They’re the people Hillary Clinton called deplorable. They’re the people Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg call racist. They’re the people CNN’s Don Lemon and Republican strategist Rick Wilson laugh at and name-call like mean high school girls on national television. They are the reason for Trump rallies.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Southern New Jersey this week to see President Donald Trump in person. Americans the political professionals and pampered media-types loathe. Average, middle-class citizens who work hard and love their county shouldn’t be something to mock, but this is where we are.
Do their critics ever take the time to meet them? It’s not difficult. I did it. I broadcast an entire radio show smack-dab in the middle of the gathering. They weren’t scary. In fact, they were ebullient, kind, and proud to be there together.
A retired police officer. A couple who owns their own screen-printing business. A group of stay-at-home mothers who carpooled from their neighborhood upstate. A dental hygienist. A dad with his young kids who took the day off from work and school.
I talked with them all and many more. Thousands of people just like them who formed a line, winding through a small coastal town in the Garden State. Waiting even though many thought it likely they’d never make it inside before the arena filled to capacity.
"What if they don’t get in?" I asked. All of this waiting for nothing? Each smiled and shrugged it off. Some would plan to travel to a local bar to watch on TV. Some would continue to stand outside and watch the big screen set up in the park across the street.
This wait and this day was bigger than whether or not they got in. It was about what the event represented. It was about being together to celebrate – in massive numbers – where it was okay to be proud of your country and your president.
A few attendees became impromptu guests on my show. I wasn’t really sure why, but something felt right and important about welcoming those who would put in this kind of time and effort on the air.
I knew what anti-Trumpers and never-Trumpers thought about that scene. I knew they assumed the crowd was largely unemployed, toothless hicks with nothing better to do on a Tuesday. Or perhaps they were zealots full of hate who came to pay homage to their cult leader.
One gentleman asked me this week as I prepared for the broadcast, “Aren’t you alarmed there are so many people so willing to heap blind adulation and praise on one man? Doesn’t that scare you? Isn’t that eerie to you?”
My first thought was, “Were you sleeping through the candidacy of Barack Obama?”
It was specifically because I knew those prejudices, I wanted to ask rally-goers to explain themselves in their own words. Why are you doing this? Isn’t this like a cult movement? People think you’re crazy for standing in the cold for hours for this guy!
Without anger, or hatred, or malice, or even cattiness – one after another answered in similar, confident fashion. They came and waited to hear a president who speaks as they do, who talks to them, not at them. A man they know is flawed and imperfect – just as they are.
“He’s real. He tells it like it is. He’s not a politician. He does what he says he’s going to do,” they told me. “He loves this country. He wants to return the country to the way it used to be.”
“Ah-ha,” I joked sarcastically. “Return it to the racist, sexist, homophobic past?”
“No,” chuckled the woman who asked not to be identified for fear she’d catch hell at work or with neighbors and friends for daring to appear here.
“To make it okay to be proud of your country again,” she replied.
These aren’t people projecting their hopes and dreams onto an American president imagining he’ll cure all their ills. They believe in the pursuit of happiness, not a guarantee. They like the country and see it as the greatest force for good on Earth, not a country flawed to the core needing to be torn down a notch or two.
Winning. Strength. Pride. Rugged individuals who want a leader who will leave them alone and defend their way of life. A life they want to lead as they see fit, not as they’re told or about which they should feel guilt.
Why is that something to ridicule? Why is that so hard to understand for those who pass for commentators on CNN?
The simple answer is because they don’t know these people and they don’t want to. There’s no power for them in a celebration of individualism. Collectivists need celebrities and deities to descend from on high to tell them how to fix things. They need people in places of power. They celebrate institutions, not individuals. Halls of academia. Prestigious political titles. Judicial rulings enforced by decree. Televised productions displaying their superiority for the masses to consume.
Those kinds of people simply do not line up on the boardwalk in Southern New Jersey on a blustery January to celebrate the country. They’re more comfortable mocking it in a television studio or at a swanky coastal fundraiser.
But for all the smarts and sophistication of our nation’s betters, they still haven’t figured it out. Donald Trump lends voice to those who’ve grown tired and fed up with them.
Their disdain, their scolding, their superiority, and their elite smugness – when will they realize they’re the reason for the rallies?