At the Donald Trump Rally: “Let’s Talk About Rochester”

When Trump mentioned Bausch & Lomb and Kodak, I was reminded about seeing the adults in the neighborhood leave early in the mornings and come home from these workplaces, as well as factories like Bond’s, Hickey-Freeman, and Rochester Products.  Most of these have either closed or downsized; workers in foreign countries now do the jobs my parents and relatives did. The neighborhood I grew up in began its downward slide with the 1964 riots.  With the loss of manufacturing jobs, working class families fled not only the neighborhoods but Rochester itself.  In my old “14621” neighborhood, the modest houses with neatly kept yards now feature trash and boarded-up windows.

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By Mary Grabar | April 14, 2016

at the donald

I had some apprehension about going to the Donald Trump rally in Rochester, New York, on Sunday, April 10, after seeing the footage of the violence at the March 11 rally in Chicago.

Even before entrapped Trump supporters had gotten beyond George Soros-supported thugs blocking their way out of the University of Illinois at Chicago arena, and before they could fix their smashed car windows enough to drive home, all three of the other remaining candidates—Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz—weighed in.  The New York Times reported that while all three “condemned the disruptions,” they claimed that Trump was responsible for the “tenor.”  Cruz said that Trump “affirmatively encourages violence.”  Kasich said Trump created a “toxic environment.”  Rubio waffled, but implied that Trump’s language was in part responsible for the violence.

Since then, media outlets bent on eliminating Trump have ramped up their “discourse” against not only Trump but his supporters.  Libertarians have called them “cultists” in “thrall to a vicious culture,” corrupted by a “‘sense of entitlement.’”  Their communities, devastated by the loss of their industries, “deserve to die,” wrote Kevin Williamson. Weepy Mormon convert Glenn Beck, who has laid hands on Cruz as an anointed leader, proclaimed that “no real Christian” would vote for Trump.  Attitudes have ranged from pity to contempt.

Videos of a 78-year-old man who punched a protestor giving the finger and an African American Air Force sergeant hitting a long-haired ne’er do well have been played over and over, as have a couple of Trump’s off-hand comments.

So, I wondered if the billionaire from Queens would say anything that would lead to fisticuffs.

I did not see that and I was relieved.

The media did not see that and was disappointed.

The day of the rally was one of those cold and dreary spring days that I remembered from growing up in Rochester, when I insisted on walking through the snow to Easter mass in my patent leather shoes.

I drove past the hangar on Scottsville Road at around 11:15 a.m. and saw about 150 people lined up.  Doors opened at noon and Trump was scheduled to speak at 3:00.  I had driven in from Clinton, so I went to get some lunch at the Dunkin Donuts down the road. When I got to the hangar about an hour later, it was almost full.

Yes, there were a lot of white men, many of them wearing attire indicating they were military veterans.  A lot of them looked like they could be off-duty policemen.  There were quite a few college-age people, among them Asian men who looked like they could have been attending the Rochester Institute of Technology down the road.  Some of the guys wore jackets emblazoned with the names of motorcycle clubs.  One 40-ish woman in front of me displayed tattoos on her hands that crept up under her winter coat.  Two men in front of me were discussing the price of ammunition at Wal-Mart.  Standing next to me was a black couple who looked like they had just left church with their two boys, around seven and ten.  Everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the concrete floor of an airplane hangar for over two hours to hear Trump.  The mood was upbeat. The father next to me entertained his younger son with a hand game.  A guy in the front was waving around a paperback copy of one of Trump’s books to the beat of the music.

In spite of the freezing temperature, the cavernous hangar was heating up with all the people, and doors opened about an hour after I got there.  A short time later the top hatch of an old military plane opened up and Trump volunteer coordinator Carl Paladino hoisted up an American flag and an Airborne flag.   The crowd erupted in cheers of “USA, USA!”

When Paladino came to the podium later and began with “God bless America,” the crowd again cheered. He talked about how people in Washington want to control the media, how “unbelievable” it was that they would discuss a brokered convention, using arcane rules.  “How can people be so out of touch with reality?” he asked and followed with references to Obama’s disregard of the rules and the Constitution.  A few shouts erupted from protestors embedded on the fringes.  From my place in the middle of the crowd I could not hear their words but learned later that they were laced with profanity.  These pathetic yells were drowned out by “USA! USA!”

Paladino continued, saying that the American people are tired of “wimps,” “appeasers,” and “apologists,” alluding to Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Barack Obama.  He talked about veterans getting “the respect they deserve” by requiring that all those in the government use a VA card.  He attacked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s restrictive gun laws (the S.A.F.E. Act) and his misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief funds intended to help the “little guy,” for an advertising campaign that helped him in the election.  When he said, “build the wall,” a cheer went out.  He ended by saying, “God bless America and God bless Donald Trump on his adventure.”

Pastor Mark Burns then used his oratorical skills to denounce Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton (who he said belongs in jail, echoing some of the slogans on t-shirts in the crowd), Obama (blaming him for the San Bernardino attack), “Lying Ted,” special interests, the media, GOP puppets like Romney and Rubio, and the slur against “New York values” from Ted Cruz.  He talked about how hard New York has been hit by lost manufacturing jobs and fighting back “harder.”

He also attacked the racial divisiveness encouraged by Obama and Clinton. “Declare to the world,” he intoned, “all lives matter.  A-a-ll lives matter.  There are no white people.  There are no black people. The only colors that matter are red, white, and blue.”  He was right about the media misrepresentation.  One headline indicated that he had claimed that “black people don’t exist” Donald Trump, he said, was watching the crowd on TV.

When Trump came on, and began, “Let’s talk about Rochester,” the crowd was ready.  The points were familiar to those who follow this election, and they primarily involved economic issues and safety.  He addressed fracking, the budget deficit, the Iran deal, Common Core, and the Second Amendment. He sounded the familiar themes about NAFTA, Asian currency, China, and the lost science and manufacturing jobs.  In Rochester, 4,000 jobs have been lost in six months.  Bausch and Lomb has moved out and Xerox is outsourcing.  Trump promised that SentrySafe, which is moving manufacturing to Mexico, would face a stiff tariff when it tried to sell its products here.  He promised large tax cuts for the “most forgotten,” the middle class, ending TPP and the need for smart negotiators in free trade.  “I love free trade,” he said, but “we lose to China, Mexico, Canada. . . everybody.”  Trump presents himself as a skilled dealmaker and called not only Kerry and Obama “incompetent” but also the Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 who voted for the Omnibus bill that funds illegal aliens, Obamacare, and refugees.  Boehner “gave away all the cards,” when he said “‘we will not shut down’” Washington, Trump charged.

Trump segued into the dishonesty of the press, blasting the New York Times, the Washington Post, and especially the Boston Globe for its fake apocalyptic front page about a Trump presidency and for those who misleadingly report in empty arenas after rallies.  Pointing to the press area on the platform in the back, he said, “Look who I brought to Rochester.  Turn around.”

The crowd did.  Some shook fists; a few held up middle fingers.

Trump speaks in an associative style and his slam of the press included the selection of German chancellor Angela Merkel as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, which led him to charge that “We are the world’s policemen,” and then to ask, “Who are better than our policemen?”  In response to cheers, he said, “I love these people.”  He used the word “love” several times.

He talked about a rigged and “crooked system.”  In a point of commonality, Trump and Bernie Sanders have energized both parties, bringing in record numbers of primary voters.  This has not translated into delegates all the time (as happened to Trump in Louisiana).  It’s supposed to be “You vote and the vote means something,” Trump asserted.

While he brags, Trump speaks to the forgotten middle class, the wage earners, those who believe in “America first,” a phrase he uses.  Noting that people on buses had to be turned away, he apologized to the people in the buses, but promised “I’ll come back.”  He apologized for not being able to seat us.  Noting the positive mood he said these are the safest rallies.  “Our people protect each other.  We have to love one another.”

Commenting on the safety in the rallies, he predicted that the headlines would be about protestors.

Oddly, even his braggadocio has an element of sincerity. When he started talking about immigration on June 16, it “hit a button,” and now Ted Cruz is talking about building a wall, he said.   He said he wrote about Osama bin Laden in his book, The America We Deserve, published in 2000.  He implied that we would still have the World Trade Center towers had others heeded his warnings.

He said that when Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq, the “enemy said he can’t be that stupid.  But he adhered to the date,” and now Iran is taking over Iraq and Yemen.  They want Saudi Arabia.

The middle class or former middle class has been beaten down by the Obama administration in the last seven years, and has certainly not found champions in the Republicans they elected to Congress.  No one has talked about “winning” like Trump has.

He called his campaign “a movement,” but “not a movement of hate.  It’s a movement of love.”  While such words may come off as odd in print or in a sound bite, at the rally they came off as sincere and spontaneous.

The mood carried over even as our exit was delayed by a long jam at the exit as buses loaded up.  But even after standing on their feet for several hours, no one got testy.

The two dozen protestors on the other side of the road, with signs telling us, “bigots go home,” looked like a miserable, hateful bunch in contrast.

I walked alongside the road back to my car and passed a young WROC reporter who intoned about the protestors and “clashes.” I heard him say, “As far as we know, there have been no arrests, yet.”   A story on WHEC began, “Thousands of people gathered outside the Trump rally at Rochester International Airport, many of them protestors.”  The story focused on a few dozen misfits among tens of thousands and quoted their allegations that Trump supporters screamed at them and tried to start fights.  I saw nothing of the sort. Trump was right about that.

Reporters had come looking for a certain story, the story of Trump opponents.  I saw the same narrative play out with tea party rallies, where ordinary citizens enjoyed patriotic music and speeches with their families, and police officers and sanitation workers enjoyed easy days.

The only anger at the Trump rally was directed at the media.

After spending the night at my aunt’s house, I left Rochester the following morning.  In my car, I listened to WHAM’s Bob Lonsberry Show.  Callers were still in the afterglow of the rally.  Todd Baxter, former chief of police for suburban Greece, said he had attended and recognized about 30 off-duty police officers in the crowd.  Another caller said he liked Trump’s positions on ending Common Core and Obamacare.

These are things that the other Republican candidates have talked about, and with more elegance. Cruz, especially, seems to have a grasp on the issues from a Constitutional perspective.  But for me, his statements have been ringing hollow since his comments about the aborted Chicago rally.

I also recognized the something missing about the other candidates in another part of the radio caller’s comments.  He noted that Trump mentioned Rochester “four times. Four times!”

I think it was more than that.

I remembered a man striking up a conversation with me as I had walked into the hangar, towards security.  The man said he voted Republican but had gone to Hillary Clinton’s rally and wanted to go to all the rallies in the area.  “The candidates usually ignore us,” he said.  After we passed through security I lost him in the crowd of 7,000. But when the radio caller spoke with feeling about how Trump had repeated the name “Rochester” I was reminded.

When Trump mentioned Bausch & Lomb and Kodak, I was reminded about seeing the adults in the neighborhood leave early in the mornings and come home from these workplaces, as well as factories like Bond’s, Hickey-Freeman, and Rochester Products.  Most of these have either closed or downsized; workers in foreign countries now do the jobs my parents and relatives did. The neighborhood I grew up in began its downward slide with the 1964 riots.  As was common then, rioting was attributed to bad “social conditions.”  But lax law-and-order and increased welfare spending only encouraged the troublemakers.  With the loss of manufacturing jobs, working class families fled not only the neighborhoods but Rochester itself.  In my old “14621” neighborhood, the modest houses with neatly kept yards now feature trash and boarded-up windows.

Kevin Williamson in a particularly vicious article about the disaffected white middle class asserts that such neighborhoods and towns “deserve to die.” I and tens of thousands of Trump supporters in Rochester disagree.


Mary Grabar, Ph.D., taught college English for 20 years. She is now a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. She founded the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., a 501(c)(3) education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents and citizens. The motto,“Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is also a published poet and fiction writer. Ms. Grabar is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.