The author is a former reporter for the Detroit Free Press and The New York Times.
By Joe Lapointe
When President Donald Trump spoke in a shed-like fieldhouse amid Washington Township soccer fields Saturday night, he crowed that the crowd outside the building was so big “we could’ve probably filled this place up five or six times.”
“Couldn’t you get a larger building?” he said at the new Total Sports Park just north of 30 Mile Road and east of Van Dyke, where the side roads are gravel and more pleasant than the degraded pavement of many Macomb County avenues.
Perhaps Trump’s 71-year-old eyes were so impaired by the bright TV lights that he couldn’t see that at least a third of the artificial indoor soccer field was empty and that there were maybe — at most — 4,000 people at the event.
Nor did the scandal-plagued Trump see hundreds of his supporters filing out of the building before his speech of more than one hour was even half done.
By the time he finished to the mournful recorded French horn of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” you could walk from the back of the crowd to near the front, well within heckling distance.
From there, you could see Trump strutting in his full glory, shining in his full Trumpian colors: Overlong red necktie, starched white shirt, baggy blue suit, face so orange and hair so yellow.
And how this fellow can bellow. In these rallies – to bridge his campaigns of 2016 and 2020 – he gets that familiar low growl in his voice when he tongue-lashes familiar enemies.
“We’re gonna finally put America first, OK?” he snarled, wearing the chip on his shoulder like an epaulet.
He attacked the FBI. And the Justice Department. And the news media. And various Democratic Senators, including Debbie Stabenow.
He alluded to The Democratic Woman Presidential Candidate Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken. (“Lock her up,” one lout shouted, referring to Hillary Clinton, during a two-minute silence when medics tended to a spectator who’d fainted in the warm shed air).
“Our laws are so corrupt and so stupid,” Trump roared, referring to immigration. “The laws are corrupt! The laws are corrupt!”
The Famous Wall
Vicious gangs, like drugs, Trump said, are “pouring into our country.” If he doesn’t get more funding next time around from Congress for The Wall on the border with Mexico, Trump vowed, “We’ll close down the country!” He really said this. “We need the wall,” he said. “We’re gonna have it all.”
Nowhere, however, in the speech, did Trump drop the familiar old other shoe from his 2016 campaign routine. Back then, he would follow “Build That Wall!” with “And who’s gonna pay for it?” and the crowd would shout “Mexico!”
But now, Trump is demanding that his Macomb County voters pay for it out of their hard-earned, blue-collar, heartland, fly-over tax dollars. Best not to bring that up Saturday what with so much else to break down for folks who can fit their philosophy of life on their tee shirts or their bumper stickers.
He told them that a vote for a Democrat in November is a vote for “open borders and crime. It’s very simple.”
On the happy side, he praised cops and soldiers and mentioned that America invented the automobile assembly line and also put a man on the moon.
The crowd in the building was peaceful, perhaps subdued by the warm temperature and humidity that forced many to shed layers of clothing they’d worn while standing in the chilly outdoors for four or more hours until the doors opened.
Outside, there was one verbal altercation between a small group of protestors and Trump fans. Police on horses and ATV’s broke it up.
One Trump supporter wore a faded, blue-lettered tee-shirt stretched over a big belly. His message said: “Gun-totin’ America-lovin’ Republican.”
An even bigger guy wore a gray shirt that explained his opinion as to the allocation of resources in an either-or, zero-sum world.
“Veterans Before Refugees,” it said.
He stood in line near a guy with a black leather coat that said “Disfunctional Veteran. Leave Me Alone.”
His hat identified him as a veteran of the Vietnam war. His age – late-60s – seemed typical for the gathering. Wheel chairs were plentiful although young adults and children attended as well and made much of the noise.
Older folks vote. Trump won 54 percent of Macomb and the county paced Michigan, which helped the upset in the Great Lakes region that swung the election away from Clinton.
Should the Republicans falter in this part of the county (and country) this fall, Trump, too, could fall in 2020. So he needs support from events like Saturday’s held out where old barns and 19th. Century farmland meet 21st. Century suburbia, so far north of the city of Detroit that Eight Mile Road is either just a movie or a memory. This is the land of white flight.
Perhaps Trump missed some of these subtleties about Metro Detroit. While bragging about low black and Hispanic unemployment, Trump asked “Any Hispanics in the room?” After a moment of silence he said “Hispanic? Nah. Not so many. That’s OK.”
Good thing he didn’t do the same call and response for African-Americans. There were very few aside from the guy with the “Blacks For Trump” shirt who follows Trump around like a Deadhead and always seems to get on camera behind Trump’s podium.
Another faux pas came when Trump declared “Nobody knows what a community college is!” It’s a familiar line from many of his recent speeches but tone deaf in a region where the two words that often follow “Macomb County” are “Community College.” Many at the rally probably studied there.
No Betsy DeVos
Speaking of education, notable in her absence from the Republican warmup acts was Betsy DeVos, a Michigander who is Trump’s secretary of education. She passed through Michigan on Friday. Trump didn’t even mention her.
Maybe someone warned Trump that DeVos is responsible for pushing the struggling charter school systems that have helped drag down Michigan’s national standing in education.
And she presides over the Department of Education in an era of teacher walkouts, gun massacres in schools and rebellion against Republican disdain for American educational standards and funding.
Trump mentioned, in passing, the Kremlin-connected Russian agent – he called her a “woman lawyer” – who colluded, with others, in Trump Tower in 2016. She and other Russians promised to deliver dirt on Clinton. Trump’s son, Donald, Jr., hosted.
But the President failed to bring up porn star Stormy Daniels, his former sex friend and all that hush money everyone’s talking about, or his lawyer, Michael Cohen, currently facing criminal investigation by the FBI.
None of these omissions bothered Trump’s fans, who filed out quietly into their pickups and SUVs with the afterglow of the late spring sun still low in the west over the flat land.
In the parking lot, the vehicles crawled. On Sirius XM radio from the dashboard, Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News Channel assured America of what a great speech Trump just made in “the other Washington.”
She even played highlights. It was like listening to the Tiger post-game show while driving home from Comerica Park.
The vehicles kicked up clouds of dust toward a clear night sky. Look! Through the windshield! Might that be Air Force One leaving Selfridge to wing Trump back to the White House or to his millionaire’s club for even more Florida golf?
There it is! It’s flying just below the big, orange, moon rising in the east and beaming down on the exurbs of Macomb County as if it were a celestial golf ball or maybe even the very face of Donald Trump himself!