Donald Trump is the master showman. An entertainer by nature and a natural on stage. He knows the power of timing.
The rally audience hears speeches by local and statewide dignitaries and awaits the main event. There’s a lull in the program for several minutes, yet before the audience gets too restless, it happens. With no warning, no other introduction or fanfare, a voice announces over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States — Donald J. Trump.” And with that he appears. People scramble to capture the grand entrance and gather themselves to absorb this moment. There he is — in full technicolor. Signature navy blue suit, white shirt and slightly-too-long solid red tie. The face, the hair, and the wave. A smile, a fist pump, a point, a clap, just like on TV — yet somehow different — though familiar — when seen in 3D.
The beloved and familiar song by Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA,” blares throughout the venue. Cell phones snap photos and take video as the cheers warmly welcome the president to a place where he seems to feel right at home. Away from the scrutiny and criticism of Washington, he finds respite in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
Yet this evening is no vacation for President Trump, and for the next hour and 35 minutes he will systematically and tirelessly lay out his case for the greatness of America, championing its virtues and extolling the exceptionalism of its people. These people. Those outside the beltway. In the heartland. They are precisely the people that President Trump is proud to bring voice to and be a champion for. They know it. They feel it. And tonight they will share time together which will reinforce the special bond they share.
Though it’s already getting late in the evening, he is in no hurry. He is savoring and enjoying every moment of this surround-sound of adoration as he takes his time walking the long pathway to the podium. A few steps and a stop. A few more steps and a wave. He faces the other direction to point. He puts his hand up to shield the light and see the people way up in the rafters and gives them a smile and a thumbs up. He steps to the podium as the final chorus of “God Bless the U – S – AAAAAAAA” concludes with a flourish and allows for one last burst of applause. Then a hush falls across the arena and, as if settling in for a highly anticipated movie, the crowd quiets and starts to get comfortable. They are in for a long and entertaining evening.
The president does not disappoint his supporters — delivering lines about Nancy Pelosi, “Shifty Schiff,” Hunter Biden, and the illegal impeachment inquiry. He mixes in stats about the booming economy and touts historic low unemployment, rising wages, and the pride of our nation’s new-found energy independence. He looks down the lenses of the cameras on the press platform — and calls them fake news.
The crowd laughs and applauds. President Trump is larger than life and those who came to see him get to hear all of his greatest hits. He ends with his signature lines, “and together we will make America Safe again. Strong again. And Great again.” The crowd erupts, as if to thank the president not only for the inspiring and positive message he has delivered, but to also thank him for enduring all the unprecedented criticism and hatred in his efforts to deliver on his promises to the American people. The applause continues every step of his long walk back to offstage, and even though he’s been going and going and going on stage, he is again in no hurry to leave those who also have taken lots of jabs and criticism and hatred in defense of their belief in America First. His every expression and gesture and word are meant as an offering of thanks. And they are gratefully received by the crowd.
Yet amidst the sea of faces, there is one person among the thousands and thousands of attendees who stands out and catches the president’s eye. President Trump doesn’t know him or his story, but based on the hat he is wearing, our president knows he is a veteran — which makes him an American hero. Instead of just taking that one final step and exiting the arena, the president stops. He straightens and then salutes instinctively. He mouths the words, “thank you.” And with that, he is gone. The crowds collectively exhales — exhausted but exhilarated after all they have just witnessed and shared.
I turn my head to see who the man is that the President of the United States just saluted. I come face to face with Staff Sgt. Roy Hodges, who flew 34 combat missions as a gunner on a B-24 Liberator over Europe in WWII and is now 95 years old. As I thank him for his service, he quiets and asks if I happened to capture that moment on my phone — and thankfully I did. He asks if I will send it to him, which I happily do, as he tells me he has terminal cancer with only a few months to live. He wants to share this moment with his family, as it is one of the proudest of his life — to have been saluted and thanked personally by the Commander in Chief himself. He tries to control his emotions but they are at the surface by now, as are mine.
President Trump, without even knowing it, gave this man, among the last of the greatest generation, a meaningful and memorable send-off into the sunset of his remarkable life of sacrifice and service. As we speak, I think of all the other brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way all around the world on behalf of our nation, and have no doubt the president would salute them all if he could. He sees them, applauds them, admires them, and acknowledges their bravery and heroism.
I hope not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day, that our brave men and women who serve at home and abroad feel the appreciation and support of a grateful nation, and take pride in knowing they have a Commander in Chief who salutes them.