Yesterday was a picture-perfect spring day in western Maryland. It was the kind of day for a visit to friends, a lunch out, a little work in the garden, but instead I, and thousands of others from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, walked what felt like a mile from the parking area to a huge airplane hangar at the Hagerstown Regional Airport where, packed like sardines, we waited for hours to hear what Presidential candidate Donald Trump had to say.
It was worth the wait.
The aching back and legs were all worth experiencing the phenomenon first hand.
On the roads lining the walk to the hangar were dozens of vendors selling Trump memorabilia. I asked one woman where she was from and she said Michigan. Imagine this! They follow Trump events around the country selling their wares. It must be lucrative for them and one had to admire their entrepreneurial spirits (if not the quality of their merchandise).
There were two small groups of demonstrators. There was a small (maybe 20) group of locals with homemade signs that seemed to favor the word “hate.” And, then there was another group, maybe 15, closer to the hangar with the characteristic professionally printed commie signs. You know they are always bright yellow with black letters (Workers World Party in this case).
Snipers were on roofs nearby and the security check involved metal detectors and bag searches.
Then came the wait….
Music played, people chatted with their compatriots and those around them for hours! Occasionally a chant broke out. A raised platform in the middle of the hangar held at least a dozen camera-men and reporters for presumably all of the major media.
While chatting with neighbors, we agreed that much of the passion (and endurance—you know Sunday afternoon, beautiful day) in a group like this was a direct result of watching the Obama presidency over the last 7 plus years and wanting to send a message that his Presidency would be most repudiated and nullified with Donald Trump in the White House.
The only problem I saw with the planning for the rally (they had food, water and porta pots), albeit it was done with only a couple of days notice, was the enormous wasted opportunity with a microphone available and a crowd of thousands getting bored (how many times could you send text messages and otherwise play with your phones).
I wished we could hear from others campaigning for office, or better still hear from the Trump delegate candidates who will be on the ballot tomorrow.
Since I was positioned maybe a third of the way back from the podium, I have no idea whether the hangar was completely full, but I am told it was.
My uneducated guess put the crowd size at about 7,000-10,000. The local newspaper, the Hagerstown Herald Mail puts it at 5,000. Trump himself put it at 18,000 (you did have to go on line and get tickets so maybe he did have the best handle on the number). But, no matter the size, the energy was electric and looking around it was evident that Trump supporters come from all walks of life.
One of my friends said she felt safe because many of the men, they were young and old, looked like they could take care of themselves and us if something bad happened. I put the crowd as almost evenly split between men and women (so much for the notion that women don’t like Trump).
Trump was supposed to fly in at 4 p.m. but it was nearly five before his well-known Trump helicopter arrived to booming triumphant music.
He spoke for about an hour with no teleprompter and no sign that he was going to follow the supposed instructions of his new campaign hires to look and sound presidential.
The audience roared and laughed along with him especially cheering his statements about getting rid of Obamacare and Common Core. They roared approval of his trademark build-the-wall plans, and his adamant assertion that he will fight for the second amendment and take care of vets.
And, of course his ideas on trade and jobs were a focal point as he several times reported on how much manufacturing Maryland has lost in recent decades. (You can watch it all in replay, here).
I was struck by his use of the words a couple of times near the end—“America First!”—the two words that I believe sum up his entire message.
Only one line in the Herald Mail story mentioned the real genius of the speech, he made the audience feel like they were in this with him, that he didn’t care who endorsed him as long as we, the voters, did:
I want your endorsement,” he said to cheers.
Much to my surprise, when it was all over, Trump did not jump in the waiting helicopter and immediately fly away. He stayed for at least another half an hour talking to people along the rail that held hundreds of diehard fans back as they snapped photos of him. Then he took group photos on the tarmac with military (or police). (I couldn’t tell from where I stood.)
I was able to see aide Stephen Miller on the tarmac with him. You may know him as the former aide to Senator Jeff Sessions and a national expert on the issue of immigration.
All in all, it was well worth giving up a beautiful day because my friends and I agreed that we were witnessing history in the making (no matter how it turns out).