingly the crowds are composed of ordinary Americans, either long-time and fervent admirers of the president, or recent converts to the cause. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor. Indeed, I was heartened to see such a broad cross-section of humanity, including plenty of people from the demographic categories pundits have long pronounced utterly lost to Donald Trump. Not so fast!

The vast majority of rallying Trump-supporters are bedecked in MAGA gear. The sale of such merchandise is brisk. I now own a vintage red MAGA hat, a Trump-Pence sign, as well as a Space Force t-shirt—cherished mementos. The vast majority of those selling such gear, even in rural Pennsylvania, were black. Whether they were motivated by Trump-loving zeal or good, old-fashioned capitalism (sometimes the two overlap) is hard to say, but if Trumpers are synonymous with Klan members and “Nazis,” as Joe Biden claims, these African-Americans clearly aren’t impressed by the message. Needless to say, not a lick of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice was on display.

One of my strongest reactions to the rally was a sense of gratitude at my good fortune—gratitude that I live in the kind of country where an average citizen can get so close to a man who is not just our president, but also the leader of the free world. I felt my good fortune because I was in one of the last groups of attendees who, after standing in line for hours, were allowed into the main venue. Thousands of my Trump-loving compatriots were not so lucky. They had to make do with a big-screen monitor in a nearby parking lot. Clearly, attendance vastly exceeded expectations. Despite the logistical challenges, the mood everywhere was exuberant.

I was pleasantly surprised that Donald Trump, Jr. spoke to the crowd shortly before Air Force One touched down with its precious cargo. He was phenomenal. He spoke with an eloquence, intelligence, and frankness that—along with the natural rapport he had with the crowd—were extraordinary, given his privileged background. But perhaps it should not so surprising that Don, Jr. has these gifts, given who his father is. It is easy to imagine a bright future for him Republican and conservative politics.

Mingling with the crowd, and graciously taking selfies with all comers, was Kellyanne Conway. Absent was Mr. Conway. We were twice blessed.

The highlight of the rally, of course, was a rousing speech by President Trump himself. He dwelt, as one might expect, on the progress that has been made in the last two years. He talked about jobs created and hope restored. He asked the crowd, given the success of his presidency, whether his campaign slogan should continue to be “Make America Great Again,” or should instead become “Keep America Great.” The crowd leaned towards the latter, but I got the distinct impression that the President isn’t quite convinced.

President Trump also taunted his opponents, as is his wont. He compared the size of his own rally with the smaller campaign event staged by Joe Biden two days before.

The moment that was perhaps the most newsworthy, and the most “vintage Trump,” was when he speculated that he might win not just two presidential elections, but three, or four, or five. He got a chuckle out of the likely media reaction to that gem!

The main takeaway from the rally I attended, and I suspect from every Trump rally, is the extraordinary bond that Donald Trump enjoys with the tens of millions of Americans who support him. Say what you will about President Trump, but he possesses a brand of charisma that has seldom been seen in American political history.

The sad part is that, while he is free to connect on a visceral level with those who attend his rallies, the media, the vast majority of the time, ensures that his message is not delivered straight to the American people as a whole. Instead, it is passed through a filter comprised of equal parts cynicism, spite, and misinformation. As Trump himself observed, it is this barrage of negativity that explains why he isn’t simply running away with the 2020 election, when he so obviously should be.

In the end, though, the media isn’t as powerful as the voters are. This tells me that there are many more Trump rallies to come, and, at a minimum, “FOUR MORE YEARS!” of President Donald J. Trump.

My favorite slogan of all? “Make Liberals Cry Again.” And so we shall!

Photo Credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images

About the Author:

Nicholas L. Waddy
Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.