By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Because I’m not an exemplary reader of the local paper, I didn’t know that Donald Trump was coming to Bangor until yesterday, two hours before the speech — I think from a link alert reader Martha R threw over the transom, which I now can’t find, as if all this happened in a parallel universe — during the midst of the attack on the site. So I immediately called a cab to Bangor — you don’t just hail a cab, where I’m at — and went online to get a (free) ticket to the rally at the Trump site, discovering after I filled out the fields that I needed to have a cell phone to get a confirmation number. Damn! Heart attack!
Submitting Water Cooler, the heart attack having been resolved, I slipped my landline phone into my pocket, as proof (except it isn’t) that I don’t own the cell, and got into the waiting cab. (I probably should have brought an iPad to record and take photos, but I didn’t know what the crowd would be like.) Because this is a small town, the cab driver is the one I call to take me to the airport, so after we chatted about gardening, I explained my ticket predicament and asked what he thought about Trump. He was non-committal, and took a call on his own phone, but when he got off, he handed me a slip of paper with what he’d written on it, explaining that his girl-friend had won two tickets to the rally, couldn’t go, and I could use her name name at the door; they would check it against their database, and I’d be sure to get in.
This week has been marked by small acts of kindness like this; being a good Mainer, I wonder how this temporary imbalance in the karmic scales will be rectified, but it’s certainly nice while it lasts.
Arriving at the venue we passed a few protesters — the photos I’ve seen are of young people wearing anti-Trump T-shirts and holding printed signs, but the signs I remember were hand-made. (I liked “Everything that comes out of Trump’s tiny mouth is wrong,” technically. Would that were true!) I hopped out of the cab, passed the “No Demonstrators Beyond This Point” sign, and got in line. The speech had already started (so I missed Howie Carr, a provincial Rush Limbaugh from the shitty of Boston).
At this point, here are some links to previous reports from Trump rallies, so you can compare this to them:
- An Eyewitness Report from the Thwarted Trump Rally Naked Capitalism
- A journalist went to a Donald Trump rally yesterday and came back shocked. Here are his tweets Political Scrapbook
- I went to a Trump rally, and it was nothing like what I expected Business Insider
- That Time I Went To A Trump Rally (Storify) tressie me, with additional commentary here.
(The first is a report on the Chicago rally that was shut down by an improvised coalition of Chicago protesters, the next two are partisan in their different ways, and the last two are serious must-reads, if you have not read them already from Links.)
I’m not going to do a systematic comparison between this rally and those reports; and I’m not going to do a close reading of the texts, because all I took away is a few scribbled notes and I don’t have a real transcript. I also feel that impressions are what count with Trump anyhow, because almost nothing Trump actually said stuck in my mind. Some speakers are memorable at the sentence level (FDR: “[T]he only thing we have to fear is…fear itself”), others even at the paragraph level (Lincoln: The Gettysburg Address), but Trump is memorable only at the phrase level (Trump: “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “You’re fired.”)
Trump’s Manafort-crafted prepared speechs (here and here, for example) are lavishly footnoted and convey clear messages. Trump’s stump speech is far more amorphous. Here are some of the headlines from stories reporting on it:
- Trump rips Clinton, courts working-class voters in Bangor Bangor Daily News
- Trump campaign returns to Maine WMTW
- A look at Donald Trump’s remarks yesterday in Bangor WAGM
- Candidate Trump holds GOP rally in Bangor WCSH
- At Bangor Rally, Trump Takes Aim at Trade Deals, Clinton NHPR
- LePage-Trump ‘bromance’ blooms in Bangor Boston Globe
- At Maine rally, Trump lashes out at US Chamber on trade Boston Globe
- In Maine, Donald Trump blames Hillary Clinton for rise of Islamic State Boston Herald
- Howie Carr kicks off Donald Trump’s Maine rally with Native American ‘war whoops’ mocking Elizabeth Warren Boston Globe
- Trump wants sore-loser rule to ban Republicans who broke support pledge from ever running for office again Daily Mail (!)
The headlines from the Maine TV stations are carefully neutral (in itself, a victory for Trump), the Globe a clear point of view and the resources for multiple stories, the Herald, a tabloid, has an equally clear point of view but no resources, and the Daily Mail conveys a complex Inside Baseball point (and what’s up with that?) All are true, but none are consistent, and I’d argue that’s because the speech doesn’t convey a clear message; you can almost see the writers and editors throwing up their hands in despair. FWIW, I think the BDN’s is the most accurate, but then it confirms my priors.
So I got in line and took a look at the crowd. What Tressie MC saw, I saw a Maine version of:
One thing that is captured in data on Trump supporters but not teased out well: how many middle class and upper class whites support him. At this rally, there were certainly the stereotypical blue collar, low income supporters (as judged, as we do such things, by visible status markers: clothing, style, teeth, weight, speech patterns, etc.). But, a fair number of those attending were from the Khaki Brigade: middle class, middle America whites for whom something like Gap’s “Dress Normal” ad campaign is made. They were soccor moms and business class members. Many of them had their children with them. We cannot entirely blame or credit (depending on your disposition) the poor whites left behind in the new economy for Trump’s political career.
The differences: A smaller khaki brigade, but then Bangor is a lot more poor than Northern Virginia. A larger working class (let’s say it, as opposed to “blue collar, low income”) contingent, therefore, and a much younger crowd (odd, since Maine skews old). No crazies that I saw, but above all no people of color. Statistically, that’s reasonable, since Maine is the whitest state, besides being the oldest, but I’m sure Trump’s reputation had preceded him, and people of color did not attend for the same reason I didn’t bring my iPad and nobody brought the kids: We were worried about what the crowd might do, and why.
So I made it up to the metal detectors (operated by men in TSA uniforms), took my coins, keys, pens, and landline phone out of my pocket, checked my cabdriver’s note for the name, and prepared to talk my way in. But surprise! There wasn’t any ticket check at the door at all! I don’t know whether that’s terrible advance work, or whether the famously lean Trump campaign has worked out that checking tickets at the door reaches the point of diminishing returns after the online data is collected.
I entered the arena and made my way down to the floor. The crowd was, by Bangor standards, large, and many had driven a long way to attend. (Maine is, by New England standards, a big state; it has a big sky.) The Cross Arena has 5,800 seats, and will hold 8,500 when the floor is used. While the auditorium wasn’t packed, there were no noticeably empty patches, and at least half the floor was fenced off for the press, so crowd estimates of 4,000 are low. A crowd of 5,000 would be a big deal in Bangor, which has a population of 32,673. (Bangor is a big circle on a map of Interstate 95, and so some people think it’s a big city, but it isn’t. It isn’t Portland, either.)
Because I was a touch late, I missed the introductions, and Trump was already speaking. The stage was quite lean; Trump was at a simple podium, backed by far fewer than eighteen flags, and with a basic dark blue curtain behind him. There wasn’t even a platform for dignitaries! (Trump mentioned “Paul,” several times, and I wormed my way closer to see if I could catch a glimpse of Paul Manafort — rather as if Trump were Johnny Carson and Manafort were Ed MacMahon — until it dawned on me that he meant our Governor, Paul LePage, who had endorsed him, but couldn’t be seen because he was at the same level as the crowd; only Trump was above it all, a rather nice subliminal message. Before I forget, here is a video of the entire speech, helpfully provided by alert reader Clarky90:
Seen in person, and not on the screen,Trump’s hair — and where are the “He lies like his rug” jokes? — isn’t that gold and isn’t that weird. (I think Boris Johnson sets the baseline here, and Trump’s nowhere near it.) Had his hands been that small, I would have noticed. His almost entirely single-handed repertoire of gestures, like Clinton’s, is limited, although less so than Sanders’. Which is not hard. His body language is dominant, but at the same time, he lacks presence; I remember from 2008 a description of Obama strolling onto an outdoor stage — no podium, no flags, in shirt-sleeves — and quieting the crowd of many thousands. I don’t think Trump could do that. Trump’s voice does not boom, and he does not shout, in the sense that when a singer shouts, they’ve lost control of their abiity to modulate; Trump modulates well. His voice is pitched high, and it’s abrasive, but not grating or grinding; rather like fine sandpaper. He did not use a teleprompter; at the end, he folded up a few sheets of paper and put them in his jacket pocket. What I did not expect to find is that Trump is funny, since dictators are not famous for their sense of humor. (I tried making a crude transcript from the Closed Caption text from here, here, here, and here, but it’s really impossible to use, so I’m going to paraphrase when necessary. I’ll try to capture Trump’s style, but it’s not easy.)
TRUMP (paraphrasing): We won more votes in the primaries than any Republican! More than Romney, Bush, Dole, Nixon, Eisenhower — though in all fairness, Eisenhower won World War II
Or this, a very long anecdote about his visit to Scotland to a Trump-branded golf course, Turnberry:
TRUMP (paraphrasing): I flew to Scotland to open my new golf course, Turnberry. [Material omitted about the amazingness of Turnberry and the Trump family.] And the press [material omitted designed to make the crowd turn around and boo the press, which it did] kept asking me to pick up a golf club and take a swing, but I didn’t want to make that the story, so I didn’t. So what did they do? They ran a picture of me swinging a golf club from a year ago! And at the press conference, the press asked me one question about the vote for independence, and I gave a one-sentence answer. In hours, Crooked Hillary made a television ad attacking that one sentence. So I get a call from my manager [material omitted about the amazingness of the Turnberry management team], and he asked me, he said: “Donald, did you run a television ad for Turnberry?” I told him no…. [pause for laughter and applause]. I made money on the deal! [more laughter and applause.]
This anecdote is subtler than it may appear. (Again, I apologize for the paraphrase, but I think the ideas are there.) These messages at least are implicit in it:
- Trump is a successful businessman; golf is a rich man’s game
- Trump is a very successful businessman; he owns the golf course
- Trump is unpredictable; his subordinate had to confirm that he hadn’t take out an ad
- Trump’s enemies defeat themselves, and attacks on him boomerang
- The press is “them,” not “us”
The last point is important; Trump constantly prepares his audience with interpretations of how the press will cover the rally; for example, protesters will get a lot of coverage (not “us”), and the photographs will be tightly focused on Trump (again, not on “us”).
There was, in fact, a “policy” aspect to Trump’s speech (the trade deals), and Trump made seven points on trade; at least I think it was seven. (The crowd booed TPP vigorously; they did not need to have the acronym expanded for them.) For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on how he made the points: He didn’t just emit them in bulleted-list form. Rather, he treated them as waypoints. He’d state the point, clearly and loudly, and then begin to move away from it in ever-widening circles, riffing jazzily on anecdotes, making jokes, introducing other talking points (“We’re gonna build the wall”), introducing additional anecdotes, until finally popping the topical stack and circling back to the next waypoint, which he would then state, clearly and loudly; rinse, repeat. The political class considers or at least claims Trump’s speeches are random and disorganized, but they aren’t; any speech and debate person who’s done improvisation knows what’s going on.
What I really went to see was not Trump on policy, but the relationship between Trump and the crowd, and how he managed it. Here again, I (mostly) agree with mc tressie’s concerns and perceptions when she writes:
I am privileged in many, many ways. I can be somewhat distant about the visceral appeal of racism and homophobia and class conflict. That is a consequence of my personal status mobility [
moi, aussi]. It’s real but I would be lying if I said it is as real as it was for me when I was poorer. But ideology is powerful precisely because it mobilizes violence and resistance. We saw what happens when ideologies about who is human and not; who belongs and who doesn’t; who is an equal participant in our social contract and who is an threat to it spills over through the minds and actions and weapons of people who believe rhetoric is reality.
Trump is not that great at the things we give him credit for. He doesn’t whip up the crowd so much as the crowd comes seeking an outlet to vent. Trump doesn’t shape that anger into a collective experience. That’s why there are a lot of blank spaces — or “dead air” as I call it on Twitter — in the rally. He’s not a good fascist and only a passable demagogue. He would never make a JV cheer squad, is what I’m saying.
I’ve been in crowds that have become single, supra-individual organisms, though only once or twice in my life (once at a baseball game, once at a concert). It’s an experience both exhilarating and frightening. This crowd was not one such. However, there were two events were protesters did their thing and were removed by security. (I couldn’t see because both events were on the floor, I was on the floor, and I couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd.) In each case, Trump said “Get ’em outta here!” but immediately damped down crowd reaction: “Don’t hurt ’em…. They’ll be voting for us in a two or three years!” My concern is what would happen if the protesters were much more determined (Trump: “You have the nicest protesters in Maine”), the crowd was much more vociferous, and Trump either lost control or decided to whip the crowd up instead of damping them down, which I think he could do; Trump clearly decided to cool things down, and did.
I’ll close by saying that this message resonated — and didn’t resonate — with me and, I think, with many Mainers in the Second District That Is Not Portland:
[TRUMP (CC transcript cleaned up):] I know a big plant closed in Maine recently, and it’s closing because that you can’t compete with the valuation. You know it’s all about their devaluing their currency, and so are others. I talk about China, but remember I talk about China for a reason: They’re the biggest abuser. They’re the biggest, and they’re the biggest abuser, but every country, virtually every country that we do business with, looks at us as the stupid people with a piggy bank … [T]hey take our jobs, they take our money, they don’t respect us, we have political hacks negotiating the biggest deals in the world…
Yes, a big plant did close, and Trump came and talked about it. That is, actually, huge. Nancy Isenberg, in her wonderful book White Trash, describes the non-khaki-pantsed part of Trump’s constituency well:
“The white poor have been with us in various guises, as the names they have been given across the centuries attest,” Isenberg writes. “Waste people. Offscourings. Lubbers. Bogtrotters. Rascals. Rubbish. Squatters. Crackers. Clay-eaters. Tackies. Mudsills. Scalawags. Briar hoppers. Hillbillies. Low-downers. White n—–s. Degenerates. White trash. Rednecks. Trailer trash. Swamp people.”
Today’s version of all that is “stupid,” and you will note that the Clinton supporters apply “stupid” freely to Trump supporters; the Clinton campaign speaks of the working class, white or not, and not to it. Trump seems to have noticed that, and prods the pain point with “looks at us as the stupid people.” Aside from the mill closing, there’s not much else I agree with, but again Trump is subtler than he appears at first glance:
- Trump identifies Trump voters with the country: “our jobs,” “our money.”
- Trump deflects blame for the mill closures from capital to the Chinese; Chinese currency manipulation, and not private equity, caused the mill closure.
- Trump’s problem with trade “deals” is really the negotiating team (“hacks”).
There’s really not much for a Sanders supporter to like, here. To the final bullet: If Trump thinks squillionaire Republican Carl Icahn would negotiate a better deal than credentialed Democrat Michael Froman, doesn’t that make Clinton and Trump two neoliberal peas in a pod?
So that is my report from the field on a Trump rally. I hope I’ve provided you with some tools for interpreration. You will have noticed that I’ve touched only barely on the three *-isms tossed at Trump by Clinton supporters: Fascism, racism, and sexism. There are several reasons for that.
To begin, Clinton supporters, including much of the political class, and most of our famously free press, invoke the *-isms so often that The Rice-Davies Rule applies; all three have descended, in the discourse, from terrible problems on the scale of original sin to lazy tropes tossed out by hacks. Second, in the speech as I heard it, the *-isms were at dog-whistle level (granted, Trump’s whistling knob is set to 11, but you know what I mean). The opportunity cost of joining the chorus of liberal goodthinkers in their chorus of denunciation would have been, well, the post as you have just read it. Next, on racism and sexism: It’s utterly unclear me why an individual with a moral stance that opposes those two *-isms is superior to an individual who opposes classism (which “stupid” so clearly encapsulates every time the credentialed emit it). A functional left would manage to integrate race, sex, and class, and be able to mobilize on that basis, but that’s what programmers call a hard problem. And one reason it is a hard problem is Democrat vulgar identity politics (see here and here), which stifles and silences the left. Not undeliberately. Finally, on fascism: My verdict is “not proven.” (As tressie mc says: He’s “not that great.”) I would also like it explained to me how the massive national security apparatus of surveillance and domestic paramilitarism initiated by Bush and normalized by Obama isn’t fascism either and already. We live in interesting times.
Will either Clinton or Trump lead to a net increase in kindness? I doubt it. We’re looking at elite conflict between two neoliberal factions.
Oh, and an enterprising Mainer got a look at Trump Force One and wrote a special on it for the BDN:
This isn’t your average 757. At all. Having seen several documentaries on the aircraft, Mr. Trump’s crew maintains this aircraft to his high standards. After all, if I had a 757, I’d expect it to be in tip-top shape as well….
At a price tag of $100 million, no expense was spared. From gold-plated seatbelt buckles, an on-demand library of movies and music in each seat to the Trump family logo proudly displayed everywhere. Seven Alpha Foxtrot features a guest room with its own entertainment system as well as Mr. Trump’s master suite with an even larger entertainment system than the guest suite and a bathroom with shower. There is custom wood and leather abound throughout the cabin. Trump’s 757 is powered by 2 Rolls Royce RB211 engines which are controlled from the full glass cockpit(electronics).
Ill-gotten gains, to be sure, and a vulgar display. Trump should be classier, launder his money through a foundation, and get third parties to sponsor his flights. Sad!
 Well, not exactly: “
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
 Except “Bromance,” which recalls the false BernieBro narrative. LePage is an interesting figure who would never have been elected if (corrupt and flaccid) Democrats hadn’t done their usual iron law of institutions thing.
 Sadly, Cross is an insurance company, from the FIRE sector. It’s not a paper company, or a shoe manufacturer, or even a consortium of lobsterpersons. It’s where we are.
 Especially resonant in Maine, where most golfers are summer visitors from away, who are much better off than the locals who own the course or the hotel or the clam shack, let alone those who are caddies, maids, or cooks and staff.
 If you believe that Clinton doesn’t want TPP to pass, show me receipts. I don’t buy the idea that deference to Obama caused the Sanders anti-TPP plan to be defeated at the platform committee. I mean, who would Clinton defer to next? Her donors, that’s who, and they want TPP.